Limmud Oz 2018: the sensible centre triumphs over kvetching extremists

To murder Nathan Hale’s classic saying, I only regret that I had but one set of ears to devote to Limmud Oz 2018!

Put simply, the entire event was a stunning, glittering display of the very best of what the Jewish world (and Jewish Australia) has to offer. The most devastating part, was deciding which sessions to miss.

For those of you unfamiliar with Limmud, you can find out more about it here.

Of course, Jews on the far right bitched and moaned about the presence of Israel-critical presenters. These far right Jews could, of course, have put their hands up to present and give over their perspective.

But they tend to exist in an intellectual wasteland that’s inimical to sharing knowledge. Rather than contribute to communal discourse and learning, they prefer to try to intimidate others into silence.

This year, they failed spectacularly – so much so, that they had me rethinking my visceral suspicion of centrism.

One standout was Liam Getreu’s (Executive Director of the New Israel Fund) panel discussion with Avner Gvaryahu and Michelle Lesh about the Israeli Left.

Gvaryahu, Executive Director of Breaking the Silence, you may recall, was defamed in the community rag, the Australian Jewish News, because no one at the paper seemed to have bothered  with the most basic fact check.

There is a concerted attempt, led by the Israeli government (and ably abetted by naive, stupid, or just plain hateful diaspora Jews) to smear and silence Gvaryahu and his organisation because they have the temerity to tell the ugly truth about the Occupation.

So it was to be expected that when it was time for questions at the Limmud panel, some far right idiot – who laboured under the delusion that anyone in the audience gave a fuck what he thought – attempted to mount an aggressive J’accuse against Gvaryahu.

Getreu had a go at trying to get the shmock to actually ask a question, and when it was clear he wasn’t having much luck, Limmud organising stalwart, Mandi Katz, stepped in.

And, dear readers, what ensued was a thing of beauty.

As the far right guy screamed at Katz, ‘Let me finish!’, she took the microphone and reminded him that had he wanted to, he could have chosen to present at Limmud. He’d chosen not to, and was now interfering with people who had. *And* if he didn’t ask a simple, straightforward question – as opposed to haranguing the panel – Mandi would call security!

It was electric: you could feel the joy pulsing through the audience.

Apparently there was a mirror image of this shit happening over on the far left of the community. There was some dummy spit about BDS proponents not being allowed to present at Limmud, so the far left scheduled some event at the same time and place as Limmud and tried to pamphlet Limmud-goers.

And then the far left complains about how the rest  of the community doesn’t much like them….

Even though I dislike BDS intensely, I had been somewhat open to the far left’s complaints about BDS being banned from Limmud, but then when I saw how they comported themselves at Limmud, my sympathy evaporated.

Mandi Katz wrote on Facebook (in her personal capacity, not as a representative of Limmud), ‘The Limmud policy is not about censorship. It’s about the double standards of supporting cultural boycotts of Israelis and Israeli institutions and then using Limmud as a platform when it suits notwithstanding the involvement of people with association with Israeli institutions . Limmud had a very broad range of views on Israel – no censorship. I would also say it’s discourteous to present at Limmud and take advantage of the facilities and audience provided and then schedule an event at the same time. If you have a problem with the policy which is very clear and is published you don’t have to engage with Limmud.’

To me, this seems eminently reasonable.

So what exactly were the extremes of the community missing because they were too busy being unpleasant?

Hard to know where to start!

Calev Ben-Dor, tying together Talmud and Jared Diamond? Astonishing!

Or the luminous Adi Keissar, Yemenite-Israeli feminist poet? She was amazing!

Or how about the boundless energy and courage of Orthodox religious freedom activist, Seth Farber?

Or Haroon Moghul‘s genius, hilarious insights into interfaith and gender?

Or Robin Moss deconstructing the latest in Israeli social research?

Or Yaffa Epstein gently guiding through texts and giving the audience unexpected goosebumps as she unveiled deep truths?

Or Emily Filler being brilliant about Jewish texts and post-colonial theory?

Or Ari Hershkowitz making us giggle while simultaneously breaking our hearts with his stories about escaping the confines of the Haredi world?

Or Allison Kaplan Sommer‘s comprehensive deconstruction of the Haredi hegemony over Israeli life?

And those were just the international presenters I got to see…!

It’s not hard to get pretty down on the Australian – particularly Melbourne – organised community. When looking at the bad behaviour and stupid decisions of the ‘representative’ organisations, it’s easy to think that shit floats.

So it’s glorious to be reminded – if only once every two years – of what happens when the rabbis and community politicians are told to shut up for a second, and the real spirit of Judaism is allowed shine.

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