Great rabbinic minds once opined, “thou shalt not measure an experience by the sight of it, but by the tweets and those who tweet during its duration.” Okay, so maybe not “great rabbinic minds,” but at today’s conferences, what happens in the room is increasingly broadcast to others on the outside, expanding the reach of the particular experience beyond its geographical limits.
For a program like Limmud NY, which — by definition, with 340+ sessions from 170 presenters vying for the attention of an estimated 850 attendees from all over the Jewish affiliation map as well as the geographical map —Twitter enables those who are off-site to virtually enter the experience, and allows those who are on-site to clone their attention span and astral-project it into another room. So you may see that guy sitting on the floor of the packed session about Jewish calendars run by Limmud UK Dumbledore Clive Lawton, but his attention may be split between that session and the one he’s monitoring over Twitter. And as he tweets about both sessions, he’s helping to create a community record that captures the immediacy of the experience as it answers the question: what exactly happened at Limmud NY?
The bare concept of Limmud, founded in the UK over 30 years ago, is that every element of the conference experience is conceived of, programmed and implemented almost entirely by volunteers (the indefatigable David Wolkin, Limmud NY’s executive director, is their sole employee). At Limmud in the UK in 2010 and 2011, I saw that Twitter, a tool that enables immediate response and brief recaps of an experience, was almost an Olympic sport — literally elevated on a giant screen above one of the main gathering spaces, it was a running scroll of independent reports of the dozens of sessions happening at the same time.
At Limmud NY, the Twitter scale was certainly different — there were only about 20 active tweeters over the course of the weekend. (by contrast, the General Assembly and TribeFest had a much higher Twitter rate, but also had several thousand more people in attendance.) But I did cruise the tweets with the #limmudny hashtag in search of an enhanced conference experience, tweeted by fellow participants as they experienced sessions that had run parallel to my own. And although there may not have been masses of people capturing their thoughts 140 characters at a time, revisiting the Limmud NY Twitter trail conjures up the memory of inspired conversations that had begun over a three-day weekend at a New Jersey hotel, but which continue to challenge and inspire us even weeks later.
When you’re on Twitter, a conference experience doesn’t really begin the day of the conference — it begins before, as excitement and nervousness begins to build, the anticipation is palpable.
Flashback: As February 15 approached, I became increasingly fixated on prepping for my three sessions. But Limmud NY was listening, and there to support me, even in advance of my arrival.
@EstherK: Hoping that whole cloning project comes to fruition in the next two days, so I can put my genetic copies to work on my #limmudny sessions.
@LimmudNY: Share the technology with us — we want to be able to get to more >than one session in the same time slot!
@EstherK: If I patent the tech in time, for sure. Then we can clone Clive so he can do more sessions in more places. #limmudny #limmud.
Predictably, Shabbat was a time of silence as far as Twitter was concerned, but after the communal Havdalah, the game was again afoot.
@lisacap67: Shabbat over. Now I can share the joy that is @limmudny with the twitterverse!
Sunday was an intense day for sessions, with about a dozen in each time slot and severe FOMO (fear of missing out) settling over the crowd.
Those who chose the TED-style JDOV (Jewish Dreams, Observations, Visions) talks were rewarded with luminaries like the Forward’s Jane Eisner and American Jewish World Service’s Ruth Messinger sharing big ideas gleaned from their professional experience.
“Inform, reflect, crusade and connect.” Role of the Jewish media according to @jane_eisner of @jdforward at #limmudny #jdov
@Ruth_Messinger: Big day at @LimmudNY. Looking forward to leading discussions on: listening intently, empowering #women for change and advocacy for #justice.
@LimmudNY: @ruth_messinger is sharing her “Shema moments” w #JDOV participants.
@LimmudNY: “Listening can be an antidote to judgment. Listening matters. Listening is a prerequisite for action.” @ruth_messinger at #JDOV #limmudny
The two JDOV sessions — which, over the course of the weekend also featured Yehuda Kurtzer, Danielle Abrams, Sarah Benor, Larry Smith, Daniel Gordis and Eli Valley — was presided over by Shoshana Boyd Gelfand, a UK-based rabbi who runs London’s JHub co-working space and social justice and Jewish innovation center. Her framing question for considering Jewish inspiration — “If I asked you, ‘What’s your Jewish vision? What inspires you Jewishly, what would you talk about?” — also inspired some honest, if different, Twitter answers:
@judehere: @EstherK I am a Jew. I’m inspired by anything anyone that connects us to our humanity. #JDOV #limmudny
@charliesavenor fat free #cholent
There were a lot of Jewlebrities at Limmud NY — but one of them, hailing from Los Angeles, was a standout. Stephen Tobolowsky, known for his decades of character roles including Ned Ryerson in the cult film “Groundhog Day” and for a current role on “Californication,” told stories to two rapt crowds, pulling from stories from his childhood as well as from his more recent, serious health challenges. Spirituality, dreams, deep family connectedness and love were the through-lines for these stories, which captivated the crowds and had them all a-Twitter with positive energy and inspiration.
@rebezra: Ned? Ned Ryerson? Performing at @limmudny and so close to the actual Groundhog Day!
@EstherK: @tobolowsky casting spells made of stories, dreams; painting his childhood memories at @limmudny
@SheryBeary: Things I’ve learned at #limmudny? Miracles happen. Steven Tobolowsky taught me so.
@lisacap67: Wow. @tobolowsky. Am speechless Best @limmud session ever. #limmudny
@EstherK: “Any energy spent in protecting the dream of a grandchild is time well spent.” @Tobolowsky sharing a memory of his mom #LimmudNY
Sometimes an innocent tweet launches a conversation that is likely to continue beyond the confines of the conference’s space and time:
@Lisacap67: Watching the @shawnlandres Jewish #Innovation game show with @jewishgps @IFJRC @Haggadot and @jmcbrooklyn #LimmudNY
@ShmaJournal: If you could, what #jewish organizations would you merge? @shawnlandres #limmudny
@EstherK: I definitely need the answers to that q.
@bethsteinberg: @EstherK @ShmaJournal @shawnlandres any answers? Combining orgs and efforts could b critically imp in this day & age. #limmudny
@shawnlandres: @EstherK @ShmaJournal yes, we need more strategic collaborations — but every tie-up needs discrete — & discreet — handling.
@shmajournal: @shawnlandres @bethsteinberg @EstherK agreed.
@bethsteinberg: @shawnlandres @EstherK @ShmaJournal I run a very small npo - grassroots. smart collab would be just grand. esp in Israel, the land of npo’s.
While many conferences focus on issues of assimilation and preserving of Jewish traditions and customs, LimmudNY offered the chance to literalize the metaphor, with sessions on pickling with Gefilteria founder Jeffrey Yoskowitz and preserving lemons with noted foodlebrity Joan Nathan.
@shawnlandres: #LimmudNY line around the corner b/c, per @davidAMwilensky, when life hands Jews lemons, we preserve them. http://mypict.me/nL0Gp
@davidAMwilensky: @shawnlandres #LimmudNY …and we carry them around in jars for generations, passing them on to our children and our children’s children
@LizFilm: Making pickles with @Jeffyosko at 10 am. I’ve never felt more Jewish. #limmudny instagr.am/p/V1lfV0xWIJ/
@EstherK: @lizfilm - @Jeffyosko can pickle that! #Portlandia. :)
By Sunday night, tweets were all over the place as participants scrambled to maximize the remaining hours of their LimmudNY experience, with sessions ranging from performance (Vanessa Hidary, the Hebrew Mamita) to my text study/pop culture mashup with Yaffa Epstein from Pardes, from honest and rousing storytelling to jubilant, if occasional atonal, karaoke.
@sherybeary: Get your booties down to karaoke, if I can rock out, so can you!
@aimeeweiss – chosen people or a choosing people? @estherk and @yaffaepstein explore judeo-culture via text study & classics like the west wing
@lisacap67: The @hebrewmamita rocking #limmudny – even better than the hype.
@jewishgps: Fantastic day at LimmudNY- learning, teaching, networking, celebrating, connecting. #happyplace
@lisacap67: @limmudny sessions? I spent the day drinking coffee, eating cake and schmoozing!
Because an experience with an online component is never really over, reflections on Limmud NY continued to come in, as people started to process their learnings, transcribe their notes, and identify the moments, speakers and one-liners that made the biggest impression. In addition to singling out teachers like Clive Lawton, one of the original founders of Limmud in the UK [http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-jewish-journey-called-limmud/], and David Solomon, “a globally roaming scholar, teacher, writer and translator” according to his [Limmud NY bio] (http://limmudny2013.sched.org/speaker/davidsolomon?iframe=no#.UTUO8etASbM), there was an acknowledgement of the power of Limmud NY— an expression of indebtedness to those who spent months planning the experience.
@adinagerver: #LimmudNY 2013 steering committee + co-chairs (volunteers): 14 women and 2 men. #gender #judaism #volunteers pic.twitter.com/pTUnF0uw
@charliesavenor: ** Jews are the only people/culture in the world that don’t count time according to themselves. @clivelawton ** Learning about the Jewish calendar has never been this fun. Thanks>@clivelawton. Time is a human construct. ** At David Solomon’s session at #limmudny. “all of Jewish history in 60 minutes” - putting on my seat belt! ** David Solomon: Alexander was Aristotle’s student. “Greeks gave Jews art; we gave them guilt.”
@naomiadland: favorite fact learned at @LimmudNY — the shema is both a haiku and a six-word memoir!
@roripn: Got to spend the weekend talking about interfaith, women, menstruation, Jesus, Talmud at #LimmudNY. #BestShabbatEver
@SigalSamuel: Best part of #LimmudNY was @elivalley’s “ferociously repugnant” (read: hilarious) autobiographical slideshow.
@shawnlandres: @limmudny @david_wolkin & team. Thank you for extraordinary #limmudny experience. One more step in my jewish journey #sixwords
@tobolowsky: Thank you #limmudny @limmud for a great learning adventure. Very grateful to @limmudny @david_wolkin & @matthewgrob and ALL who helped.
@Hypersem: set foot outside for the first time in 70 hours; no regrets. Shoutout to @david_wolkin and the whole @limmudny crew
@RubyK91: And so @limmudny joins jazzfest as the place I stay up past 3 several nights in a row. Nicely done, all.
@estherk: What I always loved about #limmud is that it is a chance to explore, stretch & experiment. Thank you, #limmudny, for another abundance of riches.
In the great afterwards of Limmud NY, I’ve moved on to other conferences: the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform movement conference at #ccar13, with lots of policy discussions as well as exploration of social justice initiatives) and the AIPAC Policy Conference (#aipac2013, with its political dignitaries and regular community conversations about what constitutes support of Israel), and have also tracked the hashtags of a few webinars. But the Limmud NY mindset remains:
@estherk: Back in LA, & quite confused. Why aren’t there 10 session options for every hour of my work day? & where’s @CliveLawton? @LimmudNY #limmudny>
This is something we all go through, post-Limmud. Whether we’ve been to the UK, NY, LA, Philadelphia, the Bay Area or the 60 others around the world, coming back to reality is harsh. We try to reacclimate into a world that doesn’t quite seem to understand why we’re so enthused. “It’s just a conference of Jews talking about Jewish things,” they might say (and have said). “No, you don’t understand,” we say, “it was all run by volunteers and the speakers were amazing and there were fascinating people there.” People who were following along online understand it a little bit — they know that there was something different that happened during this particular conference experience. But for those of us who were there, revisiting the Twitter proof that this special place existed in time, and remembering that we had been a part of it, is enough to fuel us until we can Limmud again.
Esther D. Kustanowitz is a writer, avid Twitter user and consultant on topics ranging from social media and network animation to Jewish creativity and innovation. She has been involved with LimmudLA since 2009, and is a member of their Steering Group, working primarily with communications and social media. She blogs at http://myurbankvetch.com, and is writing a book tentatively titled “Nothing Helps (But This Might Help): A Guide to Loss and What Comes After.”
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