And so we come once again to the highlight of the Jewish year; Limmud, or as I call it, camp for grown-ups. Well why not? Every summer the children go off at great expense to be with hundreds of other Jews, so why shouldn’t the adults do the same?
I’ve decided to stay away this year.
There are two reasons for this. The first is to take advantage of the traffic free streets in north-west London. You guys stuck up at Warwick University have no idea what it’s like here at the moment. Tumbleweed is drifting across the North Circular Road at Henley’s Corner. I can pick up a takeaway schwarma from Solly’s without queuing for an hour and a half and I even got called up on Shabbat, although this was partly because there was a spectacularly large number of aliyot this week. By the time we reached the third sefer Torah we were dragging people in off the street.
The second reason is that I’m just a bit fed up with having to be so nice to people the whole time. I don’t know why I should feel this way. If Limmud is a family, as the organisers keep insisting, why the hell aren’t there any arguments? Everyone’s determinedly friendly, tolerant and considerate. It drives me up the wall.
What’s even more difficult to cope with is that I have to keep smiling at everyone when Limmud is, let’s face it, about as non-Jewish an experience as any Jew could possibly contemplate. All that queuing and shlepping around the campus, the low-grade student accommodation, the necessity to be here, then here, then there, then back here again, not to mention the stopping to ask people where they’re going, and “Oh, I really wanted to go to that but I have to go to this because I know the person who’s presenting the session” (even though their subject is about as exciting as smallprint).
And then there’s the constant din. There isn’t a minute of peace from the moment you drag yourself, bleary eyed, into the Rootes Building in the morning until the time you crawl back to your digs after the evening’s entertainment. By the end of the week last year my ears were ringing so hard that I felt like Quasimodo with tinnitus.
Limmudfest is slightly more relaxed, but only slightly, and at least it offers something priceless for those who like a giggle. Have you ever seen 500 Jews all trying to put up tents at the same time? It really is a camp-site for sore eyes. Let’s put this into context. Jews haven’t owned tents since we completed our forty-year meander through the wilderness (Norwood missed a sponsorship opportunity there, didn’t they?) and can anyone blame us? We are, after all, neither practical with our hands not stupid enough to want to go on holiday and live in worse conditions than our own homes offer. It’s a luxury hotel or nothing for most Jews. My understanding is that the Jewish Caravan Club appear in the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of Records under the category entitled Daftest Concept Ever Devised.
But I digress.
Most Limmudfestniks have borrowed their tent from a gentile neighbour and have no idea what to do with it. While the recommendation is that one practice by setting up a tent at home before using it for the first time, no Jew does. Peh! Who needs to practice putting up a tent? We’ll work it out. There’ll be someone there who can help. Oh yeah? Didn’t it cross your mind that the other 499 people had exactly the same thought?
After about six hours most of the tents are sufficiently well erected to allow one or two people to crawl in, but that’s only because they were designed to sleep twelve. It’s pot-luck whether your door is facing the way you want it to face or is situated so that you crawl in and out via the brambles and undergrowth. Nobody really knows how their tent will look by the time they throw in the towel (and seventeen suitcases) and trudge to the mud carpeted, luke warm shower to get ready for Shabbat.
And another thing. ’Fest is even ‘nicer’ than Conference. It’s more happy clappy than an evangelical Christian’s sixth birthday party. It’s all alternative therapy and yoga, which I have no real problem with, as long as they provide drugs to ease the pain, which they don’t. You’re even obliged to go into the next field if you want to drink anything stronger than camomile tea.
I’m probably sounding like a killjoy and I don’t mean to. I really am a big fan of Limmud. It’s just that after a week of it I need a good rest, and it so happens that I’m still resting after last year.