More than 300 people spent Sunday, November 1, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre for the 2015 edition of Limmud Ottawa, a day-long extravaganza of Jewish learning with sessions devoted to everything from Talmud study to kosher winemaking.
With 44 sessions on the Limmud schedule, and with up to eight sessions happening simultaneously, attendees had to make many hard choices about which session to attend at any given time. Should I attend the panel discussion on Jewish women in leadership roles or the session on Jewish values in mentoring immigrant communities; the session on Jewish funerals in the 21st century or the play about a Jewish yoga instructor questioning her values?
There was also a Young Limmud program offering activities for kids, a human library where a variety of interesting people were available for small group discussions, and an exhibit featuring works by local Jewish artists.
Certainly the best attended session was the lecture by Irwin Cotler – a former justice minister of Canada, professor emeritus of law at McGill University, and a renowned international human rights lawyer – on the laundering of anti-Semitism under universal public values.
The social hall was filled to capacity to hear Cotler – a compelling speaker – describe how classic anti-Semitism, the traditional hatred of Jews, has been joined in recent decades by the “new anti-Semitism,” in which Israel is targeted as “the collective Jew” among the nations.
In a panel discussion on domestic violence in Jewish families, social worker Sarah Caspi said it is a myth to think that domestic violence does not happen in the Jewish community. One in four women in Canadian society experiences domestic violence, she said, “and Jewish women are sadly on par.”
Rabbi Reuven Bulka pointed out that 95 per cent of people who are abused are abused by people they know and that it is no longer acceptable to remain silent when we witness or are aware of such abuse.
“Rabbis have an obligation to tell people they have a responsibility not to be silent. We are a party to it by being silent,” he said.
In a session on Jewish humour as dogma, Rabbi Steven Garten cited passages from Deuteronomy and the Babylonian Talmud to show the long tradition of Jewish humour and the best sermons have humour in them.
“Rabbis understand that humour is part of the human condition. It makes you open to hear a truth you might not have been open to hearing before,” he said.