Thursday, January 5, 2017

Learning and teaching at Limmud in England

Heavy coats at all times for winter in Birmingham – below freezing most mornings!

Limmud UK! Thousands of attendees from around the world, hundreds of sessions — all focused on Jewish culture, education, and art. This is the 20th year of the conference… but our first.

Six months ago when my wife and I were first approached to teach at the conference in Birmingham, England, we were a little unsure about what it would be like, but we decided to take the leap — and it was fantastic!

Wearing the colors.

My wife, Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik, and I were asked to lead as many sessions at the week-long conference as wanted, so we picked some of our favorite topics and put together a host of options combining my art and her scholarship, some of which we’d presented elsewhere but some of which were completely new:

  • Women of Valor and Other Super Heroes
  • Damaged Heroes: Midrash and Pop Culture Mythology
  • Under the Chuppah with Superman and Lois Lane
  • Paper Midrash: Text Study with Knives

We'll be doing all this again in Fresno this spring, in case you missed us in England.

Most of these sessions centered around conversations between me and Shawna, with slides and text handouts for everyone in the session. It was great to share our ideas with inquisitive and engaged people. The “text study with knives” workshop almost didn’t happen… funny story: I had asked for art knives and cutting matts to be provided, and the resources folks were happy to introduce themselves to me with a box containing… BUTCHER KNIVES AND FOOD PREP CUTTING BOARDS. Split between anxiety and laughter, it wasn’t long before the confusion was resolved and the proper materials were located. I would be remiss if I didn't mention at this juncture how incredible the all-volunteer conference staff was in every way — as I said, THOUSANDS of attendees and HUNDREDS of sessions, and it all ran so smoothly... yashar koach to Limmud!

Plenty of photos from the workshop, since my kids were there (and willing).

I was also a panelist in a session on “Pictures That Say 1000 Words” (I discussed Morris Louis’s “Pillar of Delay”) and Shawna read a letter in the first “Limmud Letters Live” session (she read Henrietta Szold’s letter on saying kaddish).

But of course, there were so many hours in the day and SO MANY SESSIONS to attend, so we took advantage of all that Limmud had to offer. Torah, Talmud, Israel, cherry tomatoes (seriously)… and of course, I attended all of the art sessions I could fit into my schedule.

One of several GREAT sessions led by Professor Marc Michael Epstein of Vassar College

Artist Jacqueline Nicholls was also one of my favorite presenters; here she is discussing her "Draw Yomi / Daf Yom" project.

And here's Jacqueline Nicholls presenting a panel from "V for Vendetta" as part of the "Protest Art" panel.

I went to a session on the New Venice Hagaddah, which includes work by my buddy Hillel Smith.

The conference took place over Hanukkah, and with our kids by our side (whom we’d brought along and who also enjoyed the heck out of Limmud) we participated in the nightly candle-lighting (big group lightings and individual hanukkiah lightings as well).

And of course, lots of socializing (I met and hung out with the incomparable Jeff Klepper!), Pokemon with "Rashi's Daughters" and "Fifty Shades of Talmud" author Maggie Anton (not joking), and Snapchatting.

I hope we have the chance to attend again — to learn and teach with our extended global Jewish community, and to revel in our religion and culture and traditions.