There is an unattributed quote that encapsulates Steffi Aronson Karp’s work as the founder and president of LimmudBoston: “One is not a star by how brightly one shines, but how brightly one makes others shine.” The line, part of Karp’s email signature, epitomizes the egalitarianism and openness of the Limmud concept. “Limmud” is the Hebrew verb “to study,” and like similar gatherings in cities around the country, including New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Orleans and more, LimmudBoston is an intensive day of Jewish learning. This year it takes place on Sunday, Dec. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Temple Reyim in Newton.

With a cornucopia of over 60 educational and spiritual opportunities, including text study, art projects and a blueprint for developing a pioneering religious-school curriculum, Karp emphasized that LimmudBoston “brings people together who can have arguments for the sake of heaven. There are valuable conversations to be had. It’s also volunteer-driven and everyone is equal. Nobody has a title. And no one is turned away if he or she cannot afford the $45 registration fee.”

Karp, a lifelong learner with fond memories of her Reform synagogue youth group on the North Shore, is dedicated to “bringing the community together. I believe it’s better that we all come together to share in values and learning; that everyone has choices. All of these things are part of Limmud’s principles and values and are very important, especially right now where things seem so fractured in the world.”

Participants at LimmudBoston 2015 (Photo: Meri Bond Photography)

Karp’s first experience with Limmud was in Atlanta in 2008, where she had a friend who was one of the initial planners. What Karp observed by way of programming and community deeply impressed her. As soon as she returned to Boston she informally polled members of Boston’s Jewish community about their interest in a similar venture. “Everyone I mentioned [LimmudAtlanta] to was very interested in it for Boston,” Karp recalled. “We have such a great community, and a lot of credit goes to the Synagogue Council’s unity mission, which has made the New England community interested in sharing across denominations and interests.” Karp also reached out to the Me’ah program, an innovative adult Jewish education partnership between Hebrew College and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “The Me’ah program is built on the [Synagogue Council’s] openness, so they were a natural partner for us,” she said.

LimmudBoston launched just a year later in 2009, and only five years after the first of the North American Limmuds was established in New York City. But Limmud’s history extends further back and across an ocean to northern England, where the original gathering was held in 1980. Three Jewish educators from England placed advertisements in local papers announcing a day of Jewish learning on Christmas, not expecting much of a crowd. Much to their surprise, 80 people answered their call. This year Limmud in England is expected to host over 3,000 participants during Christmas week.

After Atlanta, Karp flew to attend Limmud in England. She noted: “The beauty of [Limmud] was that it was a very multigenerational gathering. Families on vacation were exploring interesting topics together.” A couple of months after her field trip to England, Limmud’s organizers alerted Karp that one of Limmud’s founders was coming to Boston. Karp viewed his visit as an auspicious moment to start LimmudBoston. “I took a deep breath,” she recalled. “I said to myself, if no one shows up, that tells me something. And if people show up, that tells me something else. I put notices in various local newspapers. I contacted Rabbi Daniel Lehmann of Hebrew College, who immediately gave me a liaison. Gann Academy offered their building.”

Israeli dancing at LimmudBoston 2015 (Photo: Meri Bond Photography)
Israeli dancing at LimmudBoston 2015 (Photo: Meri Bond Photography)

LimmudBoston’s first year saw 600 people registered to attend. Thirty organizations signed on to support the Limmud mission, including CJP, and the response astounded Karp. This year Karp expects up to 800 participants. She looks forward to raising that number next year when the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial 2017 comes to Boston three days after LimmudBoston takes place in December. “We’re nondenominational,” said Karp. “We are also kosher so that everyone from beginner to scholar, from young to young-at-heart, feels welcomed. All attendees are learners, and anyone can propose to the program team a session to teach.”

Among the newer offerings that Karp is excited about are the “Chai Alive!” videos modeled on StoryCorps. Throughout the conference people will be asked to share their Jewish memories and stories. Last year 22 videos were made and posted on LimmudBoston’s website.

Today there are 83 Limmuds all over the world built on the kind of enthusiasm Karp exudes. And year after year Karp exhorts students and presenters alike to participate. “If it’s a new initiative, an old initiative or just something you want to share, come to LimmudBoston to do it!” she said.

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