LimmudFest announces first group of speakers for March 14 event

As the online LimmudFest 2021 approaches, the first speakers and topics are being announced for the regional learning event.

Usually held in person over a weekend in New Orleans every other March, LimmudFest was postponed last year as the Covid pandemic began. This year, the festival will be held online on March 14 with an opening ceremony at 11:30 a.m., followed by four session blocks from noon to 4:30 p.m.

According to the organizers, this year’s event will be a celebration of Southern Jewish life, emphasizing the uniqueness of Jewish life, tradition, and expression in New Orleans, greater Louisiana, and throughout the Gulf South.

The sessions will follow five tracks: Torah and Text, Wellness, Jews and Food, Creative Arts and Hot Topics. Because the sessions will all be online this year, for the first time anyone who registers will have access to the over 20 hours of presentations after the event.

Entirely volunteer-driven, including the speakers, LimmudFest is designed for all levels of Jewish knowledge, or lack thereof.

“Our sessions are being intentionally designed to break out of your computer screen and get you connected (safely) to our wonderful Southern Jewish community through discussion, creation, and movement,” said co-chair Leslie Goldberg. “Whether your passion is studying Jewish text, cooking Jewish food, experiencing and creating Jewish art, or considering Jewish ethics and responsibility, you will find something here in this compacted, virtual LimmudFest.”

Several national and international speakers have been announced, with more to come.

Rabbi Raphael Zarum is Dean of the London School of Jewish Studies. He has a doctorate in Theoretical Physics, a Master’s in Education, and is a graduate of the Mandel Leadership School in Jerusalem. He is the creator of the Torah L’Am crash course and is the author of the Torat Hadracha and Jampacked Bible educational study guides. He was the first head of faculty of the Florence Melton Adult Mini School UK and was director of text-based Jewish education at the UJIA Centre for Informal Jewish Education.

A sought-after lecturer, Zarum gives wildly innovative and meaningful readings of Torah, Midrash, Talmud and the Jewish festivals that reference modern literature, cinema and culture.

Vanessa Harper is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. A member of the 2020 New York Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36, Harper has developed an interpretive challah-shaping project, LechLeChallah, using challah as a way of studying Torah.

In 2017 she decided to start making challah every week, and brought a rainbow challah to a class retreat on the weekend when Noah was the reading. She was asked if she matched her challah to the weekly portion, then took that as a challenge — with the most daunting challenge being Tazria/Metzorah, a portion that deals with leprosy.

She has developed the weekly themed challahs as a way to study Torah, sparking interest from others online.

Hadar Cohen is a Mizrahi feminist multi-media artist, healer and educator, and mystic who teaches over numerous platforms. She is the first Jewish fellow at Abrahamic House, a multi-faith incubator for social change in Los Angeles. Cohen also founded Feminism All Night, which designs communal immersive learning experiences about feminism and spirituality.

Hagai Segal is an authority on counter-terrorism and geo-political issues, advising a wide range of international companies on risks in the world. He is associated with New York University in London, and lectures at universities worldwide.

Session topics include Dr. Jason Gaines, director of undergraduate studies in Tulane’s Department of Jewish Studies, with “The Hidden Poetry of the Torah;” Dena Borman with “Gentle Yoga for All Levels;” and Anti-Defamation League Regional Director Aaron Alquist and Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans CEO Arnie Fielkow with “Jewish Leadership in Turbulent Times.”

Additional local speakers include Rabbi Deborah Silver of Shir Chadash, and George Dansker, a local music expert who presents an annual event at Touro Synagogue celebrating the life of a great Jewish composer.

Early Bird tickets are $18 until Feb. 14. General Admission tickets are $36. Access to special sessions are available with Limmud Boneh donations above the ticket price. Register here for LimmudFest NOLA 2021. For anyone unable to pay the ticket price, donation-based pricing is also available by completing an anonymous Google form.

Limmud NOLA’s community sponsors are the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, Limmud North America, and Southern Jewish Life magazine.

(Updated Feb. 21 to reflect the cancellation of Rabbi Avram Mlotek)