LimmudFest New Orleans announced its full lineup of speakers and events for the regional March 14 event.
Held virtually instead of in person due to the pandemic, the event will feature 23 sessions over four hours on a wide range of topics, with an overall theme of celebrating Southern Jewish life. The event also celebrates the diversity of Jewish life and experiences.
Already, participants have signed up from at least 13 states and three countries.
Limmud is entirely volunteer-led, with the speakers also donating their time. Tickets for the event are $36, with additional donation levels to support the program and provide for those who can’t afford to register.
Because all of the sessions will be streamed, an added benefit is that ticketholders will be able to access recordings of all of the presentations after the event.
Before the main event, there will be a few preview programs.
On March 9 at 6 p.m., there will be a Limmud Sneak Peek as part of a JNOLA Happy Hour. Those ages 21 to 39 in the New Orleans community need to register separately for the event, which will be led by Jason Gaines, professor of Jewish studies at Tulane, and Natalie Cohen, chef of the forthcoming pop-up IMA, which will represent her Israeli, Middle Eastern and North African roots.
For Limmud Boneh donors, there will be a session on March 11 at 7 p.m., “And the Rain Did Not Fall: What do we do when our Leaders Fail Us?” Rabba Yaffa Epstein, director of the Wexner Heritage Program and former director of education at the Pardes Institute, will speak.
On March 13, there will be a virtual Havdalah and evening of song, prayer and learning, led by rabbis, cantors and other leaders from across the region, starting at 7 p.m.
The opening ceremony will be at 11:30 a.m. on March 14, with New Orleans Jewish musicians, and presentations by Limmud Chair Leslie Goldberg and President Lonnie Schaffer. Performers include the Panorama Duo of Mark Rubin and Ben Schenck, Benny Amon and Steve Pistorius, keyboardist Andriu Yanovski, “Have a Great Day” guy Joshua Starkman, and Duo Whatcha Wanna.
The first set of sessions will start at noon.
Rabbi Raphael Zarum, dean of the London School of Jewish Studies will explore “Accessibility & Dignity: The Amazing Legacies of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks,” and why the two rabbis are so important for Jewish life today. Leventhal Centre for Interfaith Families Director Erica Golden will introduce the session.
Broderick Bagert will lead “Build Power, Do Justice,” an introduction to Congregation-Based Organizing. Bagert is an organizer with Together New Orleans, a coalition of congregations and civic organizations.
Two members of the Jackson-based Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life will discuss “Buried and Alive: Memory, Commemoration and Identity in Southern Jewish Cemeteries.” Nora Katz, director of heritage and interpretation, and Josh Parshall, director of the history department, will present a virtual tour of Southern Jewish cemeteries, with an emphasis on New Orleans, and what historic cemeteries can teach about Jewish communities.
With New Orleans embarking on a community mikvah, “Making Waves” will discuss the modern uses of the mikvah and how the community mikvah will be used. Presenters include Rabbi Lexi Erdheim of Gates of Prayer, Gates of Prayer Rabbi Emeritus Bob Loewy, Rabbi Josh Pernick of Beth Israel, and Jessica Rosenberg, director of the Rising Tide Open Waters Mikvah Network.
Dani Levine, the New Orleans-based national program director for Avodah, will present “Spirit and Justice: Jewish Spiritual tools to deepen our commitments to Justice,” from her experiences in the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project Ovdim Fellowship.
Golan Moskowitz, assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Catherine and Henry J. Gaisman Faculty Fellow at Tulane University, will lead “Where the ‘Vilde Chayes’ Are: Maurice Sendak’s Creative Jewish Vision,” about the ground-breaking artist’s numerous perspectives and his appeal for American, Jewish and queer audiences.
1 p.m. Sessions
Chloe Deitelzweig, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School, will lead a session with members of the BBYO Mental Health Task Force, on “Erasing the Mental Health Stigma,” and how it affects mental health challenges facing many people, especially teens and young adults, during the pandemic.
Vanessa Harper, a Wexner Graduate Fellow finishing rabbinic school and working as rabbinic intern at Rodeph Sholom in New York City, will lead “From Flour to Torah: Interpretive Challah Shaping.” She created @lechlechallah, which uses challah to interpret and teach each weekly portion of the Torah. No challah-making skill is needed, but anyone who wants to practice with her should have a batch of dough that has completed its first rise.
Hadar Cohen, founder of Feminism All Night, will present “Mizrahi Feminism,” how aspects of race, gender, and spirituality inform Mizrahi Feminism, and how many of those experiences have been erased in the Jewish world by Ashkenormativity.
“Pesach in Poetry” will be presented by Marian Moore, author of “Louisiana Midrash,” and Ellen Steigman, who teaches on the Northshore and is volunteer soloist at Northshore Jewish Congregation. The goal is for participants to write poems for home Passover celebrations after examining several other poems on the topic.
One hour for 400 years of Southern Jewish history? The ISJL’s Katz and Parshall will give it a try, with “Southern Jewish History on One Foot,” from small-town merchants to the huge communities of Atlanta and Miami.
With Israel holding its fourth election in two years later this month, Mitchell Barak will lead “Israel: Democracy on Life Support — Trying to Find the Pulse of a Nation.” Barak is a pollster, strategic communicator, and messaging expert who founded the global KEEVOON Research and was international media advisor to President Shimon Peres and advised many other Israeli leaders. He will discuss how different demographic groups in Israel affect the political system.
A break room will be open from 2 to 2:30 p.m. for participants to hang out and meet new people. A host will be available to answer questions about the day.
2:30 p.m. sessions
When the whole country went into lockdown last year due to Covid, many made comparisons to Anne Frank. But so many people don’t know her story or the context of the Dutch experience in World War II. Naomi Yavneh Klos, professor of languages and cultures at Loyola University, will discuss “In Quarantine with Anne Frank,” examining her writings and how she can be seen as a model of spiritual resilience and hope.
A panel of rabbis, from right to left, will discuss “Israel and Our Jewish Values: Where do they mesh? Where do they conflict?” Lynne Wasserman, board chair of Avodah, will moderate a discussion on current events in Israel, such as relations with the Palestinians and aspects of Jewish life. The panel includes Rabbi Debra Kassoff of Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Rabbi David Gerber from Gates of Prayer in Metairie, and Rabbi Yossie Nemes of Chabad.
Musical historian George Dansker will lead “Noel Coward with a Social Conscience: A Re-discovery of the great Jewish-American Composer Harold Rome,” a session on the prolific Broadway composer.
For over 30 years, Teen Life Counts has been a program of Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans, going into area schools with a suicide prevention curriculum. It is still the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 34. “Suicide: Why We Should All be Talking About It” will include panelists Rachel Lazarus Erikson, director of clinical services at JFS; Teen Life Counts program manager Nichole Valenzuela; TLC volunteer Julie Schwartz; and Lauren Gehlman, head of counseling at Metairie Park Country Day School.
The person leading the Amidah during services historically improvised the tune around certain themes. Rabbi Deborah Silver and Meryl Zimmerman of Shir Chadash in Metairie will lead “The Jazz Amidah,” producing a Shabbat Jazz Amidah.
Laura Stein, co-founder and executive director of Dancing Grounds, will lead “Where Does Jewish Culture and Ancestry Live In Our Bodies? A Movement Exploration,” exploring how people embody their Jewishness, and promoting a deeper mind-body connection. The workshop includes movement, journaling and a group discussion.
3:30 p.m. sessions
Shoshana Madick, a professional with Avodah, will lead “Earth Based Judaism Art Practice,” using tea art, talking herbs, sharing prayers, and creating pieces to support ritual practice.
Certified yoga teacher Dena Borman will lead “Gentle Yoga for All Levels.”
Aaron Ahlquist, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Arnie Fielkow, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, will lead a discussion of “Jewish Leadership in Turbulent Times,” framing the challenges and discussing what is being done during a time of pandemic, antisemitism and polarization.
Natalie Cohen will lead “Mizrahi Cooking for Passover with IMA.”
Jason Gaines will present “The Torah’s Hidden Poetry,” with research from his recent book, “The Poetic Priestly Source,” that uncovered a previously unrecognized poetic layer in the Torah, a 2,500-year-old “hidden poem” from Genesis through Deuteronomy.
For those in the New Orleans area, there are also lunch menus for kosher takeout from Rimon, Dvash and Kosher Cajun. Orders are due by March 10.
Limmud’s community sponsors are Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Federation’s Leventhal Centre for Interfaith Families, the New Orleans Jewish Community Center, Limmud North America and Southern Jewish Life magazine.