Wide range of sessions planned for LimmudFest New Orleans

Limmud New Orleans is back in person this month, for the first time in five years, with over 75 sessions on “anything and everything Jewish.”

The pluralistic weekend of Jewish learning, open to all and held March 17 to 19, unites different congregations from New Orleans and throughout the region under one roof. All speakers and organizers are volunteers.

Shabbat activities will be at Gates of Prayer in Metairie. Sunday sessions are at the Uptown Jewish Community Center.

Registration opens at 5:30 p.m. on March 17. The weekend begins with Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Alternative Shabbat services at 7 p.m., followed by all participants having Shabbat dinner and a Shabbat Tisch.

On March 18, Conservative and Orthodox services will begin at 9 a.m., with Reform and meditative services starting at 10 a.m. Tot Shabbat will also begin at 10 a.m.

At 11:45 a.m., everyone will have Shabbat lunch, and sessions will start at 1 p.m. The sessions are an hour each, with a 15 minute break. There will be five blocks with three to five sessions per block until 7 p.m., at which time the Seudah Shlishi will take place, followed by Havdalah and a Melaveh Malka.

On March 19, registration at the JCC opens at 8:30 a.m., with sessions starting at 9 a.m. A group lunch will be at 12:30 p.m., and presenters who are authors will be available for book signings starting at 1 p.m. Sessions will resume at 1:30 p.m., with the closing session at 5 p.m.

Full weekend registrations are available, as is a Sunday-only track.

Two local performing arts endeavors will be highlighted at the festival — a new choir, and a locally-developed play about Jewish study.

The first scene of the new play “The Enigma of the Torah” will be presented on March 19 at 4 p.m. Written by Helen Stone and Marion Freidstadt, the play is based on their long-time experiences in being part of the Torah study class at Touro Synagogue. Through the class, they explore their Jewishness, contemporary issues and interpersonal conflicts.

The cast of eight includes several members of the Torah study group, and is directed by Taylor Meng. The full play will debut on April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Marigny Opera House.

Ben Jaffe

This year’s Limmud also is the debut of the Lyrical Limmudniks, led by Gates of Prayer Cantorial Soloist Jordan Lawrence. Participants will learn contemporary and traditional pieces that will be performed on the final day of Limmud. No singing experience is necessary. Rehearsals will be at 1 p.m. on March 18 and 1:30 p.m. on March 19, with the performance at the 5 p.m. closing session.

Ben Jaffe, director of Preservation Hall and creative director of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, will speak about “My Life in Music,” March 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Mikhl Yashinsky

Among the national guests is Mikhl Yashinsky, a Detroit native now living in Manhattan. He performed in the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s Yiddish-language version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and in “The Sorceress.” He is currently writing a Klezmer opera with the band Mamaliga, and in 2019 he was named to the Forward 50 “influential, intriguing and inspiring” American Jews.

On March 18 at 4:45 p.m., he will be “Reporting Live from Yiddishland,” exploring how Yiddish is being used by contemporary artists in plays, music videos, books and memes. On March 19 at 2:45 p.m., he will lead “Laughter, Tears, Curtain: A Yiddish Theatre Workshop,” studying some history of Yiddish theater, and then workshopping a scene from a historic Yiddish play. No Yiddish or theatrical background is needed in the session that will take the tone of a Purim shpeil.

David Singer

David Singer, CEO of Limmud North America, will present “Animating Jewish Community: Four Rabbis’ Trip to Paradise,” March 19 at 1:30 p.m. Named by The Forward as one of America’s most inspiring rabbis, Singer was formerly executive director of UC San Diego Hillel and, before that, associate rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, where he was the director and founding rabbi of Makom, a young spiritual community recognized by Slingshot 14-15 as one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. His presentation centers on a story from the Talmud that asks “If you ran into God, how would you react,” and how the story gives insight into the hopes and the fears of the rabbis.

Laura Leibman, professor of English and Humanities at Reed College, is the author of “The Art of the Jewish Family: A History of Women in Early New York in Five Objects,” and more recently, “Once We Were Slaves,” about an early multiracial Jewish family who began their lives enslaved in the Caribbean and became some of the wealthiest Jews in New York. She will present “Sew… Who Knew Jews Quilted? A History Lesson and Hands-On Workshop,” March 19 at 9 a.m. While quilting was rare among Eastern European Jewish immigrants around 1900, they were very important in American Jewish life in the 1840s to 1880s, and are a window to the story of those who did not leave written records.

Eli Sperling, the Israel Institute Teaching Fellow in the University of Georgia’s Department of International Affairs and former Senior Academic Research Coordinator at Emory University’s Institute for the Study of Modern Israel, will give four presentations. “What is Going On in Israeli Electoral Politics” will be March 18 at 2:15 p.m. “A Warm Peace in the Middle East? Cultural Diplomacy and the Abraham Accords” will be on March 18 at 4:15 p.m.

“How Do We Relate to Israel Now? A Mediated Discussion” will be on March 19 at 2:45 p.m., and again at 4 p.m. for those who did not attend the previous discussion. He will be joined by Alison McCrary, a social justice movement lawyer, strategist, community mediator, transformative justice practitioner, Catholic activist, and an internationally sought-after speaker on social justice, spirituality, and liberation. She was the founding director of the ReEntry Mediation Institute of Louisiana and the New Orleans Community-Police Mediation Program, and executive director of the National Police Accountability Project.

Regional Speakers

Barry Ripps

Barry Ripps of Pensacola will speak about “Infertility: Ancient Curse, Modern Blessings” on March 19 at 2:45 p.m. The session will explore Biblical texts about fertility, infertility and conception, and compare those to the modern experience — with modern science blending well with the ancient references. Ripps, owner of NewLIFE Fertility, has practiced in this field for 26 years and teaches at the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency programs of the University of Florida College of Medicine, and University of South Alabama.

Barry Ivker, a New Orleanian now living in Birmingham, will lead “The Mystery of Good and Evil,” March 18 at 6 p.m., referencing a short play he wrote, “2051,” and the context of human behavior in crisis situations like the Holocaust and the civil war in Yugoslavia. He has taught at several universities and been in private practice in psychotherapy since 1981.

Rabbi Raina Siroty

Rabbi Raina Siroty of Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria will speak about the power of music in prayer, with “The Power of the Niggun, a Wordless Melody,” March 18 at 6 p.m.

New Orleans and Beyond

Peter Wolf will present “Leon Godchaux: A New Orleans Legend, His Creole Slave and His Jewish Roots,” about his great-great-grandfather, on March 18 at 3:30 p.m. He wrote “The Sugar King,” a biography of Godchaux.

A fifth-generation New Orleans native, Wolf is an award-winning author whose memoir, “My New Orleans Gone Away,” reached the New York Times e-book Best Seller list. His research has taken him to Paris as a Fulbright scholar and to Rome as a visiting artist/scholar at the American Academy in Rome. Wolf serves on the advisory board of the Tulane University School of Architecture and as a trustee of the Louisiana Landmarks Society.

Merissa Nathan Gerson

Merissa Nathan Gerson is the author of “Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman’s Guide to Grieving.” She was the intergenerational trauma consultant to Amazon’s hit show “Transparent” and has had writing featured in the New York Times, Playboy Magazine, Atlantic, Elle.com, Tablet Magazine, Lilith Magazine, and beyond. After releasing a 2018 ELI Talk on consent and Talmud, she founded www.KenMeansYes.org to address the need for consent education in Jewish spaces. Gerson is visiting assistant professor of communication at Tulane University, and will lead “Grief and Joy (and Bringing Cake: A 2023 Mourner’s Guide,” March 19 at 10:15 a.m.

Ari Ofengeden, who heads the Hebrew program at Tulane, will speak on “Moses and Monotheism: What Did Freud Think about Judaism,” March 18 at 2:15 p.m. He did postdoctoral work in Sweden and Australia, and is author of “Liberalization and Culture in Contemporary Israel.” His presentation will focus on Freud’s last work, which was written first as an old man in Austria weary of the rise of Nazism in Europe and then as a refugee in London.

Lindsay Baach Friedmann

Lindsay Baach Friedmann, regional director for ADL’s South Central Region, which serves Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, will speak on Antisemitism in the Region, March 18 at 6 p.m.

Another session on antisemitism features a panel, “Antisemitism and Racism in Sports: Can Jewish and African American Athletes and Leaders Effectively Combat It” will be on March 19 at 2:45 p.m. The session features Oliver Thomas Jr., elected in 2021 as District E councilmember in Orleans Parish, and radio host on WBOK.

The panel also includes Arnie Fielkow, who recently retired as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, and co-host of a cross-cultural radio show with Thomas as part of the Goldring Family Foundation Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs. He is a past executive with the New Orleans Saints, former CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, and co-hosts a regular online show about Jewish athletes through Maccabi USA.

Also on the panel is David Hammer, a seventh-generation New Orleanian and five time Emmy winner. He has been on the WWL-TV Eyewitness Team since 2012, after 15 years as a print reporter. Tim Duncan, vice president of athletics and recreation at the University of New Orleans, will also speak. He was the first African American full-time director of athletics in New Orleans history, and played four years for the Memphis University basketball team.

Southern Jewish Life Publisher and Editor Larry Brook will present “Strange Bedfellows? The Growing Relationship Between Jews and Pro-Israel Evangelical Christians,” March 18 at 3:30 p.m. The presentation will detail major changes in the Christian world that few in the Jewish community are aware of, why these changes are happening, and the mixed reactions from the Jewish community.

Ilana Horwitz, assistant professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology, and the Fields-Rayant Chair of Contemporary Jewish Life at the Grant Center for the American Jewish Experience at Tulane, will present “Understanding Trends in Contemporary Jewish Life: A Guide for the Perplexed and Curious,” March 18 at 3:30 p.m. She will examine how the younger generation is driving the change, through a rise in racial and ethnic diversity and in gender fluidity, increasing socioeconomic diversity, decreasing rates of affiliation with Jewish institutions and increasing rates of do-it-yourself Judaism — and how the organizational Jewish world needs to respond to these trends.

A full schedule and details of the presentations can be found here.