Green Zionists, rabbinic yoga and Yiddish rap — it can only be Limmudfest.
“The species should not be mixed lest it detract from the perfection and there will not be blessing,” someone reads from the Sefer Ha’Chinuch. The study session on the ethics and halachah of genetic engineering is in full swing.
A dozen people are seated in a circle in a small modern conference room in the Peak District. Someone is about to counter with a passage from Maimonides when the refrain of “Ohhhhh… the Hokey Cokey” is heard from the lawn outside. There, a giant circle of three– to six-year-olds are putting their left legs in.
However, the concentration of the indoor study circle will not be broken. Noam Dolgin of the Green Zionist Alliance brings them to the million-dollar question: “Do you think, on balance, from these sources, that it is permissible to genetically modify food?”
But the exterior distractions are unremitting. “…Shake it all about,” chant the kids, who are falling over themselves laughing with each new instruction in the song.
They are drunk on fresh air, sunshine and face-paint. Majestic green hills and dramatic sheer rockfaces loom over them. Lower in the valley, they can see the tent city that they temporarily call home.
There is no soundproofing in this canvas community. It is hard to sleep late, as the dawn chorus starts early. It has been a cold night. There is a heavy dew on the grass. Around 350 campers are emerging from tents in pyjamas holding towels and washbags. The route to the showers takes them past the figure of white-bearded Limmud founder Clive Lawton davening outside his tent.
At breakfast in the canteen, Lawton re-emerges blowing a shofar. Everyone stops talking, then there is a cheer. He grins and sits down to his coffee. “Only a third of the people here know why I do this. The others will ask, and they’ll learn something. That’s the key to Limmud. The person who comes determined to learn about one thing will casually discover something else.”
Micah Gold, one of the founders of Limmudfest four years ago, is beaming like a proud father. “Limmud Galil and Limmud South Africa are both racing to host the first Limmudfest abroad. This is the cutting edge of Limmud.”
The formula of back-to-back study and performances turned Limmud winter conference into a global event. But younger volunteers saw that this was out of kilter with the way the rest of the UK likes to gather. “People go to summer festivals. They express their concern with the environment. We wanted to take Limmud there,” he says.
Twenty hikers come in after a long walk. They have timed it perfectly. Marcus Freed’s Bibliyoga session, “Freedom for a Stiff-Necked People”, is about to begin. But Freed’s combination of yoga practice with a consideration of rabbinic writings faces stiff competition.
The human-rights panel is starting in the other building. James Smith of the Aegis Trust has brought two young refugees from Darfur to tell their stories. Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv’s Refugee Rights Clinic lifts the lid on Israeli immigration policy. Melissa Weintraub shares how her Encounter programme exposes Jewish diaspora leaders to Palestinian life. Head of programming Daniel Reisel says an essential aspect of Jewish identity is to bear witness.
George Blackstone, this year’s co-chair, takes a moment in the performance tent to reflect on a year’s voluntary work by 17 team leaders and 70 volunteers. “Look at it,” she marvels. “This is a real festival. It’s Jewish cool.” She is in the Promised Land field (just past the Exodus field).
Canadian Yiddish song maverick Socalled has launched into Oy Boy and the tent is dancing. He is now rapping at unbelievable speed. His beats are pumping; the rhymes are coming thick and fast. No-one understands them, but they feel like they do. Under a cloudless sky, at one of the only UK festivals to enjoy uninterrupted dry weather, the party is just beginning.