LimmudPhilly is about to mark its fifth anniversary on April 26, and George Shotz wants you to know that it will be the same as last year — only different.
Shotz, who is co-chairing the self-described “learningfest” with Ilana Emmett, says that the three days and two nights of the event will be packed with speakers and events taking place throughout the entire layout of Friends Select School in Center City — just like last year’s iteration — but there will be one major change: an entirely new slate of offerings. “We don’t allow presenters to come here two years in a row,” Shotz says, the rationale being that the event will better live up to its name if it contains all-new experiences.
At this year’s gathering, you can: learn how to deal with challenging loved ones at the “Loving Difficult People” event; take a Kabbalah- and Mishnah-based “Shabbat Morning Yoga” class; participate in a discussion about “Jewish Identity in an Interfaith World”; discover “What Facebook Can Teach Us About Prayer”; or learn how to cook “Berbere: The Ethiopian Curry” from among the weekend’s 108 scheduled happenings. Jewish Exponent executive editor Lisa Hostein will also be featured on a panel about the Jewish media.
There will be programming for the younger fest-goers as well, including a “Tot Shabbat” and an all-day “Young Limmud” gathering. “There really is something for everyone,” says Emmett, “whether you’re interested in Jewish history, Israeli culture, queer communities in Israel or films, including Hava Nagila,” the documentary about how a simple Ukrainian Jewish melody became an American pop culture phenomenon in the 1950s and ’60s.
According to Emmett, one of the most anticipated events of the weekend is a concert by The Shuk on April 27. The Israeli band, which incorporates folk, Israeli, Middle Eastern, world and pop music, will be making its first appearance at LimmudPhilly, although Yoni Avital, the band’s co-founder (along with Ami Yares), who has played Philadelphia before, is quick to point out that they have played at Limmuds around the world, including Serbia, Germany and Ukraine.
He says he enjoys being part of the festivals because of their inclusive nature. “Most things that deal with religion cater only to a specific niche, but Limmud provides a platform to attract everybody,” he says.
Emmett says the band’s participation was made possible thanks to LimmudPhilly’s partnering up with LimmudBaltimore and the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J. “Baltimore’s Limmud is the week before ours,” she says, explaining that that festival’s organizers wanted The Shuk to bring their combination of live performance, musical and text education, and outreach to Charm City as well. “We worked with them and the Katz JCC to bring the band here. They will be doing some text-based and music-based programs on Shabbat” before the Saturday night concert.
Avital, who served as music director at Camp Ramah in the Poconos from 2002 to 2006, says that The Shuk will run a workshop on Friday night that he calls “Music and Peoplehood.”
“Peoplehood has been a hot topic for years,” he says. “The workshop deals with what constitutes a nation, what makes a people. It touches upon Jewish identity through culture, history and music.”
When asked how the band came to be leading workshops, Avital has a ready answer. He says that both he and Yares came from educational backgrounds, and they knew from the beginning that they wanted to bring more than music to their appearances. “When we started the band in 2008,” he says, “we wanted to have a name — The Shuk — that represented a marketplace. We view our appearances as places of cultural exchange to perform for all ages and backgrounds, and to bring people together.”
Based on draws like The Shuk and comedian Joel Chasnoff, the author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade, a humorous memoir of the Penn alum’s time in the Israel Defense Forces, Shotz hopes that LimmudPhilly will better last year’s attendance figures of 450 by 10 percent or more. And he doesn’t seem interested in resting on any available laurels: He has already begun talks with Friends Select about reserving the school for next year’s gathering.
IF YOU GO
Friends Select School
17th and Race Streets, Philadelphia