LimmudLA 2009

Read Part Two of my LimmudLA 2009 report

I had a great time. I’m home now and I’m sick (though grateful for the opportunity to share the light of with those seeking enlightenment).

You can stop by my live cam chat room to check up on me and wish me a speedy recovery. Thoughts on this year’s LimmudLA are also welcome.

My highlights from this year’s event:

* Doreen Seidler-Feller’s Friday night lecture on maintaining sexual excitement within long-term relationships. A lot of young men spoke out, one of whom admitted he’d never had sex. That didn’t stop him from offering lots of opinions.

* Rav Yosef Kanefsky’s Sabbath afternoon shiur on the position of Jewish texts regarding giving women aliyot.

* Havdala singing and dancing

* Saturday night comedy

* Matisyahu concert Saturday night

* Sunday’s screening of a moving 36-minute documentary on the Gaza Disengagement in 2005.

A friend says: "I’ve been doing Jewish stuff in this town for 25 years, and there’s just nothing like this three-day Jewish lovefest."

My roommate snored so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I finally went to my car and bundled up at 3 a.m. Saturday. I got too cold and came back inside. The front desk did not have any earplugs. They pointed me to a nearby 7-11. I finally got to sleep around 6 am but was up by 8 am.

Luckily, I made new friends and crashed with them Saturday and Sunday night.

B’nai David-Judea seemed to have the largest presence of any shul. I’d estimate the attendees were about 33% Orthodox. Some of the secular, particularly the Russians, acted like pigs on Shabbos, letting their cell phones ring, texting during classes, etc.

LimmudLA created a special event where Jews of different types let their guards down and made new friends. I’ve never experienced anything like it. To make sure it was a safe space, I did my share, agreeing to not blog certain sessions, and complying with all the wishes of the organizers.

The consensus of people I talked to was that the sessions were not as powerful as last year’s. We lacked a dynamic unifying speaker such as Clive Lawton.

"Ran smoother," says a source. "Content was a little less star-packed. Overall very good."

A professor tells me I’m better known in Israel than in Los Angeles. "Seventy percent of non-chareidi Israelis have heard of you," he says. "The Israeli media loves stuff about outlaw Jews."

I read the LA Times report on the conference and looked for good bits to excerpt but there were none.


In the days leading up to LimmudLA, I felt both excitement (over the good times I anticipated) and dread (that I would get sick and miss the festivities). I stayed in Tuesday and Wednesday, husbanding my energies. Then I threw caution to the winds Thursday evening and went to both the library and yoga.

I check into the Costa Mesa Hilton at 1:15 pm. On my walk from the parking lot to the lobby, I meet the person who will shelter me Saturday and Sunday night.

My room is not ready. Last year my room was ready. Oy ve, this year won’t be as good.

I lay my stuff beside a chair and fold my suit in half and pick up my book on the history of smog in Los Angeles and check out the attendees.

Hmm, there’s a woman who said she’d give me an interview about her new movie and then she didn’t reply to my email.

Hmm, there’s a woman who was cold to me in the Succah.

I feel sad. I was going to attend this event with close friends but they all flaked on me. I had plans. I had dreams. I had fantasies. All for naught.

Hold me closer tiny dancer. I say softly, slowly, hold me closer tiny dancer. Count the headlights on the highway. The boulevard’s not that bad.

Whoa, there’s my rabbi. There’s my former rabbi. Seven years. All for naught. Failure. Smash. Crash. Dash. Destruction. Burnt bridge. Heavy heart. Flame out.

I’ve been down – I’ve been beat
I’ve been so tired-that I could not speak
I’ve been so lost that I could not see
I wanted things that were out of reach
Then I found you and you helped me through
And ya showed me what to do
And that’s why I’m comin’ back to you…

Like a star that guides a ship across the ocean
That’s how your love will take me home back to you
And if I wish upon that star – someday I’ll be where you are
I know that day is coming soon – ya, I’m coming back to you.
You’ve been alone, but ya did not show it
You’ve been in pain, but did not know it
Let me do what I needed to – you were there when I needed you
Mighta let you down, mighta messed you round
But ya never changed your point of view
And that’s why I’m comin’ back to you…

At 2:15, I get my room assignment. It’s 332. I walk into 322 by mistake and run into David Suissa’s children. They smile. If someone walked into my room, I’d scowl.

I apologize and move on. Then I hit the halls to get my groove on.

I say affirmations to myself so that I appear confident when I meet people. I keep my neck free and let my shoulders widen and my back lengthen.

"Why do you seem so happy?" asks an acquaintance.

"Yoga," I reply.

It’s raining outside and most people look bedraggled. Almost everyone is in jeans. Almost no one has made an effort to look good.

I get into a conversation with a vulnerable young woman beside the tea, coffee and cookies table.

She saw one of my videos about Aish HaTorah.

"I’m not religious," she says. "I didn’t know Aish was a religious organization. If I had known, I don’t think I would’ve gone to one of their events. I don’t see many Aish people here."

"Aish has a particular agenda," I say, "and Limmud is not part of that agenda. For all of its talk of tolerance and love, Aish wants to make people Hareidi Jews. If you don’t get with the program, they are going to move you out. They have a file on you. They keep a file on everyone who goes there. They have an agenda. Their love is not free. The friends you think you’ve made there? They will only be your friend if you become Orthodox."

I look through the program. I didn’t even bother before signing up. It’s not the formal sessions I’ve come for, it’s the opportunity to connect with my fellow Juden.

I love how the "Singles’ Hour" is described as "an informal meet, greet, and relaxed schmooze." Anytime you have to keep describing something as relaxed is going to be inherently tense.

There are a ton of singles at this Limmud, and a ton of hotties, baruch HaShem.

Political correctness infects the programming guide. Orthodox davening is described as "separate gender seating." "Gender" is a societal construction and "sex" is a biological one.

During the Friday afternoon session on "Apply Best Practices of Friday Night Live To Your Shabbat," a female Conservative rabbinical student talks about "pulling someone into the kitchen for a few moments of intimacy." An Orthodox bloke and I look at each other and crack up. When women use the word "intimacy," they usually mean emotional intimacy, while when men hear the word, they usually think sex.

I go to Danielle Berrin‘s session on hard-hitting journalism. I’m late but she welcomes me in and gives me props and I feel happy. She has to wind up the session early so she can check into her room and get changed before Shabbat dinner.

She’s at the conference with her boyfriend Rabbi Scott Perlo. They are the "It Couple" for Los Angeles Jewry 2009 and far away the most glamorous twosome at LimmudLA. He’s hyper-intellectual and serious. She’s gorgeous and sweet.

Yehuda Solomon, despite being ill, leads the Friday night davening for the Orthodox. The room is jammed. Far more people are here than at any other prayer session. I watch the pillars of the community daven fervently while their children raise holy hell outside so that those of us on the outskirts of the davening can’t hear a thing but their screams.

In my experience, Jewish kids are the most unruly. Most of the Jewish parents I know take very little consideration of the havoc their children wreak on the rest of us. I remember one lad waving a stick around in shul, almost poking out people’s eyes, and his dad was oblivious. It doesn’t matter if the parents are rabbis or rebbitzens, day school principals or community organizers, their kids are holy terrors and need to be restrained. Who pays the price for these out-of-control kids kicking soccer balls and shouting while simple Jews such as myself try to pray? Simple Jews such as myself. I’m the sacrificial lamb. And do my sacrifices get recognized? Noooooo.

Lucky I’ve got my blog where I can point these things out.

Shabbat dinner. I’m terrified I’ll get stuck with losers. I look around the room for friends and feel very alone. I want to be with youngies and hotties but I don’t want to push myself on people.

I sit alone at a table, one of the singles tables, and slowly strangers (many of them from the Workmen’s Circle) gather around me.

As an icebreaker, we’re given lollipops with the name of another attendee who we need to find. My assignment is "Elaine Himmelfarb." I never do find her.

After we make kiddish and hamotzi, we have to wait 80 minutes for our food. During that time, I run around the room with Milken Community High School kids and jump up and down like a kangaroo.

I figure the higher I jump, the less chance I have of getting sick and the more chance I have of getting chicks. Everyone knows that women value a man who can repeatedly jump high while singing Jewish religious music. It means he has good earning potential.

I look in at the 9 pm singles mixer and see the room is empty. I move on. I’d feel like a complete loser if I hung around alone in that room waiting for some woman to rescue me.

Doreen Seidler-Feller is a rock star. She leads an electrifying 9 pm class promoted thus:

Tensions Between Erotic and Companionate Needs in Long Term Relationships: "I Love My Spouse But The Sex Is Boring." Each of faces the internal contradictions of the erotic and the companionate needs in long term relationships. How do we define each impulse and its requisites? As we come to understand the diverse character of each, we can see how many maladies in marriage arise from either poor understanding or poor management of the essential paradox. We will consider the solutions raised by the Jewish tradition and, in so doing, will ask ourselves what Orthodoxy has to teach us. Similarly, we will consider the solutions proposed by the liberal/secular community and ask ourselves what secular wisdom can contribute to our sex and relationship educations.

In addition to Doreen’s command of the subject matter, what makes the class so fun is the breathless nature of the crowd — who seem to grow increasingly horny as the session goes on — and the frequent interjections of the boys who’ve never had sex yet have tons of opinions on maintaining eroticism in long-term relationships.

I feel so inspired that I want to go out and create erotic space just as Dr. Seidler-Feller commanded, only I need someone to create that space with (and take that white tantric yoga class with me next month).

Chaim Seidler-Feller asks his wife if the love of Shabbat creates an erotic space. She dismisses his theory to much laughter.

Various women offer me numerous carnal delights if I will agree to have my beard trimmed after Shabbat. There are intimations of a threesome. I don’t know where these girls get the idea that my Orthodoxy is for sale or that I would risk G-d’s wrath for a few hours of extreme pleasure.

The promises keep escalating through the evening. I stand firm.

At 10:30 p.m., I pop up to my room to brush my teeth. My roommate has arrived. He’s fast asleep. He’s snoring loudly. I feel foreboding.

I consider checking out the class "Shabbat Sex" but its subtitle reads, "A Text Study, Not A Workshop."

Instead I go to the singalong with Michelle Citrin and Shira Kline. There’s musical instruments and lots of Debbie Friedman tunes, but some frum Jews sit in the back and singalong without banging on any instruments, so I must not be too far off the derech.

After dancing in a congaline around the room, I go to bed at midnight. The snoring has gotten worse. It takes my roommate about ten seconds to draw in a breath. It’s a long painful gasping process and then the exhale is sharp and high.

At 2:54 am, I give up and walk to my car. I wrap myself in two ratty blankets and try to sleep. After 30 minutes, I give up. I go to the front desk. Do you have any earplugs? No. I’ll need to go to the 7/11 after Shabbat.

I go back to my room and wake up the roomie and tell him he’s snoring. He apologizes, rolls over, goes back to sleep, and five minutes later, he’s snoring again. Oy vey!

I wake him up a dozen times, finally see that he’s somebody I’ve known for about 14 years.

I’m so angry. I see that my entire Limmud will be ruined if I am unable to sleep. I see no solution. I know this is a spiritual test from HaShem and I am failing it. I’m so very angry. Was I assigned on purpose a room with a snorrer? Is this revenge for one of my blog posts? I’ll never know.

I’ve designed my life to be as invulnerable as possible but now they’ve found my weak point. I’ll never be able to enjoy anything for the rest of Limmud.

What would Guru Singh do?

About 6 am, I nod off to sleep.

Matisyahu leads the davening Shabbos morning. He’s deadly serious. He does no chazzanut. He does no performing.

I’m too tired to daven. I go back to my room at 10 a.m. and try to sleep. I’m too tired to sleep.

I get up and do 30 minutes of yoga exercises followed by 20 minutes of chanting. I feel more centered.

I go downstairs doing positive self-talk and find lunch.

I sit next to these Russian girls who are momentarily polite but quickly resume talking Russian.

The whole table gets taken over by Russians. I complain loudly about the snorring and secure everyone’s attention for two minutes. Then I’m off to find a session of stimulating learning.

I catch Dr. Amelia Glaser from UCSD talking about, "Nikolai Gogol and Sholom Aleicheim: The Strange Marriage of Russian Literature and Yiddish Literature."

I must sleep. I consider immersing myself in a jacuzzi for 30 minutes but this would be a violation of Jewish law and would entail walking down to the second floor and who know who I would pass on the way and it would be just too shameful.

I lie down for a few minutes.

At 2 pm I burst in on Rav Yosef Kanefsky‘s class, "Orthodoxy and Egalitarian Torah Reading: The movement inspired by Jerusalem’s Shira Chadasha has introduced Torah reading by both men and women into Orthodox settings. What is the halakhik analysis that makes this development possible? Should this be — can this be — the direction in which Orthodox communities trend?"

Even if you hate all the controversial stands Rabbi Kanefsky takes (usually considered to be on the Left of Orthodoxy), you have to admit he’s a superb teacher of text. He shows us relevant texts from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch to the present day positions of such rabbis as former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef and all the texts say it is permitted for women and children to receive aliyot but it shouldn’t be done to "preserve the dignity of the congregation."

Rabbi Kanefsky concluded that there was no strong halakhic reason not to give women aliyot (at least in congregations that have no objection).

If you thought you were going to get an impassioned plea for equal rights for women, this was not the class. It was totally text-based normative Judaism.

At 3:15 pm, I sit in the back of "The Singles Scene: Jewish Dating in the Age of J-Date" with Rabbi Scott Perlo, Esther Kustanowitz, Suzannah Warlick (filmmaker) and a recently married Orthodox mother.

Danielle Berrin gets up to close the doors so her boyfriend Scott can speak undisturbed.

"Leave one door open, Dani," says Scott.

So she does. But the serfs revolt and demand that both doors be closed. The children of the pillars of the community are raising holy hell outside. Must shut doors.

I get tired of audience members giving their lengthy opinions and I bolt just before things become interesting (I hear later).

Read Part Two of my LimmudLA 2009 report.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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