As Limmud's flagship annual conference begins in Britain on Friday, a study released this week shows that the educational confabs help counter assimilation and disengagement from Jewish involvement. The study also claims that of all Limmud participants, Jewish Israelis showed the highest levels of Jewish identity and involvement.
Past Limmud participants reported "unusually high participation rates in Jewish learning and in organized Jewish life, scoring far above levels reported in studies of the general Jewish population," wrote the study's authors, American-Israelis Steven Cohen and Ezra Kopelowitz. "The learning clearly serves both as an expression of and impetus to Jewish involvement, impacting positively on participants' Jewish identity and leadership."
Compiled this past October, the "Limmud International Study: Jewish Learning Communities on a Global Scale" is the first scientific survey to assess the impact of the popular cross-communal, international Jewish learning movement. Cohen, a well-known sociologist, and Kopelowitz, CEO of a Jerusalem-based research company, interviewed 3,189 former Limmud participants. The work was done at Cohen's iniative and research assistants were paid by Limmud International.
"Limmud counters prevailing patterns of decline among mainstream Jews throughout the world, and it counters the trends that challenge international connections among Jews worldwide and their historic attachment to Jewish peoplehood," said Cohen, a professor at New York's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Founded in 1980 in the U.K., Limmud puts on a number of volunteer-based and pluralistic educational events. Annually, about 30,000 people participate in Limmud conferences worldwide. In 2011, 60 Jewish communities in 24 countries, including Argentina, Bulgaria, Turkey, Germany and New Zealand, organized conferences. Limmud's 7-day flagship event with 900 sessions started on Friday at the University of Warwick, near Birmingham, England. More than 2,500 people are expected to attend.
"Participants from each country displayed distinctive patterns of engagement," said Cohen. According to the study, American Jews are the most Jewishly committed Limmud participants, with more than 80 percent saying they were "involved in Jewish learning in the wake of their Limmud experience," according to the study.
Americans also top the list of Limmud participants regarding organizational involvement.
Israelis score highest in leadership involvement, averaging 2.6 organizations where they fill a leadership role. They are also the most active in launching new Jewish communal initiatives, with a quarter setting up new groups or organizations after having attended Limmud.
Currently, there are six communities of Limmud volunteers in Israel: for Hebrew and English speakers in the Arava, the Negev, the Galilee and in Modi'in, and for Russian speakers in Jerusalem and Be'er Sheva.
Native Israeli Limmud participants showed the highest levels of Jewish engagement and involvement, the survey showed. "They attribute to their Limmud participation their continuing involvement in other Limmud events, other Jewish learning venues and Jewish community initiatives. With a majority having attended a Limmud in another country as presenters, Israelis function as an important resource for the global Limmud enterprise," according to the study. Cohen added that Israeli participants are key in building bridges with Diaspora communities.
The survey also demonstrates Limmud's role in the renewal of Jewish life in Europe, the authors said. European respondents attributed to Limmud the highest impact on their Jewish knowledge and Jewish identity of all country groups. More than a third of European respondents said Limmud has "greatly affected" their sense of Jewish identity.
"Limmud's success at reaching Jews wherever they are in their Jewish journey and taking them further is thanks to Limmud offering a meeting ground that transcends religious and communal differences," said Limmud International's London-based co-chairwoman Helena Miller.
Indeed, participants report one of Limmud's strongest impacts is in connecting them to Jews "who are different than me," the study states. "Bringing together Jews of all (and no ) denominations, ages and nationalities, Limmud nurtures a profound sense of peoplehood even as it serves as a networking hub across Jewish communities."