Elijah the Prophet appeared in New Zealand

A brilliant article by Sam Lebens, a favourite speaker, describing his experience at Limmud NZ 2012!


I recently had the honour of being schlepped out to New Zealand. Nobody flies to New Zealand. Schlepping is the only option. And bizarrely, I’m pretty sure that Elijah the Prophet was there with me.

The reason I was there was to present some sessions at their annual Limmud Conference, where some 400 people rolled up for a weekend of Jewish learning in Auckland. The experience was fantastic.

Jewish life in New Zealand, one can fairly say, is somewhat less than thriving. The Jewish school in Wellington has just announced its closure. Young Jews in New Zealand generally face a choice between rampant assimilation and moving to larger communities in Australia or Israel.

One shouldn’t be too gloomy. Auckland boasts a lovely Orthodox shul (I didn’t see the Reform shul, but met many of its charming members), a lovely little school, a kosher deli, a vibrant little library-cum-shteibl under the direction of a sparkling Lubavitcher. They even have their own weekly radio show, largely down to the dedication of a seemingly eternally youthful octogenarian, though I couldn’t quite work out who listens to it.

But, as an observant Orthodox Jew over there, I certainly didn’t find it easy. There weren’t prayer services for me to attend every day. There were very few places where I could comfortably eat, although the local community went out of their way to accommodate me. As I say, Jewish life there is less than thriving. Elijah probably doesn’t come by very often.

There’s an old tradition that Elijah visits every seder night and every circumcision around the world. At each seder night we set out a cup for him to drink. At each brit mila we set aside a chair in his honour. The real history behind these traditions is complex. There was a halakhic dispute about how many cups of wine we’re supposed to drink at the seder night: four cups or five? The rabbis decided to pour a fifth cup and when Elijah comes to announce the dawning of the Messianic age, he can resolve the rabbinic dispute as to whether we should drink it or not. The genesis of the custom to put out a chair for Elijah at a brit mila is less clear. But the following story, relevant to both customs, has always resonated with me.

Elijah had tried to combat the idolatrous ways of his people, and he considered his efforts to have been a failure. Running away from the Kingdom of Israel, with a warrant out for his execution, he finds refuge in a cave. And this is what he says to God: “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). In other words: I’ve done my best to rebuke this wayward people, but they’re beyond hope. I’m the only real Jew left. For the rest of eternity, God shows Elijah, who incidentally never died, just how wrong he was, because in every generation – however assimilated we become – we Jews never let go of two symbols of our identity; two symbols, even, of our relationship with God: the seder night and the covenant of circumcision. The number of Jews who still mark these two rituals is overwhelming; the number that abstains is negligible. And Elijah is there to see every single one of them, to teach him that God’s faith in his people was well placed.

So Elijah was in New Zealand, where he saw hundreds of Jews of all different backgrounds coming together in recognition of what they share, and in recognition of the room they have left in which to grow through learning. Elijah saw an Orthodox rabbinical student sitting round the table sharing a coffee and a thought with an Israeli Reform rabbi and an American Reconstructionist rabbi who had to come to New Zealand to meet one another. He saw, despite their real differences, that their eagerness to serve God, and to understand the Torah in their diverging ways, was compelling evidence that the God of Israel still lives in the heart of His people. And this scene is replicated at Limmud conferences all around the world.

Elijah appears at three Jewish events – seder nights, circumcisions and Limmud Conferences. I hope we keep him busy for years to come.

Dr. Samuel Lebens studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion, holds a PhD in metaphysics and logic from the University of London, and is the chair of the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism.

1 Week to Go: Join the Worldwide LIMMUD Community!


Come and support this celebration and festival of Jewish thought, arts, culture, life, learning and teaching. Participants come from a wide variety of Jewish backgrounds, affiliations, denominations, circumstances and orientations.

The Limmud model is built on the premise that everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to share. What’s more, Limmud is a multi-generational, multi-denominational, diverse and inclusive event, welcoming all types of Jews and creating a community of learners!

It can’t get better than this, so go online (or click below) to

Take a look at our interactive programme!

You can view it as a grid, as a list, or in detailed format.

Hover over the session name to find out who is presenting it. Tag the sessions you’re interested in and see what your friends are going to!

To see our presenters for this year, click here.


In order for our community to thrive, we need and want your support. See you next week, on the 18th and 19th of August 2012!

With thanks to our major sponsors:

2 weeks to go: Roll Up for the Magical Limmud Weekend!

Join in for a weekend to allow your minds and hearts to be opened to new and exciting ideas – and where you can deepen your knowledge of our traditions and heritage.

Click below (or go to limmudnz2012.eventbrite.co.nz)

From Ethiopia to Israel: understanding the complexities and the ethical dilemmas in aid and refugees with Michal Bruck from the UN and the Jewish perspective on the African refugee crisis in Israel, presented by our local youth movement leaders.

Also, the implementation of Jewish values presented by teachers from Moriah kindergarten, to Mandy Lawrence’s learned discussions on Esther, to the showing of 3 amazing short films by young Israeli directors.


Something for everyone: so much to taste, savour, mull over and absorb!

And it is not all serious: listen to Jonathan Besser and friends in the tent playing Klezmer and other Jewish music for a lively Saturday night while you eat and catch up with friends.

What better way to spend the 18th and 19th August 2012: register now!

Take a look at our interactive programme!
You can view it as a grid, as a list, or in detailed format.

Hover over the session name to find out who is presenting it. Tag the sessions you’re interested in and see what your friends are going to!

To see our presenters for this year, click here.

With thanks to our major sponsors:


3 weeks to go!

Only 40 places left for LIMMUD Shabbat ‘Lunch & Learn’ Session!

Arrive at 12.30 and you’ll get to enjoy a light lunch and feast of debate and dialogue with other participants and a number of our amazing local and international presenters. Come and enjoy this rich celebration of learning, connecting and contributing. Remember: no registration on Shabbat at the door, so register now!

Click below (or go to limmudnz2012.eventbrite.co.nz)

We are lucky to be able to enjoy the theatre of Israeli based Robbie Gringas, who weaves honest complex situations and insights into Israeli society and Jewish life through his theatre. His theatre has been performed in Israel, USA, Mexico, Australia, Canada and now in NZ!

Experience an array of topics:
from Jeffrey Masson’s “Delving into the Holocaust”,
to Barbara Glasser’s “Bloch and Chassidic Music”,
accompanied by 3 internationally renowned musicians!

Winter is a time of feasting, so fatten your mind with broad, challenging and inspiring ideas – and finish off with some melting moments of culture!

Parents & caregivers: please bring your children along as well! The Sunday children’s programme is $10 per child with a parent registered for the day or per special arrangement if the child attends AHC Cheder or Beth Shalom Hebrew School, so get your kids involved! Numbers are limited for the children’s programme so make sure to register now!

With thanks to our major sponsor:

Children’s sessions: Limmud NZ 2012

LIMMUD is running sessions for children (5-12) on Sunday this year.

Unlike previous years, you will need to take your child to each session and sign them in (before you go to your own session), and pick them up at the end of the session.

For the workshops (5-8 yrs in the morning and 9-12 yrs in the afternoon) you will be able to sign them in for the whole workshop and pick them up at the end.

In all cases a parent or other noinated caregiver will need to remain at the LIMMUD site and within mobile phone contact.

Children will not be allowed to enter the LIMMUD site without having been registered by a parent (or teacher in the case of Beth Shalom Hebrew School students and AHC Cheder pupils).

Parents with children under 5 who need a nanny service are asked to call Claudia on 021 1010512 to book this.

The current Children’s sessions are described here but it is anticipated that other sessions may be added prior to the start of LIMMUD. Numbers are limited!

4 weeks to go!

Have you read “All that I Am” – It’s spellbinding! Come along to hear Anna Funder, the internationally acclaimed author discuss her bestselling novel and”Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall” – for which she has also won numerous awards.

And then move straight on to a scintillating debate between a Chabad Rabbi and a cultural Jew on “Is Halachah still necessary?”

And later in the afternoon Charles Justin, a prominent Melbourne architect and past president of the Jewish Museum of Australia, will broaden our minds with the topic “Understanding God via Architecture”.


So, you don’t like any of the above? Choose from one of the other 60 sessions!

MARK the 18th and 19th of AUGUST on your calendar as your weekend of being inspired by and with members of the worldwide Jewish community of LIMMUD.

To register, click below (or at limmudnz2012.eventbrite.com).


Celebrate Jewish Learning and Culture: LIMMUD NZ 2012!

Over 140 people enjoyed simultaneous LIMMUD sessions at a TASTE OF LIMMUD, choosing between understanding our history, lively debate of issues confronting Israel in the context of a contemporary film and Clive Lawton challenging our notion of prayer, assisted by a haunting recital by musicians from Auckland’s Philharmonia. 

You can view some photos of the evening below or have a look at the full album online.

Come and enjoy further films from CinePublika (an Israeli film related social movement), debate and music, both classical, Israeli and popular, at LIMMUD NZ’s Festival of Learning and Culture, the most exciting event of the Jewish year in New Zealand!

To register, click below (or at limmudnz2012.eventbrite.com).
LIMMUD NZ is coming up: Saturday 18 August – Sunday 19 August 2012!

Starting with a variety of Shabbat service options at or near the Greys Avenue site, the main event kicks off with Lunch and Learn at 12.30pm, continues on Saturday night, through to Sunday night.

Check out www.limmud.org.nz for the list of presenters at LIMMUD NZ. Watch out for the full programme and lots more coming soon!

Connect to the Limmud community – volunteer!

Whether you can spare a week, a day or an hour…join the team and be connected to the biggest celebration of Jewish learning & culture in New Zealand! To join the volunteer team and make a difference, contact us at info@limmud.org.nz.

From the Steering Group of LIMMUD NZ 2012.

Join us for a TASTE OF LIMMUD!

Please join us for a TASTE OF LIMMUD and to launch the LIMMUD NZ 2012 Programme on 12 June 6.30 for a 7pm start at Beth Shalom, 180 Manukau Road Epsom.

Featuring sessions by internationally aclaimed Jewish educator and Limmud co-founder Clive Lawton (for a preview, listen to Clive speak about the rhythms of the Jewish year and its key contents), and a number of other local talents. Entry by Koha.

After an introduction by Alison Dyson and Clive Lawton there is a choice of two sessions with a half an hour interlude to register for 18/19 August weekend and have coffee and cake.

First sessions 7.10 to 8:

Superstition or clarity – does Kol Nidrei really have the power? Presented by Clive Lawton, one of the fathers of the International Limmud movement, the session will include a unique classical recital by a string quartet from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performing the haunting meditation on ‘Kol Nidrei – Nigun’, by American composer Jacob Weinberg. The session will also include Eliah Sakakushev on cello playing  ‘Prayer’, by Ernest Bloch.

Pathways in Jewish History: Was Jesus a Jewish leader? – Udi Dvorkin, a popular local speaker with a Master’s Degree in Jewish History and Contemporary Judaism will present a fascinating insight into Jesus Christ & the Early Christians from his lecture series covering Jewish history from 1900BCE to 1900CE.

Second sessions 8.30 – 9.30:

Davening or driveling? Is there any point in praying? Clive Lawton, one of the fathers of the International Limmud movement, always challenges us. Clive is briefly visiting New Zealand in his capacity as a Senior Consultant to Limmud International. He holds a multitude of roles including as a governor of London’s Police Service, a magistrate and scholar-in-residence at the London Jewish Cultural Centre. Clive has been principal of a Jewish High School, Deputy Director of Liverpool’s municipal Education Department, Chair of a National Health Service hospital, Chair of Tzedek, the 3rd World Development agency. Besides his other roles, Clive works freelance around the world in educational, leadership, vision setting and team building fields.

Contemporary Israeli film and discussion – ‘Mapping’ by Asaf Saban, (15 minutes, Hebrew with English subtitles) produced by CinePublika, an Israeli film-related social movement established by local filmmakers. Rabbi Altschul will facilitate a discussion about this short film, which describes fragments of contemporary Israeli life: the separation barrier, Arab-Israeli co-existence, the sirens on the Day of Remembrance and the constant underlying tension.

How do you create meaning without a Temple? Udi Dvorkin will provide a further stand alone session about Jews in Israel during the Mishna time, after the destruction of the second Temple.

‘Like’ us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LimmudNZ.


Form the habit – Limmudise your life!

LIMMUD has grown from fewer than a hundred Jews in a cold room over Christmas week in the UK 32 years ago, into a wildly successful global movement for informal Jewish education that for 40,000 people is now an addictive annual treat and shmooze fest.

New Zealand is running its third LIMMUD NZ over the weekend 18 – 19 August at Kadimah School, 108 Greys Avenue, Auckland. Starting with Shabbat lunch it runs right through until Sunday evening.

LIMMUD’s strength lies in bringing together all the strands of what it means to be a Jew – the religious, the secular, the cultural, the intellectual, the Zionist and the anti-Zionist – anyone who has a common interest in Jewish learning and ethics.  Journalist Chemi Shalev sums it up well in Ha’Aretz:

Limmud celebrates an insatiable Jewish thirst for knowledge at a time of reality-induced, mind-numbing mediocrity; it features original ideas and outside-the-box thinking against the backdrop of increasing uniformity and spreading dogma; it gathers Jews of widely disparate backgrounds while isolation and sectarianism abound all around; and it allows free and open debate of the most controversial topics in a long-forgotten atmosphere of curiosity and mutual respect.”

Why Come to LIMMUD?

The only intergenerational, cross-denominational, unaffiliated Jewish event, LIMMUD brings you a wonderfully varied and free-spirited cocktail of lectures, debates and discussion. If you don’t want to learn, you can skip sessions and drink coffee and chat in the LIMMUD lounge with your friends – or with people you never usually meet – from across the country and beyond.

What’s covered? Ethics, metaphysics, theatre, art, writing, music, cinema, the Holocaust, Torah, Halachah and faith and much more.  Here’s a taste of the delights in store:

  • Sam Lebens, philosopher, political commentator and playwright discussing The Prophet & the Prostitute, The Torah as Temptress, and A Guide to the Guide.
  • Carol Millner, an award-winning freelance writer and poet with a background in theatre, running drama/ezine workshops for children.
  • Adinah Brown from Monash University debating with Israeli-born Ittay Flescher  (a hot favourite at LIMMUD NZ 2010) “Do we need God to be Good?”
  • UK-born (now Israeli) comedian and theatre artist Robbie Gringras ,whose globally performed plays revolve around the theme of complexity of love and understanding of Israel and Judaism, brings his comic performances to New Zealand for the first time.
    • · Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, the founder of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, teaching  mindfulness meditation. 
    • Jeffrey Masson,  psychologist, writer, former Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and the Director of The Freud Institute, sharing his insights as a significant collector of Holocaust literature.
    • …..and local gems including Lymor Fybish on art therapy, Rabbi Adi Cohen storytelling and discussing the Rambam, Eliah Sakakuschev on cello, Osnat Dvorkin on Avodah Aravit, Udi Dvorkin on Jews from Palestine and Arabs from Israel, Sarah Schieff on Jewish musicians & Sara Nevezie on Yiddish.

LIMMUD Needs You!

LIMMUD relies entirely on volunteers:  Please think about giving some time (even an hour helps) to assist with the many tasks of running the conference.  We need help before, during and after the weekend especially with:

  • cooking before and during LIMMUD
  • assisting with the children’s programme on Sunday
  • transporting, providing a meal for or accommodating speakers and out of town visitors
  • ….providing or facilitating a LIMMUD session

We believe everyone can be a teacher and everyone should be a student

For those who have not yet tasted the manna that is LIMMUD treat yourself to this special Jewish fest. Get the habit, LIMMUDize your life.

To be involved or to find out more, contact the LIMMUD Steering Group:

Volunteers: Viv Josephs  pvjosephs@orcon.net.nz

To Run or Participate in a Session: Tanya Thomson tanya.thomson@xtra.co.nz

Check out the LIMMUD website on www.limmud.org.nz or Like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/LimmudNZ.  Programme and speaker details will be up soon!