Limmud Oz

Suzie Eisfelder

Because I haven’t finished my current book I’m going to ramble a bit about what I did on the weekend. It was a fun time, but I’m seriously exhausted and there’s so much happening this week.

Limmud Oz is a conference, although they bill it as a festival, that gives information, ideas, thinking and networking time for all those who want. It came out of the UK where it was originally aimed at Jewish educators. Since then it’s evolved and expanded to include Jews from all walks of life and now happens in over 40 countries worldwide. The first Australian Limmud was in Sydney in 1999 and has since alternated between Melbourne and Sydney. I’ve never managed to attend one in Sydney but that’ll happen one day.

The website talks about it being a three day festival, but that’s slightly out-of-date. It used to be held on a long weekend, starting Saturday evening after Shabbat was over and finishing Monday evening in time for people to go out and enjoy a meal with old friends or new. Things have changed a little and it now starts Saturday afternoon with a modest selection of talks and finishes Sunday in time for the dinner with old friends or new. We came home afterwards and I’m glad we did, I don’t think I would have made it through the meal if we’d been in a restaurant. So tired, and my brain is fried.

There were so many goodies to choose from. I could have attended any of a number of discussions of a political nature, or deep dives into Text and Philosophy, or a number of different Arts, Literature, Culture sessions, or so much more. The problem with something like this is how to narrow down the choices to just one selection. Sometimes I chose a session because I friend was on the panel, other times it was totally at random, other times because I just couldn’t be bothered crossing the road yet again. The Sunday sessions were held at two different campuses of a school, they are separated by a road and some pedestrian lights. Sometimes I just couldn’t be bothered.

The first session I chose at random. The presenter was an author, Liza Wiemer, who vowed never to write another book until she ended up in a small town called Oswego, New York. She just happened to be there to give a talk about her book, Hello. At this time the school in Oswego had hit the news big time. The students had been given an assignment to imagine they were a Nazi and the argue for or against the Final Solution. This Final Solution is the one that was presented to fifteen high-ranking officials from the German government and the Nazi party in 1942. They were presented the Final Solution and asked to discuss how to implement.

In 2017 this assignment was supposedly given to students to promote critical thinking. I suspect it did nothing of the sort. Because in their instructions they had to argue what they would do, would they kill all the Jews outright or just torture them to death. There are no good outcomes to that scenario, only bad ones. I can’t find any critical thinking there.

This assignment had been handed out for five years in a row and nothing came of it. 2017 was different because Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff were on the case. They looked at it and refused to do it. While they were given a different assignment everyone else had to do the original assignment. But it didn’t end there as they, and their parents took it further than just the school. I remember hearing about this at the time, I was in horror that anyone would consider this a good brief to hand to children. It’s more gruesome and horrible than Lord of the Flies could ever be.

But Wiemar just happened to be in Oswego that day. She was giving a talk at a bookstore. An unprepossessing bookstore. The weather was dreadful. When she arrived the coffee shop was closed, the parking lot was awash with rain. She decided to pull out her phone and check Facebook. And there is an article about the assignment posted by her aunt. After she spends time reading about it, getting terribly upset and wondering how she’s able to contact the students to tell them how wonderful they are she finally gets out of the car. She walks into the bookstore and explodes into speech. Wiemar is good at exploding into speech, I saw three of her talks and would happily attend more. Basically, she called out ‘you’re the world-famous Jordan April’. This young lady was so surprised to be called a hero, and brave, that she burst into tears. She was working at the bookstore, and neither she nor Wiemar had no idea of how their lives would be changed. Wiemar decided she had to write a book about the assignment. She ended up getting it published by Delacorte Press an arm of Penguin Random House.

Anyway, I had a tremendous time at Limmud Oz, I’m sure I’ll rave about it again in the future. But I was so taken with Wiemar’s story I bought her book. One day I’ll tell you what I think of it, as opposed to what I think of the assignment.

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