Two Limmud Journeys


Shawn Landres, PhD, is the co-founder of Jumpstart and a Commissioner on the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission

At the 2011 ROI Summit in Jerusalem, a group of us pitched a program to serve the growing numbers of us who were on our way out of the vaunted “20s & 30s” cohort. We were outliers then, the few, the proud, the aging.

While most ROIers still are well under 40, the newsletter ever more frequently features news of a birth, adoption, or other family-making milestone. We are changemakers, innovators, trailblazers, and, increasingly, parents.

And so it was that when I went to the Limmud Conference this past December, thanks to Limmud and an ROI Micro Grant, I found myself on two journeys: an individual path, reflecting having been invited as co-founder of Jumpstart to design, lead, and participate in sessions related to my professional expertise, and a family path. Unlike my first trip in 2010, this time I brought my wife Zuzana and our two young daughters (aged 5¾ and 3½).

If there ever were a way to experience the profoundly egalitarian ethos of Limmud, it was in the Radcliffe dining room, where families with young children ate breakfast and dinner together (and a few lunches) every day. Deans of prestigious graduate schools, eminent rabbis, directors of research institutes, and leaders of grassroots Jewish organizations alike went back and forth from polished presentations to chasing screaming children around the tables, or - more frequently - shrugging our shoulders and giving up.

Time management went to a whole new level, as Zuzana and I read through the program book, subtracted the times when we were leading sessions, along with the breakfast, dinner, bedtime, and wake-up-at-midnight timeslots - not to mention Young Limmud “graduation” - and worked out what was left for us to experience.  After taking into account the cappuccino lines, we had to pick carefully.

Best of all, I got to see friends and colleagues through my children’s eyes (and ears). I’ve always known that Naomi Less is a rockstar,  but now our kids do, too! And the proof is in this London Jewish Chronicle photo. And while I was honored that ROI master teacher (and JHub Director) Shoshana Boyd-Gelfand allocated one of her precious session timeslots (see “time management,” above) to my social enterprise presentation (click here for the podcast), I was even more thrilled that Shoshana was a guest storyteller in my elder daughter’s class. Before I learned from Rabbi Dr. Raphael Zarum, Dean of the London School of Jewish Studies, we met as Rafi and Shawn, two fathers in the dinner line.

As for my individual/professional journey, that’s a story too often told, except to say that it largely was made possible by the excellent Young Limmud and nursery programming.  On one night, Zuzana & I even had a dinner date with grown-up food and grown-up conversation. We held out as long as we could at “Hallelujah! Israel's Eurovision extravaganza!, brilliantly co-hosted by the co-chair of Limmud’s family programming, until 11:45, when “Diva” cued the parental rush to the exit so we all could relieve the hardworking teens of the babylistening service, many of whom weren’t even born when Dana International took the stage.

All of this brings me back to where I started. As we “ROI elders” make our way, I am finding that we are the beneficiaries of a second blessing, perhaps unplanned but no less meaningful. The ROI Community, along with initiatives like Limmud, Paideia, JHub, and Nahum Goldmann, are making it possible for Zuzana & me, and so many other parents, to raise our children in a truly global Jewish community.  Wherever we may happen to find ourselves, it is not only us who find friends, but also our children, who make our collective future possible.