People normally rebel against imposed structures. Schoolchildren throw paper aeroplanes. Prisoners riot. And Limmudniks shout barbed comments and take two helpings of lunch.
The whole of Limmud Conference is basically one big social experiment in cabin fever. Take 2,700 Jews, trap them all in a massive hotel so full of identical winding corridors it becomes Solihull’s answer to The Prisoner, provide only just enough food to go round, lay on a sprinkling of provocative sessions, and await results.
A state of nature reasserts itself. People claw at each other to get hold of the last remaining kosher baguette. A rumour that the tea station outside Orange 5 is equipped with both cups and water can cause a stampede.
And the debates. Oh, the debates. Calling Judaism ‘organised religion’ sometimes seems like a bit of a stretch, but by golly, we can organise a debate. We can even organise them when we’re not supposed to.
Limmud presenters generally ask for questions at the end of their sessions, but we all know that’s just code for, “Please take 5-10 minutes to share your point of view, bigotry encouraged,” don’t we.
The more conscientious ‘questioners’ will suffix their ravings with a fairly lame, “And what is your reaction to what I’ve said?”
But more commonly people just blithely announce, “This is a comment not a question,” before launching into a drivular monologue scored according to a system where Isis references earn 10 points and Holocaust ones a cool 50.
But credit doesn’t just attach to hoary old clichés. The bold are to be rewarded as well. Some of the best unsolicited contributions from the floor are those that are completely divorced not only from good taste but also from any known reality.
One man, for instance, was very concerned at the effect of EU labelling on his son’s pepper farm located in an Israeli settlement. (The effect of said settlement on the Palestinian nation is quite clearly of secondary concern.)
He told a spellbound room: “I was in Tesco last week…” – and thus the scene was set – “…in the fruit and vegetable aisle…” – we all sat transfixed – “…and I saw a crate of peppers on sale.”
At this point the audience thought we might have found an inkling of where this was going, but did we heck: “And I looked at the peppers, and I could tell they were my son’s!”
Really? Could he though? Were they all carefully monogrammed? Was this son the renowned solo inventor of the blue pepper? And perhaps more to the point, what is the relevance?
But that particular session provided not just one of my five-a-day (five inane comments about fruit and/ or vegetables a day) but two. Because another member of the audience, who was very cutting-edge and radical in moving away from the far-too-conventional ‘one person speaking at a time’ model to the much more refreshing ‘loudest man gets to dominate’ system, had his own (loud) contribution to make.
“I don’t think,” he began, and I tended to agree with this part of the sentence, “I don’t think that anyone in this room knows the difference between strawberries and BDS!”
To be clear, this was the first mention of strawberries in the session. No strawberries, loganberries or other fruits of the family Rosacae were harmed in the making of this programme.
And I, for one, certainly do know the difference between strawberries and BDS. Strawberries are often associated with fools, whereas BDS is made more palatable by whipped cream. Simples.
Luckily I still have two more full days of Limmud left to come. But how many more lunches…?