The event was on the Johns Hopkins campus. Finding the parking lot was a challenge, but there was good signage from the parking lot to the two buildings where sessions were being held. Things started on Jewish standard time (i.e. 20 minutes late), which was a bit of an issue since there were only five minute breaks scheduled between sessions. The intro, by Jakir Manela was mostly focused on what experiences people have had with teaching and learning. After that came decision time, as I often wanted to be in multiple places at the same time. There were both 90 minute and 45 minute sessions (overlapping) and I figured that the 45 minute ones would let me sample more. That was partly true, but I found that most of those were too short to really get into the subject.
The first session I went to was titled “The Me vs. we in Judaism” and, led by Justin Myrowitz consisted of a discussion of what obligations we have to the broader Jewish community. The limited time meant that the discussion didn’t go very far. I think a longer session, with source material handed out, would have been more valuable.
After that, I went to a talk by Andy Gershman on “Modern Day Maccabees: Jews and Sport.” Gershman hosted sports talk radio shows in Israel and writes about Jewish sports stars. Anybody who knows my minor obsession with Jewish baseball players would not be surprised to find that I enjoyed his talk. This was also one of the few for which the 45 minutes worked fine.
Another of my obsessions is Jewish superstitions and so I went to Elise Saltzberg’s session on that subject. The only new superstition I learned of was her idea that green cars are bad luck, but she did not explain that as specifically Jewish. (Note that my car, Neptune, is blue-green and has served me well for enough years to discount that superstition. Now, if you want to talk about bad luck, do not ever ever ever put a hat on a bed. But I don’t think there is anything particularly Jewish about that one.) At any rate, it was an interesting discussion, though I concluded that the Angel of Death isn’t all that bright given how many ways there are to fool him.
Lunch was included an was followed by a screening of part of a new documentary about the integration of Gwynn Oak Park in Baltimore.
I’d intended to go to a 90 minute “Create a Mosaic Hamsa” session, but I got there to find that there were only materials for 9 people. Rather than battling it out, I figured that there were enough other things I was interested in that I’d survive. So I went to “A Rosen By Any Other Name,” Robert Shapiro’s discussion on origins of Jewish surnames. I can’t say I learned anything particularly new, but it was a good (albeit, too brief) presentation.
I followed that with a session by Morris Panitz on “Ethical Food Consumption.” While he did make an effort to bring in a few Jewish texts, I still found this a bit more superficial than I’d hoped for.
I decided I need to get some arts content in, so I went to Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff’s session on “Telling Torah: Stepping Inside Our Story.” (Disclaimer is that she is the person who told me about Limmud Baltimore in the first place.) I thought she was very well organized and used the limited time effectively, both modeling storytelling and having everyone in the class tell Torah stories in pairs and discuss those stories.
Finally, I went to Joel Shurkin’s talk on “When Jewish Composers Fled the Ghetto.” I was a bit disappointed in this, since I thought he focused too much on familiar composers (e.g. Mahler) and I really wanted to know more about unfamiliar ones (which is why, for example, I go to the Pro Musica Hebraica series here).
Overall, I’d give the event a B-minus, largely because of my frustration over inadequate time for so many sessions. I think scheduling 15 minute breaks between sessions would also have helped a lot, since there wasn’t really a good time to look at exhibitors or to socialize much. Most Limmud events in other cities are multiple days and that might be a good solution to providing adequate time.