By David Wolkin Not long after I started working for Limmud NY, I found myself spending a Saturday evening with my friend Sarra in very unique hotel, one unlike any of those where we’ve held our celebrations of Jewish life and learning. I’m talking about the McKittrick Hotel, which happens to be a fictional institution of sorts, housing the highly popular immersive theater experience Sleep No More. Sleep No More is a noirish retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but it’s quite different than your average play. Audience members don’t sit in rows of chairs, but instead put on masks and wander the halls of the McKittrick throughout the evening as the story takes place around them. People are free to explore the hotel’s many rooms, searching documents and furniture for further insights into the larger story. And while attendees (or should I call them participants?) are not allowed to interact with the actors, the same is not true of the reverse.  At one point in the show, a nurse brought me into a hut, served me tea and told me a story, only to become agitated and kick me out.

When Sarra and I first arrived at the McKittrick, we were quickly separated from each other and only reunited in the hotel bar at the end of the show. “Did the nurse talk to you too?” “What? No! I never saw a nurse. Did you see the big fight on the third floor?” “I didn’t see a fight. Did you see the insane dance party on the 5th floor?” “There was a dance party? I can’t believe I missed a dance party!” And so our conversation continued like that during the long cab ride back to Brooklyn. Sarra and I had spent almost three hours at the same play and we couldn’t find a single thing in common about our experiences. The one thing we could agree on was that we both had an incredible time. *** Fast forward to late January 2012: I’m in the process of simultaneously celebrating and recovering from a wonderful experience at Limmud NY 2012, my sixth conference as an attendee and my first as an employee of Limmud NY. I spent some time searching around for media coverage or blog posts about the conference, and I came upon this collection of pieces by one of our attendees.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting this particular person, but I really enjoyed her reflections on Limmud NY.  My favorite part about it? Much like my time with Sarra at Sleep No More, my time at Limmud NY was nothing like hers. I didn’t pray at the same services that she did, I learned at completely different sessions, and I never got a chance to eat the egg salad.  My (other) favorite part about her blog posts was that in reading these reflections of learning at Limmud NY, I was able to glean knowledge from sessions that I wasn’t even able to attend. *** I never expected that I would find a connection between Sleep No More and Limmud NY, but a distinct parallel emerged: I’ve never had a theatrical experience like Sleep No More, and I’ve never had a Jewish experience like Limmud NY. At every other play I’ve attended, I was a passive observer in the audience. I sat in front of the stage, and the cast performed to me, with an invisible wall keeping us separate. While I certainly enjoyed most of these shows, there was a clear limitation on my level of interaction. To some extent, it’s been the same for much of my Jewish life.  Even with the most powerful and engaging of learning experiences, there was a limit to my options, or sometimes no options at all. Put differently, I might say that the path was mostly decided for me. But that’s not what happens for me (or anyone else) at Limmud NY. Our programming implicitly recognizes that every participant has walked a very different Jewish pathway towards participating in our conference, which enables those same participants to design their own experiences during the four days that they learn and volunteer with us. I’ve always believed that the most powerful forms of Jewish learning takes place when we approach people with the message of “this is in your hands.” By gathering the widest possible range of presenters and making all sessions available to everyone, Limmud NY can do just that. *** While my preceding words might suggest otherwise, this post is not meant to be about theater, though Sleep No More is a great show. Nor is it necessarily meant to be about our annual conference, though I hope you’ve already marked your calendars for Limmud NY 2013 (February 15-18). My post is actually an invitation to lend your voices to this blog. As I said, the power of Limmud NY lies in the people who join our community of learning and volunteering. It’s our hope that this blog will serve as a reflection of this diversity. We’d like you to share your stories of learning, at Limmud NY or elsewhere, as well as your teaching. We like to say that Limmud NY is a place where everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, and we want our new website to be exactly that kind of place. If you’d like to contribute, please contact us here. We look forward to learning from you! *** David Wolkin is the executive director of Limmud NY.