The Pardes Pop Up Beit Midrash

Derek Kwait is an alumni from Pardes (Year 11-12, Fellow 12-13), 
former editor of These and Those, and currently the editor of 
the magazine New Voices.

dkwaDLK said the atmosphere felt just like his bar mitzvah except he liked everyone there. Meesh, in a more positive formulation, said it felt like her wedding. For me, it felt like a homecoming.

Living in New York City surrounded by friends from my two years (Year ‘12, Fellows ‘13) at Pardes, I often feel somewhat spoiled that I get to see my Pardes friends every day and continue building that ideal Jewish community in the real-world with them. So at Sunday’s Pardes Pop-Up Beit Midrash at Park Avenue Synagogue, though I at times felt my spoiledness-level reach rich widow’s French poodle levels, more than anything else, I felt I was coming home.

No sooner did I walk through the door when I was reunited with two old friends and I found I couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into some other favorite person of mine. But it wasn’t until the learning began that I truly felt at home.

I had seen DLK and Yaffa since leaving Pardes, so I decided to go to Meesh’s session even though her topic Jewish and Democratic State–Oxymoron? was one that, frankly, I’m a little burnt out on. But as soon as Meesh said “If the Haredim say a Jewish state can’t be a democracy on one side and [Arab Knesset member] Haneen Zoabi says a democratic state can’t be Jewish on the other, I know I’m going to want to find myself somewhere between those views,” I felt that familiar rush of belonging. The following tour of sources from the Bible, Rabbinic writings, and Rav Kook followed by thoughtful discussion about Israel— the wild black rhino of the Jewish world—was a timely reminder of what makes Pardes so special.

Since leaving Pardes, I have discovered that living an observant life in the working world can be thoughtless; when you’re not careful, even in the very Jewish job I am blessed to have, Jewish practice can sometimes feel like another part of the daily routine. Although I make time for Torah study, it often feels like a short gasp for air in a city that is ever-vigilant in its mission to suffocate me. Further, working in the media, debates too often feel tired and clichéd, with more precedence given to partisan shills than regular people. I miss Pardes every day for so many reasons.

Yet this is what made the second session, a panel discussion between the three teachers: Text Learning ‘For its Own Sake’: Is it Really Possible? What’s the Value? exploring the rewards and difficulties of living an observant Jewish life, so refreshing. Hearing my teachers, who I admire deeply, speak candidly about things I think about all the time, including: how open a Jewish community can really be, the daily challenges of observant life, the mistakes they’ve made, who they’ve offended, how they handle the many ways Judaism is used and abused every day, and what they believe in their kishkes makes it all worthwhile, was more inspiring, and more needed, than any formal class they could have given.

As write this the following day, something occurs to me: When I got home from Pardes in the summer of 2013, the first thing I did after sleeping off my jetlag was crack open a Mishna and start learning. Upon coming home Sunday night, the first thing I did was go to the bookshelf and learn a text, the Ben Ish Chai, which I first learned with my night seder havruta in the spring of 2013. This certainly wasn’t intentional, but thinking about it now, I think it means that the best Jewish experiences are those that motivate you to keep them going once they’re over. That’s what the Jewish conception of revelation is all about, really.

Spending a Sunday afternoon surrounded by friends and texts old and new, mulling over radical new Jewish ideas, feeling the glow of new revelations and excitement about making more on your own…that is what it feels like to come home to Pardes.


Mishpatim: who’s in my window?

mfThis week’s parasha, Mishpatim, is essentially a long list of laws laid out for the Jewish people following the revelation at Sinai. Often, the laws seem understandable (if a man leaves their animal with a neighbor for safekeeping and the animal is killed/hurt/disappears, the neighbor must make an oath that he had no hand in the damage done, v. 22:9). Sometimes, the laws are not only understandable but, also, feel comfortable and positive from a modern mindset (if you lend money to a poor person, do not act as a demanding creditor, v. 22:24). Sometimes, the laws are a bit uncomfortable (if a pregnant woman is hit and miscarries, she should receive monetary payment for the worth of the lost child, v. 21:22). Side note: What made me uncomfortable here was the notion of assigning monetary worth as recompense for a lost child. Yet, my Chumash teacher, Meir Schweiger pointed out that insurance companies assign monetary worth to lost life as a general practice.

Continue reading

[PCJE] Parshat Yitro: The Model of Nationhood

daIn this week’s parsha, פרשת יתרו, God tells Moshe ואתם תהיו–לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש, “and you will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). What does this statement mean? Continue reading

Post-Poland Reflection

Nate GFrom our trip to Poland, we definitely had our share of sad sights. Through the five days of our tour of the country we visited countless ghettos, camps, and graves. The stories about life as a Jew during the Shoah were tragic and horrifying. Other stories, like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, seemed heroic. Seeing Schindler’s factory and hearing from a surviving righteous gentile was reassuring of the kindness and sanity of humanity. Continue reading

[PCJE] We Return

Samantha VinokorUnder the night sky, lit only by stars, we return.
None of us have been here before, to this town trapped in time, and yet our presence
here is a return.
We come as a memory of what once was, confronting the sky, the trees, and the
houses with each footstep.
On a footpath in the backyard between two houses, in sight of kitchen and bedroom
windows, a stone slab rises.
Treading through the overgrown grass, hearts beating as dogs bark in the darkness,
we approach.
Continue reading

[PCJE Dvar Torah] Panic Sets In

Elana ShillingAs I write this D’var Torah, it is nearly noon on Wednesday January 7th. A storm is coming…

Pardes and the rest of Jerusalem educational institutions are closed. The roads in and out of Jerusalem have been closed in anticipation of motorists getting stuck. Emergency vehicles are on standby as are 150 snowplows.

Continue reading

“You Never Need Nobody”

This week’s parsha, Shemot, is the first in the Book of Exodus. It tells of the beginning of Suz HutMoshe’s life and the story of Passover. In the beginning of the parsha, we hear of Pharoah’s evil decree, in which he commands the midwives to kill all of the male Hebrew babies. The midwives, however, do not follow his orders. When asked why, the midwives tell Pharoah it is כי חיות הנה, because they, the Hebrew mothers, are vigorous. This word, חיות , was very curious to me. My JPS Tanakh translates it as “vigorous,” but at the root of the word is חי, life. What does it mean for the Hebrew mothers to be so full of life that the midwives could not carry out the decree?

Continue reading

Culmination of Bereshit

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 4.22.09 PMSarah Pollack 1As we culminate the book of Genesis, I looked back to see what we had learned. How the stories fit together. What the commonality between the past 50 chapters held. In the women’s commentary to the Torah, Tamara Cohn Eshkanezi writes that Genesis is accounting for the human condition with it’s possibilities and perils.

Continue reading

[Guest Post] Birthday

Rivka Epstein, married to Pardes instructor Rabbi Michael Hattin,
wrote the following piece on the occasion of their son, Elchanan's, 
first jump with the IDF.


I gave birth today. But my belly was steel and my arms, wings. I flew above the sands, precariously positioned myself, and ejected a life. Gracefully, he dropped, gravity his partner.

From afar, one might view the scene with a romantic air. The endless blue, the dancing body suspended by a drifting parachute. The gradual descent tempered by soft winds and a hazy skyline.

Continue reading

Miracle, Revisited

Suz Hut5…4…3…2…1…Do you believe in miracles??!”

That’s one of the most blood-pumping, invigorating moments in one of my very favorite movies, Miracle, about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The miracle in the movie is that the inexperienced, comparatively young U.S. team could beat the seemingly invincible Soviet team.

When we talk about miracles, we often talk about grand, in-the-spotlight events, experiences that defy our expectations and remind us that we can’t always predict the future.

The traditional Chanukah story is no different from that definition. The story goes that the Maccabees defeated the mighty Greeks, a miracle in itself, and then went to the Temple in search of oil. All the oil had been tainted, but they found a vile with enough oil to last one night. The miracle of Chanukah was that the oil lasted for eight whole nights.

Continue reading