[Alumni Guest Post] Failure as Illumination

evaneuAll the month of Elul before eating and sleeping let every man sit and look into his soul, and search his deeds, that he may make confession. (S.Y. Agnon, Days of Awe, citing Maharil)

Last week I had an epic fail. I think failures are precious—especially the big ones— because they offer a huge window into the unconscious. The unconscious is the code behind the programs we’re running, so seeing it in action helps us understand how we operate. Continue reading


[Alumni Guest Post] Political Activist Turned Mikveh Lady

Cross-posted from Ilana Sumka's (Year '05, Fellows '6) 
blog post on the Mayyim Hayyim blog:


I’m a political activist by training, so I was as surprised as anyone to find myself teaching Tanakh, (Torah, Prophets and Writings) and Jewish law to a group of conversion students.

A few weeks ago I had the profound honor of witnessing my students immerse in the mikveh after successfully appearing before the European beit din.

You’re more likely to find me preparing strategic action plans than pouring over a page of Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism. So how did a seasoned political activist like myself turn mikveh lady? Continue reading

“Are you crazy?” They ask.

Alana BandosAll summer long (not the Kid Rock song), my peers, my parents’ peers, my aunt and uncle, my bosses and their neighbors, the random lady painting my nails, my SCUBA instructor, the guy from Verizon selling me a new phone, and just about everyone else has been asking me this one question: “Are you crazy?” Now, I generally don’t talk out loud to myself (at least not in public), so this question would normally come as somewhat of a shock. However, the question is always preceded by me explaining calmly that I will be returning to Israel within a few weeks. In the space of a moment, generally relaxed people flare up and inquire about my sanity. You would think I had cut lanes in front of them while driving or blew a stoplight the way their nostrils flared in anger and disbelief. But no, all I did was say I was traveling… to Israel. The kinder people then follow their question with a prayer for my safety abroad or ask another question about my activities for the coming year and their proximity to Gaza. Most people however, simply drop the conversation at that moment and walk away shaking their heads. Often, I can hear them muttering under their breaths so loudly that I start to wonder if they are the crazy ones. Continue reading

[Alumni Guest Post] I live in Brooklyn?!

From my blog:

laurmarEmotions are high as I walk the streets of Brooklyn and even venture into the big city. I just keep walking. Trying to get my mind to catch up with my physical being.

I am no longer wandering the streets of Jerusalem.

These are not the same people, not the same corner stores, not the same language.

Am I the same? Continue reading

[Alumni Guest Post] Children Learning, Adults Praying?

From my blog:
If only I could wear it as stylishly!

If only I could wear it as stylishly!

Campers and counselors are sitting on a grassy knoll partaking in Wednesday night barbecue. (R is an 8-year-old female camper.)
R: Why do you always wear skirts?
Counselor: Uhhhhh…… Because I’m religious. Because I’m Jewish. Because I’m a woman. Because of modesty.
R: What’s that?
Counselor: Tzniut. Umm… it means that I don’t show certain parts of my body.
R (noticing that Counselor is also wearing pants and long-sleeves today): But you’re covering your whole body. Except your face.
Counselor (prays for situation to pass): Well, it’s cold today (it actually is).
Because how do you explain modesty to an 8-year-old? Help. Continue reading

[Alumni Guest Post] I’m scared. I’m terrified. I’ve been taught to keep quiet.

lonkleI cried during services last Shabbat. I cried out of frustration and fear. I cried because the Rabbi told the sanctuary that liberal voices speaking out against Israel were anti-Semitic and hateful. I cried because I was told to shut up, that there’s only one way to support a land I had come to call home for the past 9 months.

Where is the fruitful Jewish tradition of debate, of Machloket LeShem Shamayim?

I was spoiled last year, I think to myself. At Pardes, I knew that I could openly discuss any issue with students and staff, that my opinion would be respected even if it wasn’t agreed with. I learned that I could be critical of Israel, and still love the country with all my heart and soul. Continue reading

I’ve been saying Watermelon a lot.

I don't formally blog, but I did spend some time reflecting 
on something I shared at our 2014 Pardes Summer Program 
Tish. Here are my reflections:

racdingAt a dinner at Yaffa’s house she made the joke “sing along if you know the words, if you don’t just say Watermelon”. Needless to say, I said watermelon a lot at Pardes.

I fully intend on writing a really positive reflection on my time at Pardes, because truly I can’t imagine a better way to spend my summer. But first, I have to start this reflection where I started — feeling inadequate, nervous, and doubtful. I came to Pardes with very little Hebrew knowledge, I had never even seen the Talmud, and I hadn’t been to services in over 2 months. During my first class I was reassured that I wasn’t alone in my lack of Hebrew skills, and that we were going to be diving into text in a very analytical way (my inner Philosophy major was stoked!) Just as I started to feel a bit better in my courses we had our first Shabbat dinner at Pardes. This was an incredible show of community and it felt great to sit around the table, however; it was a quick reminder that I didn’t really fit. I didn’t grow up going to camp, I didn’t know Continue reading

[Alumni Guest Post] Beloved Ben and Marla: Teaching for their Memory

amanpogIt’s been 12 years since we lost our friends Ben and Marla and this day never seems to get easier. I dread July 31st. Every year I hope that somehow we will transition from July 30 directly to August 1st. And somehow this year feels harder. Knowing that we are back in a moment of fear, of loss, and of great tragedy for Israel, for Jewish people around the world, and for the innocent victims caught in between.

On this day I am reminded of my blessings. Of my incredible family, my supportive community, my friends and my teachers. And I am reminded of possibility. For me, there is a new year ahead, another birthday, another opportunity to create, to build and to love. And then I am reminded of Marla’s 24th birthday that we celebrated together in Jerusalem. Her last one. And I still, 12 years later, am in disbelief that she won’t have another. That there is no more getting older, no more possibilities, no more opportunities. Continue reading

The Secret Ingredient

janmendI could seriously fill an entire book about the experiences that led me to Pardes, but don’t worry — for the sake of short attention spans (it’s okay, I have one too) — I’ll keep it brief.

So long story short, I grew up in this little bubble outside of the United States. I never had the benefit of Jewish day school, overnight camps or the plethora of programs available to college students. Post bar-mitzvah, I was that typical unaffiliated Jew that everyone loves to scoff at. You know, the one who might appear in a synagogue for Yom Kippur. Even then, that only happened if I was back home in Jamaica (yes, there are Jews in Jamaica). Then not too long ago, due to some family adversity coinciding with my meeting of a wonderful young rabbi in Miami, I made my return to being Continue reading

O’seh Shalom: Pray with Me

I shared these words at the final Community Lunch of 
the 2014 Summer Program:

carseaI am an unorthodox Jew. But I know I am Israel because I wrestle with Divine Power — אל — all the time. ישראל: the Power Wrestlers.

Among the powers with which I struggle is the power that comes from privilege. I have the privilege of white skin. I have the privilege of education, of being able to study at a place like Pardes. I have the privilege of having some kind of affluence in a world where most people have none.

I live in Oakland, California. When folks I know asked me if I were afraid to go to Israel — and this was before the מצב — I said no. Continue reading