Posted on November 11, 2014 by Alana Bandos
Today at Pardes, we had a faculty panel about the conflict and two related day trips- one to Hevron and the other a tour of 3 vastly different cities (a Charedi village, secular Kibbutz, and Arab-Israeli village). On the panel sat Meir Schweiger, Rahel Berkovits, Tovah Leah Nachmani, and Daniel Roth, four incredible teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds. At first, the discussion seemed “parve” as Rahel put it, going over impressions from the two trips. Then, the teachers started to reveal to us opinions deeply rooted in their own emotional experiences. For a few minutes, the conversation seemed tense. The atmosphere in the room was palpably concentrated on the intense emotions each of our teachers, including Michael Hattin (joining the panel), revealed to us through their words. When the discussion ended an hour later, only two main questions had been asked to the teachers and the students were sent off to Mincha and lunch with plenty of feelings, or at least I know I was pretty confused about it all. After bearing witness to such powerful sentiments and reactions, I myself reacted strongly. I started to feel tears welling in my eyes and fled the building quickly, eager to escape before the tears started to fall.
I didn’t know why exactly I was crying. I’ve heard many of the positions about the conflict before and was not particularly surprised by anything the teachers said. What did surprise me though, was how our teachers said it. For the first time in my year plus at Pardes, I felt that I had just experienced the faculty in a pure, unfiltered state. The faculty who spoke were not shy about their opinions; nor were they shy about the passions that drove those opinions. As I walked out of the building, I thought momentarily that I was angry at how emotional our teachers had become. However, as I got further and further from the building, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude.
Gratitude that our teachers had been so honest and unashamed of their beliefs. Gratitude that I was in the room to experience that. I appreciated hearing the teachers speak to us not as our teachers, but as human beings who exist outside the realm of Pardes as well. Moreover, they all spoke to us as Israeli citizens with personal attachment and investment in the conflict. I was grateful for this glimpse into the lives of our teachers, not just because I now feel closer to each and every one of them, but also because the illusion has been broken. Too often we at Pardes take it for granted that we can express our opinions in a safe environment. Too often we complain that the outside world, Jewishly or politically, is not like the open atmosphere of Pardes. We are sheltered in our bubble of acceptance and trust. However, the reality is unfortunately not like Pardes. If everyone in this country was engaged in such extensive dialogues as we had today, then maybe there could be a movement towards no conflict at all. But the fact of the matter is that the conflict is real and not going away any time soon. Hearing our teachers share their beliefs helped me to step outside of the bubble, for even a moment. Perhaps that’s why I was crying, because reality is much harsher than our comfortable Bet Midrash. And yet, despite the heightened emotions today, Pardes has still retained its beauty. Not once did a teacher personally attack another teacher. Although certainly filled with strong emotions, the situation never reached (at least in my opinion) a level so volatile that would prevent our teachers from treating each other with respect today or any other day. What occurred today in the Bet Midrash was certainly not a “safe” space, but rather the “brave” space with which Dean Bernstein prompted the discussion. All of our teachers demonstrated incredible bravery in letting their unfiltered opinions shine through. It may have been not the “typical Pardes moment,” but it certainly was powerful in its own right. I, for one, am thankful that the teachers demonstrated to us the very notion that true dialogue does not exist if all parties agree with each other just for the sake of agreeing. What need would there be for dialogue if any one invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was so “parve” with their beliefs?
To all of the teachers that participated, and Dean Bernstein for sharing his opinions as well in the beginning of the program, I say a heartfelt thanks. I’m truly so thankful to have been in the Bet Midrash for Shiur Clali today, and I am so excited to be learning Torah from such real and brave souls.