- The Bairs
His parents raised Ethan with a deep awareness that Hashem is in all religions; that no single faith community could have a monopoly on religious truth. Every Shabbat, they would light Shabbat candles, and they celebrated the Jewish holidays, but Ethan, raised by two teachers of Universal Sufism, never felt connected to a Jewish community.
In 1991 Nadya and her family immigrated from Moscow to New York City as Jewish refugees. Despite their refugee status, Nadya’s parents did not have a strong sense of Jewish identity, and they were suspicious of affiliating with Jewish organizations. She was raised with no Jewish practice, and she did not receive a childhood Jewish education.
As a student at Oberlin College, Ethan became a leader of the Jewish student organization, and led High Holiday services at Hillel for four years.
“Central to Universal Sufisim is the idea of ‘spiritual lineage’ … and as I became increasingly involved in the Jewish community at Oberlin, I began to wonder about my own.”
His wonder led him to major in Religion, Jewish studies, and German, and Ethan also learned Torah regularly with his rabbi at Hillel. Eventually, the young man graduated, and moved to Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, interviewing German Jews of Russian descent as a case study of Jewish identity.
At Barnard, Nadya majored in in Russian regional studies, while traveling to Russia every Summer as an employee of the UJA-Federation of NY. She worked in the Commission on Jewish Identity & Renewal on the task force on Russian speaking Jewry, and eventually she also started assessing major UJA-Federation grant recipients.
“I started learning about Judaism through my work. I simply didn’t have the connection to Jewish culture, religion, and peoplehood that my colleagues and the UJA board members had.”
Through her work, Nadya first learned of Pardes, and studied here during the summer of 2006 before moving to Russia for a year to open the Moscow branch of UJA-Federation of NY. Nadya would return to Pardes in the Summer of 2008 and once again in the Summer of 2011 with her future husband.
Ethan and Nadya met while living in Los Angeles after their great international adventures, and they were married in 2010. Ethan had moved to California to study at HUC as a rabbinical student, and Nadya had begun her Ph.D. program in Art History at USC. They both joined the ‘Shtibl Minyan’ community, and Nadya celebrated her bat mitzvah there… marking the special event by teaching four other women in her community to leyn Torah.
Eventually, Ethan completed his rabbincal studies, and felt that he wanted an opportunity to nurture his own neshama before beginning his work as the USC Hillel rabbi in the Fall of 2011. Together with Nadya, Ethan came to Pardes in the Summer of 2011 to learn with her in Jerusalem, feeling that it would be an opportunity for him to struggle with his relationship to Israel.
“I hope to encourage my students to invest in their own relationships with Israel – and to add to the various, nuanced ways that we can hold conversations about this sensitive issue.”