On my second Encounter trip, as we listened to various Palestinian speakers share their personal stories in a conference room in a Bethlehem hotel, I decided to take a stretch in the back of the room. At that point in the day, we had already listened to a number of speakers and I remember thinking to myself how completely different Jewish and Palestinian narrative is. That we each can look at the same set of facts and yet see two completely different stories. It reminded me of the quote by Marcus Aurelius, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
As I stood in the back shaking my head after disagreeing with the speaker’s “perspective”, I joked to a staff member that there is only ONE THING that can EVER solve this conflict… Continue reading →
Tamara Frankel (PEP '09-'11) is in her second year of
teaching at Chicagoland Jewish High School.
It’s one of the first sunny days in Chicago this spring and my students beg me to take them outside for class. We negotiate and decide to review our homework in class, on the board, and then go outside to start the next sugya. Eleven rambunctious and extremely insightful freshmen sit on the grass beside the bleachers while I stand up top. I ask my students to imagine that they are at the foot of Mount Sinai and that God is holding the mountain over their heads, expecting—maybe even threatening—them to accept the Torah. If not, they will die.
My students think I’m crazy. I tell them that Rav Avdimi recounts this dramatic “filling-in-the-gaps” of a pasuk in Shmot 19:17: “ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר” “And they [the Israelites] stood at attention at the foot of the mountain”. For a moment, I’m off the hook; I could never make up this story! Continue reading →
This piece was an assignment for the Hartman Rabbinical Students Seminar. We were asked to choose one poem or song that we studied and one other piece of text that we studied, share a line or a paragraph from each and a reflection on it. Ever the overachiever, I ended up weaving together themes from three different pieces.
Rabbi Hiyya’s Initiation, Zohar on Shmot verse 2
Rabbi Hiyya heard & said, “Oy! The high ones are busy with learning inside the house and I am sitting on the outside!” And he wept. Continue reading →
Don’t count me out.
I’m not young.
In fact, I am rightfully considered to be among the elders of our community.
But I didn’t grow up in yeshivish Judaism, and my knowledge, is how shall we say…
Limited by the circumstances of my origin.
I’m acutely aware of it here, in Jerusalem, at Pardes.
Nonetheless, I am proud of the place I came from: my parents, my grandparents, who taught me to be strong and forthright, to care about other human beings, and to try to make the world a better place.
Do you dare to tell me for one instant that I can’t convey dedication to our shared tradition, Love for G!d, reverence for the power of the calendar, gratitude for existence
to my kahal?
I’ll tell you, “I can”.
I dream of a world united,
A place where hope is realized.
I hear my brothers and sisters singing together.
I think, maybe, maybe, there is an entity that we call G!d, who is happy with my thanks.
I think maybe, maybe,
I can just be, and it is enough
I shared the following words at Pardes, wishing my friend Yevgenia and her family chizuk (encouragement, support) and Hashem’s rachamim (mercy).
She was born with a congenital heart defect, which has always impacted the quality of her life. Last Sunday, a week ago, I was not entirely surprised to learn that she had been hospitalized.
Yevgenia inspires me to believe that we can all achieve more than we may believe possible if only we push ourselves to succeed and live our lives to the fullest. She has certainly done so herself. Continue reading →
R. Joshua Ratner (Pardes Year ’98-’99) is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Cheshire, CT. Ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in May 2012, Rabbi Ratner was a Joseph Neubauer Fellow and also earned a Master’s Degree in Midrash and a Certificate in Pastoral Care. He also worked as an attorney for five years prior to entering rabbinical school. He has received training in congregation-based community organizing and was part of the original rabbinical student cohort of Rabbis Without Borders fellows. He and his wife, Dr. Elena Ratner, are the proud parents of Dimitri, Eli, and Gabriella.
“Dad, why did they have to die? Why couldn’t God have just injured them a little bit?” My boys and I were discussing this week’s parashah, Parashat Shmini, in which Aaron’s eldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, get vaporized by Divine fire after offering “alien fire” incense offerings to God (Vayikra 10:1-2). This episode of seemingly extreme, disproportionate punishment for an unclear violation has perplexed commentators for millenia. Continue reading →
Among the many blessings I have experienced this year is the Ayeka course facilitated by David Bogomolny. I share here some of my favourite take-aways from the course (handily preserved in my writing exercises and reflections.)
This module was about bringing God back to the conversation. I felt like it gave me a place to engage with my relationship with God and my beliefs in a spiritual way amidst a year of otherwise mostly intellectual pursuits. I always manage to find my way back to faith and my relationship with God but in the Ayeka sessions, God was our starting point, not only the destination.
Session 4, on the conversation or hitbodedut, took place during the Pillar of Cloud preparations. According to my reflections, hitbodedut at this time came as a welcome relief during a time of confusion, when I felt inarticulate and confused. Here is what I wrote: Continue reading →
I often find myself questioning (shocker!) whether the stories in the Torah actually happened. Don’t you? I mean, it’s a really nice idea to think that thousands of years ago, maybe before humankind was as terribly corrupted as it is now, the miracles in the bible were true. They’re great stories. But if they really happened, where has God been for the last 3,000 years? Did he just get lazy or run out of ideas?
So, Passover is less than a week away, and in my attempt to gain some spiritual value from the holiday rather than mindlessly eating Hillel sandwiches for eight days, I have been thinking about Continue reading →
I miss Pardes so much. As I shared with my classmates and teachers before departing, it was a dream to learn in Israel and my experience at Pardes turned out so much better than I ever anticipated!
I feel very grateful to my classmates for sharing your insights in class, and for in havruta study both supporting and challenging me. I miss spending Shabbos with you all, and our late night chats.
And I feel very grateful to our teachers. Our teachers both inspired us in the classroom, and taught us so much outside as well. By welcoming us to their Shabbat and Chaggim tables, they shared with us the joy and beauty of our tradition. Continue reading →