Shanee recalls the family gatherings of her childhood with great fondness. Jewish holidays with her mother’s family were full of warmth and love, and they all still lived nearby in the Los Angeles area, having emigrated from Iran together. In the USA Shanee was given opportunities that her mother hadn’t received in Iran, and so she became the first woman in their family to attend a Jewish day school and read from the Torah for her bat mitzvah.
Hebrew was Shanee’s favorite subject, and language study came easily to her so she minored in Spanish literature at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), while studying psychology and sociology. The young woman also joined the UCSD Israel Action Committee, and brought an increased awareness of Israeli culture to her university through campus-wide Israeli movie nights and dances. She also twice attended the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC, as a student delegate.
After college, Shanee’s Jewish involvement manifested in her work as a Hebrew school teacher, which she pursued even as she attended law school at the University of San Francisco. It was a challenge for her, having had no training, but she found that she enjoyed teaching and working with children – a theme that would unexpectedly recur after she completed her law degree.
Tragedy soon struck the young woman when her mother was diagnosed with cancer after her law school graduation, and Shanee became her mother’s primary caregiver while she worked for the State Bar of California and then at a small law firm. After her mother passed away, Shanee took a poetry class in the evening at the University of Southern California (USC), and was offered a teaching assistantship, which would cover her tuition. Shanee accepted, and began taking classes such as screenwriting, poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
In 2008 Shanee completed her Master’s degree in creative writing, and decided to take a summer vacation to Israel. She’d only been here once before – on a Birthright trip – and Shanee wanted to visit some Israeli friends and explore the country on her own. After a week in Jerusalem and another week in Tel Aviv, Shanee began to feel that she never wanted to leave… but she ultimately returned home to be near her family.
Recalling her love of teaching, Shanee found work at an international school in San Diego where her grandmother, aunt and uncle were living, and moved back there. In San Diego, she started attending services and classes at Chabad, and started to get excited about Jewish learning. Eventually, another student mentioned Pardes to her, and the idea of an open, pluralistic beit midrash in Jerusalem grabbed her imagination.
Once again, tragedy struck unexpectedly when Shanee’s grandmother passed during her stay in San Diego, and she felt the loss acutely. After two years of teaching, Shanee applied to study at Pardes during the summer of 2010, but she ultimately delayed her trip when a legal project came through for her. Shanee soon moved to Washington, DC to work at a Jewish preschool, and then attended the 2011 Summer Program at Pardes – studying with others in the educators track. “Three years ago, I fell in love with Israel,” she says, “That summer, I fell in love with Jerusalem.”
After three weeks at Pardes, Shanee knew she would have to return to continue her studies in Jerusalem - there was so much to learn! She felt incredibly drawn to Israel, and returned to America only to save up enough money to study at Pardes in Spring 2012. Now having returned, Shanee continues to enjoy the challenging conversations and wide ranging perspectives of the Pardes community, and finds herself delving into the Tanakhic texts through Pardes’ Intensive Tanakh Track (ITT).
In the near future, Shanee looks forward to hosting other Pardesniks at her Purim seudah1,2 next week, and in the long run… well, Shanee’s now thinking of moving to Israel!
- Seudah: festive, celebratory meal(see: Seudat Purim)
- Shanee’s seudah will have a creative theme! Please bring a poem, story, song, or joke to share!