I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to come to Pardes this year. It is taken me on a journey of Jewish learning and spiritual growth that has exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations. Around March of 2012 I was working three jobs, I felt tired and disconnected from myself. I was missing learning, specifically Jewish learning. I was craving the opportunity to sit and learn and open my mind to new ideas, perspectives, and thoughts. I wanted to be surrounded by Jewish men and women who could enlighten, challenge, question, discuss, and bring to life Torah and Judaism. Having spent the four years prior to Pardes teaching in an ultra-orthodox environment that was censored, restricted, and in many ways counter to my own personal ideology I felt that I had put aside my own opinions and learning for the education of others for too long. As fulfilling as my job was at times, it was time to refocus my energies on my own personal growth. Literally bursting with frustrating energy I searched for an outlet for 2012-2013. I sat down at my computer and searched the MASA website for different ideas and institutions. I contemplated a variety of options before finding the description for Pardes. Continue reading
From my blog:
The most challenging course I am taking at Pardes is called “Critical Issues in Modern Jewish Thought.” There is no Hebrew involved. There is no Aramaic. I don’t even have to memorize birth and death dates of famous Jewish thinkers. What I do have to do, however, is think for myself. And it’s hard.
During each session, we alternate between group discussion and silent reading. We read philosophers such as A.J. Heschel, Mordechai Kaplan, Rav Soloveitchik, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and Cynthia Ozick. We covered topics such as the nature of God, the authorship of the Torah, the authority of Halahkah, and post-Holocaust theology. At the end of each unit, a few students volunteer to give a presentation: as a class, we generate a series of questions that the presenting students have to answer. Next week, I will be presenting on the topic of Feminism in Judaism. Today, while preparing to speak about this topic, I found myself spending many thoughts and minutes on each sentence; this is a tough issue that I care about greatly. It inspired a good deal of personal reflection, and Continue reading
Reflections on Rosh Hodesh Sivan with Women of the Wall, 5773 – 2013
Throughout the year I have studied here in Jerusalem, I have learned that the Wall has its own identity crisis. It is part of a larger structure that was built and carried, lost, built again and then destroyed, and built again, and built over again and destroyed again. There are more stages in between of deeper and deeper details. The figurative symbol of complete purity, it was more often an embodiment of utter corruption. The man who inspired the design of the particular Wall before which we stand today was a gifted, paranoid maniac, maddened by grief and riches and conflicting loyalties. The Temple itself, and the Wall it became, changed owners and took on ideologies of shocking variance over the centuries. And yet here it still stands, a testament to physical stability, containing all of its tumultuous history behind the serenity of its stones.
On the first Shabbat I was in Jerusalem, I walked with a group of very new friends into the Old City for the first time. I knew nothing about it except that it was the last of the Temple, a remnant of a Judaism from long ago, one with which I had trouble relating, but that it was “supposed to”, maybe, inspire a surge of feeling within me. Perhaps a feeling of closeness to the Divine? Perhaps an intense unification with the Jewish people? Perhaps bafflement or even, perhaps nothing? I was curious, and determined not to judge whatever feeling arose. Continue reading
I’m leaving for Israel and my father hands me two bags. “Take these with you. The furrier, Shlomo, your great grandmother’s brother-in-law, left them to me. Find out if it’s meaningful for you.”
The first is black felt, light to the touch, with a golden Magen David embroidered in cord on its front. The Tallit inside is thin, composed of silky white fabric that is shifting towards an aged grey. Blue stripes run along its slender frame while an intricate latticework of linen falls away from the edges only to tangle up with the Tzitzit at the corners. It’s German Reform, classic and beautiful. So light I barely feel its weight when I try it on. So thin and delicate it barely covers my shoulders. It’s not my first Tallit.
The second bag is old and mustard yellow, fine prismatic threading has frayed across its front where it spells out the words “Tefillin” in Hebrew. The Tefillin inside are old with paper caps atop the Shel, each heavy with lacquer. The leather is cracked and aromatic, the black stain no longer present along the edges. The two bags go into my duffel, right next to my other Tallit, but as I put them down one Tefillin fall out of their yellow bag. The paper top tips off and the shin of the Rosh stares up at me like blurred eye still heavy with sleep. I stare back. What do I do with you?
Why does a Reform Jew wrap T’fillin? Continue reading
Whitney Fisch (Year 2008-09) shares a personal challenge of hers, regarding the role of women in Judaism:
Whitney Fisch grew up within the Reform movement in Marietta, GA. She started her career in Jewish communal work at the University of Georgia Hillel as the Jewish Student Life Coordinator, which led her to other positions in the Jewish world, most notably as the Outreach and Education Coordinator at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago and Education Director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida region. Tired of being considered a ‘super Jew’ for working in the Jewish world but feeling like she needed or even required more Jewish education for such a title, she decided to attend Pardes’ year program from 2008 – 2009. She met her now husband while in Jerusalem for that year. She is a middle school counselor at a private Jewish day school, a new mom and blogger at JewHungry.
Eight months ago my life forever changed… I became a mother of a daughter. My husband and I decided to find out the sex of our baby at 20 weeks and, of all things to say to all people, the ultrasound tech looked at me and said, “Oh! You have a little princess!”
Oy. Listen, I get it. Our culture celebrates women/girls as princesses. But in that moment, in that exact moment, I thought to myself, “this is exactly what is supposed to happen.” See I’m a social worker. I’m also a feminist and Continue reading
Emly Oren left Israel with her family at the age of four, but in many ways Israel never left her family. At school in Orange County, Emly was the only Israeli student; but her family continued to speak Hebrew at home, and they only watched Israeli television programs. The Orens would travel to Israel every summer to visit all of their relatives, and they would sometimes stop by other locations en route to their main destination.
As a child, Emly drew no distinction between being Jewish and being Israeli. Her traditional, secular family would remain at home together on Friday evenings for Kiddush and Shabbat dinner; and every year they would attend services at Chabad for the High Holy Days, but Emly felt no connection to that environment because it didn’t reflect the rhythm or culture of her family life. When Emly somehow decided to have a bat mitzvah, she chose to hold services at a local public library… and of course, her bat mitzvah party theme was ‘Israel’.
From my blog:
I would like to take this opportunity to wish girls and women everywhere a happy Passover – a Passover that is filled with freedom.
Freedom from “I’m not good enough” and “why doesn’t he* like me.” Freedom from wanting your life to be like a T-Swift love song, freedom from not “going for it” because you think you don’t deserve him. Freedom from settling for someone who shows a slight interest in you, because you don’t think anyone else will. Freedom from “why didn’t he text me back?!?!” Freedom from “what am I doing wrong?” and “how can I change myself to get him to like me.”
Freedom from comparing ourselves to others and assessing our own value based on what society thinks we should look, act, and think like. Freedom from “why can’t I look more like her.” Freedom from “I’m not cool if I don’t have that bag or those shoes.” Freedom from slavery to your makeup case and hair straightener. Freedom from wondering why you can never seem to look like the celebrities on magazine covers. Continue reading
“I assume that you’d consider yourself a ḥozer beteshuva, right?”
As somebody who was raised by parents who self-identify as traditional, ḥiloni Jews, and chose himself to live a life committed to and guided by halakha, I’ve come to expect some form of this question from people in conversations about Jewish faith and practice.
But this term does not sit well with me. For reference, here’s the Wikipedia definition (emphasis mine):
Baal teshuva literally means “master of repentance or return (to Judaism)”. The term has historically referred to a Jew who had not kept Jewish practices, and completed a process of introspection and thus returned to Judaism and morality. In Israel, another term is used, ḥozer beteshuva (חוזר בתשובה), literally “returning in repentance”. Also, Jews who adopt religion later in life are known “baalei teshuva” or “ḥozerim beteshuva”. Continue reading
Leah Kahn is a Campus Professional Fellow within The Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, a current student within the Pardes Center for Jewish Educators and former Director of Engagement, University of Chicago Hillel from 2005-2011.
I know from firsthand experience that Hillel professionals are very busy managing multiple projects at once and don’t always have time to step back and think reflectively about the challenges they face at work. I created this Webinar to give them space and time to think about and improve their professional relationships. This ‘Rodef Shalom’ Program for Hillel professionals is currently a pilot project and we have 2 excellent professionals participating in this 4-part series. We are having very exciting and thoughtful conversations, and they are really enjoying combining classical Jewish texts with conflict resolution strategies.