My skit from the Purim Shpiel. Script is included below the video.
From my blog:
It appears that I may have two souls.
My first soul isn’t sure how it feels about this. Previously, it was always the center of attention, benefiting from activities that are “good for the soul” – like yoga, baking and writing (note that I said soul, not souls). Now, however, it appears that the love might have to be shared – or maybe it has been shared all along.
According to Kabbalistic thought, each person has an animal soul (הנפש הבהמי) and a pure soul (הנשמה הטהורה). The animal soul is concerned with “me” and “now,” while the pure soul is concerned with “me & others” and “now & later.” The animal soul tells me to fly down the hill on my bike at 30 miles per hour because it’s fun. The pure soul tells me to use the brakes because I still want two legs when I’m done with the bike ride.
I learned this soul concept whilst in a class entitled “Relationships” at Pardes. The first relationship we are covering is the relationship between us, and, well, ourselves. After we discussed the division of soul into animal and pure, we discovered that the pure soul has five “voices”: Continue reading
By Mira B. Shore (Summer ’09, ’10; Year ’12)
As a self-identified progressive, liberal, secular Jew growing up at Jewish Day School, I spent a lot of my time and energy speaking about why prayer and G-d were NOT a part of my life. I actively ran from prayer. Once I had my bat-mitzvah, there was nothing my parents could do to get me to synagogue. I prided myself on my rebelliousness and frequently claimed my atheism as a controversial badge of honor.
For university, I continued on my secular path by attending Sarah Lawrence College, named the #1 least religious college in America by The Princeton Review in 2011. While Sarah Lawrence was the perfect school for me in all other ways (academically, socially, professor/student ratio, philosophy, classroom dynamics, etc.) it was very taxing on my Judaism. After my sophomore year, I decided to go back to Israel and study at Pardes to try to find something I felt I’d lost.
Deciding to come to Pardes in the summer of 2009 was a difficult decision for me as a proud, secular Progressive, and I was concerned about how it might feel alienating. I was right. Continue reading
As most of my fellow Pardesnicks have probably gathered at this late date in the semester, I’m what one might call “quiet.” It’s not that I don’t speak up in class or won’t engage in conversation (if you strike one up first, of course). Rather, my quietness is an overall demeanor. I’m not a smiley person, and my facial expressions are what I like to call “subtle.” Crowded social gatherings make me stiff and awkward, because they require me to be, well, social. This is doable for me in small groups. However, the larger the group gets, the quieter I get. It’s not intended as an act of disengagement and it’s not because I don’t like people. It also certainly is not because I think that I’m too cool to let loose and be boisterous once in a while. It’s really a leftover trait of childhood bashfulness that morphed into nearly debilitating social anxiety at the onset of puberty, which lasted well into adulthood. It’s only been for the last couple of years that I’ve been able to train and force myself just to be this outgoing. I know, I know; I’m not exactly Little Miss Sunshine. I’m more of a Little Miss Moon…beam, or something.
In the last Relationships class with Tovah Leah, we discussed the role of the individual and the community, and the tension between the two, and the sacrifices we must make to obtain some sort of balance Continue reading
The Passover seder was last night, but these two podcasts from last week are still worth checking out:
The shift from first semester to second semester started during our week off when half of Pardes went on a tiyul to the Arava desert. I’m not a hiking fan, but I love the desert in Israel and have always felt connected to it. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on my time so far at Pardes and my goals for second semester. The second day of the trip, I stayed on the kibbutz and enjoyed the amazing surroundings in the warm sun and towards the late afternoon, went with a friend out of the kibbutz borders to a little gazebo in the desert. There, we silently watched the sunset over the ancient, stoic mountains. After these three days in the desert, I was more ready than ever to return to Pardes, this semester as a full time student.
But then on the afternoon of our first day back at Pardes, I came down with strep throat. Being sick away from home and family continues to be a difficult experience. I spent the first week of second semester sick in bed and definitely felt it as a setback from the previous week of clarity in the desert. Luckily, my strep was cured (thank scientists for anti-biotics) the day before my mom came for her eight-day visit.
Having my mom, Carol, here to visit was such a wonderful experience that I know will continue to resonate throughout my life. My mom has her own personal relationship with Israel as she made aaliyah in 1973, six months before the Yom Kippur War. She volunteered during the war helping women pack First Aid kits for the soldiers and doctors. She lived on a secular kibbutz in the Negev called Kibbutz Ruchama for 4 years and then finished her BA at Hebrew University where she met my dad, Stephen, who was there on his college junior year abroad. After six years of living in Israel, my mother returned to America to be with my dad but her love never diminished.
Every time she comes back, she falls in love with the land, the history and the people all over again. She traveled all around the country and saw almost every one of our friends and family from Jerusalem to Haifa to Rosh Ha’ayin to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim near Ashkelon.
While she was here, it was my saba’s second yahrzeit, which was a special opportunity for us to remember him together in Jerusalem. My saba, Charles Swartz z”l, was a passionate Zionist who took his first trip to Israel (a 50th birthday gift to himself) in 1961. On that trip he found a distant relative of my savta’s who survived the Holocaust, Esther Ramiel, living on a religious kibbutz, Ein Tzurim. We constantly thank my Saba for finding Esther and her beautiful family of four grown children and ten grand children. Saba returned to Israel a total of twelve times including a long term stay in Bat Yam. Throughout my life I remember getting letters (yes, paper, snail-mail letters) from my Saba about how important it was that I visit Israel and understand that we are part of a bigger story.
This important day of memory for my Saba was made even more beautiful by the participation of the Pardes community. Not only was everybody open, warm and welcoming to my mom, but also created the comfortable space for her to say kaddish. For a special egalitarian Ma’ariv minyan the evening his yartzeit started, eleven people stayed after school, davened with us and listened to some short stories about my Saba’s amazing life. Honoring his memory at Pardes with my chevre, and with my mom, was such a blessing that he would have loved.
Having my mom come to my classes at Pardes for two days added a different perspective to my experience. After having been here for five months at Pardes, I have gotten complacent about living in Jerusalem and I thank my mom for reminding me how amazing it is. This was also her first visit to Pardes and she got to sit in on all of my classes, which was very special for us both. We worked as chevruta in all of my classes and she got a taste of how the system works here.
In “Relationships” with Tova Leah, my mother and I got to speak about how we listen to the different aspects of our souls… what a wonderful opportunity. In “Peace and Conflict,” my mom’s passion for current events and politics came out in a new light. Studying Shemot with her in Levi’s class, she came up with interesting insights and relevant stories. In Meesh’s Talmud class we were able to catch-up on our lives, and our perspectives on Israel and Judaism. This experience of being chevruta with my mom opened a new kind of dialogue between us, and added a new level to our relationship.
Seeing Israel through her eyes reminded me what a blessing it is to be living in Jerusalem, studying at Pardes and having such a beautiful community at this very time in Jewish history. After this amazing week with my mother in Israel, I felt reinvigorated to really get as much as I can out of this amazing opportunity.
Tovah Leah, my teacher for Personalizing Prayer, and Relationships class, cites Rav Kook nearly everyday! I finally realized that I loved almost every quote that she brought from him. So last week I bought a book that compiles Rav Kook’s thoughts on the Parshiot, the weekly Torah portions.
Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, the founder of the Religious Zionist Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, Jewish thinker, Halachist, Kabbalist and a renowned Torah scholar. He is known in Hebrew as הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, and by the acronym הראיה (HaRaAYaH) which in English means “evidence”, or simply as “HaRav.”
Last week, in Bo, Moshe leads the Jewish people out of Egypt and G-d commands us to have Pesach, (Passover) and to not eat leavened products during these days. Rav Kook talks about freedom, and that there are two kinds, one, the well known is to not be enslaved, to not be subjugated. But he also says that we can be a slave no matter our social standing, (and this is my favorite quote from last week,) “What makes us truly free? When we are able to be faithful to our inner self, to the truth of our divine image (tzelem Elokim) – then we can live a fulfilled life, a life focused on our soul’s inner goals.” When we are truly faithful to who we are inside, we can finally be free of trying to please others, to stop trying to be someone else, and really love who we are. At this moment we are the best we can be, and honestly strive for the things that we actually want and need.
I am sure I will have more from the Parsha and from Rav Kook for you in the future! I’m becoming a big fan!
All week I had been excited to spend my Shabbat in the “Gush” with two of my teachers. They always have students in their homes for Shabbat, and the anticipation had been building since I heard about other students wonderful experiences.
We (Hannah, Yishai, and Amber) left Jerusalem around 1:30, which was way too early, but we didn’t want to be late for Shabbat! It was wonderful that we were early because we got to help make challah.
Many students have been lucky enough to study with Tovah Leah Nachmani – her ‘Personalizing Prayer’ class is a favorite for students seeking to connect to Jewish tradition in a meaningful, personal way, and we appreciate her for being such an incredibly deep listener. Below is a dvar Torah she recently wrote, with a bonus photo of TLN & her husband Gavi at the very bottom
Telling Our Story
In recent years –
A particularly quiet student sits in my class, listening attentively, but not speaking. After a few classes I ask for a meeting. In a quiet place I invite her, “Tell me your story.” Within minutes the student is in tears. A relationship break-up. “Sorry,” she says, wiping away the tears. “On the contrary,” I respond. “I’m happy to listen.” In the ensuing weeks, the student opens up like a flower.
An intensely motivated student speaks out in class, frustrated and discontent with my reading of a text. I welcome her challenge to my reading, and after class I ask for a meeting. “Tell me your story,” I offer, and hear of a parent’s death that she never allowed herself to process. The student has begun a long awaited and gratifying journey of reconnecting with the memories of her deceased parent.
An excited student comes to me enthusiastically after class. “What we studied today is just what I am struggling with.” Again, I invite a meeting, and ask for his story. A family crisis. Together we come up with some new ideas and a resolve: to ask a difficult family member to share his story.
Since coming to work at Pardes, I have also opened up. Reconnected with people. And resolved a few family crises. I have become more and more willing to move beyond a certain tough and overly capable-of-solving-my-own-problems self-image. I have shared my own stories of struggle with people who care enough to listen and to guide. As a direct result, I have noticed myself becoming a more compassionate listener.
This is one reason, maybe the first – on my list of #101 reasons why I love Pardes – because of the hidden stories. And because of the people who are willing to tell them.
In the opening scene of Parshat Vayigash this week, Yehuda pours out his story to Yosef. It takes guts to tell our story. To expose our vulnerabilities. Yehuda begins with trepidation, lest Yosef block his story, pronouncing judgment before he has a chance to share the core of his fear.
Yehuda speaks in subservient formalities before the reigning power on the throne, exaggeratedly repeating the words “your servant,” and speaking what he thinks the vice-Pharo wants to hear. But in a cathartic moment at the end of his monologue, the authentic inner voice of his soul breaks through and says, “For how can I go up to my father if the boy is not with me lest I see the evil that will befall my father?
His greatest fear is to have to finally face within himself the pain and anguish he has caused his father. Yehuda’s moment of catharsis becomes the turning point for the reunification of Yosef’s heart with that of his brothers.
I wonder if this may be what ultimately, subconsciously, brings students –as well as teachers – to Pardes, and maybe to Israel at all. Perhaps what brings many of us here is the desire to listen to the stories of our own tradition which have been meticulously transmitted from generation to generation. Because hearing the stories of others can inspire us, and even give us the courage to tell our own story. And to seek out people who care enough to listen.
Questions for further reflection:
- To whom do you feel you can tell (segments of) your story?
- What is it that enables you to open up with them?
- With whom do you wish you could share more of your story?
- Sometimes it is the very person with whom I feel friction, or near whom I feel distance, who has a story to tell. From whom could you invite a story?