These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 2: View From the Top

Posted on September 13, 2011 by Derek Kwait

Tags: , , , , , ,

(Cross-posted from my blog for “The Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh”, Yinzer in Yerushalayim.)

I am writing this now on a mirpeset* (even people who don’t speak Hebrew call them mirpesets here, and it’s already become such second-nature for me that I can’t go back) with a sweeping view of Jerusalem at night, including the lit-up Dome of the Rock maybe 3 miles directly in front of my right pupil. The mirpeset belongs to the amazingly kind, and really just plain amazing in every way, Zeller family, whom I’m staying with until I move into my apartment Saturday night. Dr. Zeller was a pathologist, until he gave it up to start Kulanu, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting with and aiding remote Jewish communities all over the world. But as I said, their kindness isn’t just to exotic Jews, it extends even to boring old Ashkenazim like myself as well: The Zellers are friends with the family who owns my apartment, and they invited us over for Shabbat lunch at their gorgeous apartment last week. During lunch, somewhere between discussions of his trips to Ethiopia, Dr. Zeller mentioned that when my roommate and I move next week, he would be happy to drive our stuff from the hostel to the apartment “since I’m retired and am always looking for things to do.” So that was great, until I learned the Pardes Shabbaton (which will doubtlessly require a blog post all its own) leaves this Thursday afternoon and comes back Saturday night, which means I’d have to move my stuff Wednesday night. Well, one thing led to another, and here I am, on the Zeller’s postcard mirpeset maybe a 20 minute walk from Pardes, the taste of fresh Israeli produce in my mouth, truly living the dream.


On the subject of incredibly kind people, it’s amazing who you’ll bump into in Jerusalem. All three of my friends who have made aliyah I have bumped to in the Jewish Quarter, two of them at the Wall (including former Chronicle editor Justin Jacobs). The most recent familiar face I saw here, though, wasn’t by accident. Before I left, Mr. Allan Goodkind, arguably the most appropriately named man in the world, told me he was going to be in Jerusalem for a wedding shortly after I arrived and wanted to meet up. After a few days of playing phone tag, we finally met each other Monday night and had a great dinner and greater conversation at the Rimon Bistro just off of Ben-Yehuda Street. I really regret not getting a picture with him.


I also added two new courses since my last post: First, Modern Jewish Thought on Sundays and Thursdays where we try to get inside the heads of modern Jewish thinkers such as Martin Buber, Rav Kook, Franz Rosenzweig, Joseph Soloveitchik, my hero A.J. Heschel, Mordechai Kaplan, Judith Tarlow, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz. I don’t think I can tell you just how excited I am for this class without sounding like the biggest dork on the planet, so I won’t try. And second, Torah Trope, on Sunday evenings, which I’m also excited about.


Monday night we had the first Night Seder of the year. Night seder is where you spend two hours learning whatever you want with a chevruta. Ordinarily, they let you choose your own chevruta, but this week they were assigned to get us working with new people. While I liked Night Seder as a concept, since I had no idea who my chevruta was and since was just so tired after a long day of class (class is from 8:30 to 5 and then Night Seder is from 7-9), I thought it, like other utopian visions, just wouldn’t work in real life. Thank God I was wrong. My chevruta and I ended up studying Nechama Leibowitz’s Studies on Bereshit on parsha Bereshit, and it was amazing: We got a rapport going fast, and used the texts to spur deep conversations going everywhere, from the role of women in Judaism, to what exactly it might mean to be blessed or to give a blessing, to humans’ place in the world. I really don’t know how I ever learned anything—about texts, other people or myself—without chevruta.


Useful Hebrew phrase: זה שלושה-חור אגרופן בתרמיל שלי, לא פצצה – (“Zeh shalosha-khor egrofan b’tarmeel sheli, lo p’tzatza”) “That’s a three-hole puncher in my backpack, not a bomb.”


*Hebrew word of the week: מרפסת (“meerpeset”) – Balcony


UPDATE: When I woke up this morning, Dr. Zeller had a big glass of iced coffee waiting for me.