These and Those

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

Week 25: Topsy-Turvy

Posted on February 25, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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(X-posted from my home blog, Yinzer in Yerushalayim)

There is a Jewish saying that when the month of Adar enters, joy increases, and another that when Adar comes, the world stands on its head. Officially, Rosh Chodesh Adar was Thursday, but the preceding week gave it a running start.


The first day of Women and Mitzvot class, our teacher, Rahel Berkovits, told us how when her daughter was born, she thought she would never see her read from the Torah on her Bat-Mitzvah in a traditional minyan in her lifetime. Her granddaughter or great-granddaughter, perhaps, but her daughter, impossible.

Last Saturday, for her Bat-Mitzvah, Rahel’s daughter beautifully and flawlessly layned all of Parashat Mishpatim and the haftarah before at least 100 people at Shira Hadasha, the revolutionary Orthodox shul her mother is a founding member of. Bizarre as it feels in a shul with a mechitza, seeing women layn and get aliyot isn’t all that odd to me since I grew up with it. I don’t think I could have fully appreciated the significance of this moment had I not seen my teacher’s face as she spoke before her daughter gave a d’var Torah. Every parent kvells when their child becomes a B’nai Mitzvah, but there was something special here, the bewildered look of pride and triumph only known to those who know what it’s like to have been laughed at then live to see their dream accomplished. This look was reflected in the faces of many others in attendance who similarly knew and inspired it in those of us who did not.

This amazing simcha was followed by a kiddush worthy of the occasion that featured hot Yerushalmi kugel, peanut butter-chocolate-coconut squares I doubt that I’ll ever be able to fully get over, and a guy who looked just like Larry David only taller.


Monday in Self, Soul, and Text a surprise guest-speaker came in to talk about transforming anger. She began the presentation by asking who had ever experienced anger. Every student save one raised their hand. She then started going one-by-one around the room having people name a life circumstance that can cause feelings of anger. After four or five responses, she took a sudden break from this to lead us in some Hebrew chants. After this, she started talking about something else until she noticed people getting antsy and let us take a 10-minute break. Once the break had ended and she resumed talking about our anger, a student—the one who did not raise her hand when the presenter asked who had ever experienced anger—raised her hand and told the presenter how her lecturing, unorganized style, made her angry. Others agreed, and told her how anger has actually been a positive factor in their lives, motivating them to fight wrong. Our presenter calmly responded by saying anger is caused by not understanding others’ value-judgments. Someone else answered that she does not care about the value-judgments of those who traffic women and children. Our presenter responded that it might be difficult but we need to. This angered more people. By the time class was over and we wheedled out of our presenter how she believes in neither punishment nor right and wrong, the class was divided between those who were mad at her for her radical views and unsatisfying answers, and those who were mad at the class for not just letting her speak. Except for me. I left that class feeling neither anger nor frustration, but rather grave disappointment—how was it possible that I was seemingly the only one who just wanted to relish in the wonderful irony of the whole situation?


Tuesday night two friends and I made dinner together then watched a performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at The Jerusalem Theater. No flipped expectations here, it was pure joy.


By the time Thursday came, I had never been more prepared for a new month. Our community Shira Hadasha-style morning service was riotous with singing and dancing, and the breakfast afterward featured a staff presentation that, while hysterical if you were there, you can’t really write about and do it justice. Afterwards the morning classes swapped teachers, so we learned slightly differently than how we are used to. It was out of control.


Adar makes its entrance easy to rejoice in when it brings us presents like warmer weather. Last weekend was the worst of the year, with rain, hail, heavy wind, and a laughably pathetic amount of snow (last Friday night when conditions were at their worst, my friend from Miami, wearing more insulation than Ernest Shackleton, was shocked when I told him this was still the mildest winter of my life). This week was completely different—while mornings and nights were still chilly, most of the day saw clear blue skies, the kind of sun that makes it feel like your eyeballs will explode if you look up, and warm weather. This can only mean one thing: Passover will be here before you can blink.


Quote of the Week: “It’s like in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Perplexed.” – Rav Elisha


Hebrew Word of the Week: הפוך (“hafookh”) – flipped