These and Those

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

[Alumni Guest Post] Ben Freedman — Building Upon my Pardes Experience

Posted on January 23, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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BF (2)The semester I spent at Pardes was among the most important periods of personal growth that I’ve ever had. Upon my return to the US, when family or friends would ask about it, I could only create impressions of how I had grown or what I had truly learned. I would say, “imagine six months of uplifting, inspiring, Jewish group therapy with 120 of the most engaging and supportive and genuinely caring individuals you’ve ever met.” Needless to say, that sort of explanation usually generated more confusion than clarification.

In an attempt to build upon my Pardes experience having moved back to Washington, DC, I began attending the DC Beit Midrash (DCBM), a welcoming, pluralistic and diverse learning community that meets every week at the DC JCC. I had heard about DCBM from my Pardes classmates and was curious to learn why they spoke so enthusiastically about the group. After departing such a special community in Jerusalem, it didn’t take long to appreciate what a special community I had entered in DC. At DCBM — much to the pleasure of a Pardesnik — the only requirement for teachers is that their shiur be text-based (a different volunteer from around DC leads the group each week). Over the next 2+ years, I had the pleasure of serving in a leadership role on the DCBM board along with an impressively committed cadre of volunteers that enabled Torah learning, week in and week out. The group’s discussions spanned all sorts of topics, from the weekly parsha to non-traditional wedding ceremonies, community-based currencies to the philosophy of Rav Kook.

Having stepped off of the leadership team a few months ago, I can’t help but be inspired by the learning community that flourishes every Monday night at the DC JCC. And, I can’t help but be grateful for the role that Pardes played in giving me the confidence and support to guide the group. My fellow Pardesniks introduced me to DCBM; Dean Bernstein, DLK, Levi Cooper, Zvi Hirschfield, and Nechama Barash taught at DCBM over the last 2+ years, instilling new insights and meaningful questions in our community; and I met so many Pardes alumni that I still can’t believe that Pardes is as small as it is. So, despite my return to Washington, a return full of the uncertainty and instability that accompanies all of our departures from Talpiot, I found in DCBM a source of strength and inspiration I never could have imagined.

I grew up in a vibrant Conversative shul in Providence, RI, attended Jewish summer camp for 11 years, was raised in a strong Jewish (and kosher) home, and served as President of Bowdoin College Hillel in Brunswick, ME. Yet, before attending Pardes, there is no way that I would have become a part of DCBM, much less serve on the leadership team. Before Pardes, my text skills were at the point where I would have been too shy — or too embarrassed — to attend or contribute. Now I look back at my time as a coordinator of DCBM and am incredibly proud of how our community has grown. And, I am proud of how I matured as a Pardes alumnus — as a leader, and a learner.

Ben Freedman was a Spring ’10 student at Pardes (though he wishes he had been there for a full year). He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2009. Prior to, and immediately following, his semester at Pardes, Ben worked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He currently works for the US Government and dearly misses Jerusalem.