These and Those

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

[Alumni Guest Post] On Pardes and Faith

Posted on March 16, 2013 by Aaron Voldman

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av0I miss Pardes so much. As I shared with my classmates and teachers before departing, it was a dream to learn in Israel and my experience at Pardes turned out so much better than I ever anticipated!

I feel very grateful to my classmates for sharing your insights in class, and for in havruta study both supporting and challenging me. I miss spending Shabbos with you all, and our late night chats.

And I feel very grateful to our teachers. Our teachers both inspired us in the classroom, and taught us so much outside as well. By welcoming us to their Shabbat and Chaggim tables, they shared with us the joy and beauty of our tradition. They showed us how to treat guests in the spirit of Abraham. And both at their homes, as well as on tiyullim, I felt very moved and inspired by seeing how thoughtfully they parent.

And I am proud of the contributions Pardes makes. This school is truly a hub of innovation. Centers affiliated with the school, the Center for Jewish Spirituality and Mindfulness, Pardes Center for Jewish Educators, and the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, are providing groundbreaking and essential service to the Jewish people. And I am proud of what alumni of Pardes have done–from founding Hadar, to creating Torah Yoga, and Encounter. This school is doing so much for the advancement of Am Yisrael in the 21st century, and I feel very honored to be a part of this institution!

Throughout much of the semester I reflected on faith—what it is, what it is not, and the role of faith in my life. Rabbi James Maisels said during a meditation class: “Faith does not mean believing that everything will work out, because some thing’s don’t work out.” Instead, faith is a trust in the unfolding of life, and trust in Hashem to guide us along the path.

The military escalation last Fall challenged my faith, but it was faith that helped us move through the scary uncertainties of the conflict. When I first heard of the escalation, I grew afraid. When the sirens wailed throughout Jerusalem, and I felt my personal security and community’s security threatened, I felt more afraid. And after the terrorist attack on the bus in Tel Aviv, I felt even more paralyzed and shocked. If a bus blew up in Tel Aviv, could Jerusalem be next? The attacks reminded me that we are not in control. And I struggled with the uncertainty of our mortality. After hearing of the attack, I felt shell-shocked, and overwhelmed, literally struggling to get out of my seat.

Yet, throughout the escalation, at Pardes we turned to faith, turned to Hashem for support. We read psalms that instilled courage, sang songs that brought joy in times of uncertainty, and meditated on being present—challenging ourselves to overcome our worries of what the next day will bring.

During a powerful moment in the Tachnun prayer we move from prostrating ourselves to standing during the words: “Va’anachnu lo neida ma’asei,” We do not know what to do. After acknowledging our fear and sadness in the prayer, we take a stand in an act of faith. And we take a stand even though we do not know exactly what they direction is, or the path is. It is a courageous act, to stand, to keep going, especially when we are uncertain. But doing so is a testament to our faith that we are here for holy work, and to carry on in the face of adversity and uncertainty.

I struggled with leaving Pardes and Eretz Yisrael, after such a profound and special experience at Pardes. I grappled with big questions like: How will I integrate my more observant lifestyle with the friends, family, and community back home that are so dear to me? What will it be like to return to a state where Jews are one percent of the state population? How will I handle kashrut? And how will I keep learning?

As the time approached for me to leave Pardes, I struggled with the idea of leaving such a supportive and nurturing community. Yet again, it was faith and the beautiful community, that has supported my return back home. Mary Brett encouraged me upon leaving to not think of returning to the United States as “Coming Back,” but instead as “Moving Forward.” I have carried that idea with me throughout the last month since coming home, realizing that integrating back into life outside of a yeshiva setting is a part of the process of growing into who we want to be. And I am very grateful for my Pardes friends and teachers’ correspondence and support from abroad as I have adjusted to being back in Vermont. A brucha for all my classmates still at Pardes – may you all have much strength and faith as you adjust back into life outside home, and move forward with your next chapters!

Aaron Voldman studied at Pardes in Fall 2009,
and is greatly, greatly missed by his former classmates!