These and Those

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

Present and Accounted For

Posted on April 16, 2013 by Naomi Minsky

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Naomi Minsky (Year '13, PEP '15) came to Pardes this year
for the Year Program, and will be returning next year as a
member of the Pardes Educators Program!

nmSince my teenage years I secretly wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. This is not because I am scientific and enjoy learning about the human anatomy. In fact, I go into panic-mode at the sight of blood. I was attracted to helping others live life to the full. Thankfully I have found an alternative route to achieve my aim.

Unlike medicine Jewish education does not literally save lives. However, it supports people to have meaningful experiences and relationships. It is a way to help others appreciate Judaism and approach it with confidence. My Bat Mitzvah involved facing the community and saying the shema prayer. The whole time I looked directly at my grandparents. They were sitting in the front row saying the words back to me. I am indebted to my Jewish education teaching me that the shema is an affirmation of Jewish identity and love of G-d. I felt the beauty of the experience as I was connected to my family, community and religious tradition simultaneously. Jewish identity today is multifaceted, for some it is religious process for others a call for social action or a cultural connection. Whatever approach you adopt, a connection pushes you to be passionate and care about the world around you. These are the vital ingredients needed to live life to the maximum.

I chose the PEP programme due to the focus on Tanach and Talmud. This provides an understanding of Judaism’s experiences, encounters and philosophy. My feelings are articulated in Ze’ev Maghen’s essay ‘Imagine: On Love and Lennon’. It describes different periods in Jewish history and demands that the reader imagines themselves there. It says ‘you tended flocks with Rachel and slaved in Potipher’s house with Joseph’. The key word in this poem is ‘present’. A vibrant and educated Jewish community is one that is in dialogue with our textual tradition. As a future educator I want my students to be connected to Jewish history, feel ownership over the Torah and subsequently see themselves as the next chapter in our story. I want them to argue and struggle with what is said, to be in conversation with the texts agreeing, disagreeing and reinterpreting. For our community to flourish today it is imperative that we know our intellectual foundations presented in our textual tradition.

Many people have asked why I (a British person) am willing to teach in America? A professional Jewish educator who is not a Rabbi is a marginalised concept in England. My passion to excel as a Jewish educator means I need to seek training opportunities abroad. Israel is a great place to start as it is the epicentre of the Jewish world. I look out of the Beit Midrash window at the Jerusalem skyline and the stories of the Tanach come alive. However, in terms of working in a Jewish day school the experience in the US has a lot to offer. In comparison to England, the quantity and quality of the day school system is mind blowing. There is more innovation, confidence and textual emphasis in the Jewish studies lessons. I think that I will learn a lot for my own professional development. I will also be able to take back my experiences and use it to benefit my home community.

I am setting myself the task of engaging my students in knowledge and passion of a 2,000 year old tradition. I feel honoured to share texts that will guide, support and challenge students. However, this is a daunting task, I will be the representative of Judaism in the classroom. For some of the students this could be their first and only encounter with Judaism. I have a huge potential to inspire. On the flip side I could either misrepresent or turn someone away from their Jewish journey. Furthermore, to model positive engagement I will be sharing with a class my feelings, beliefs and practices. I will need to be prepared to explain why I do what I do and why I think what I think. Every day I will be putting myself in a position where my outlook will be challenged by student’s questions and perspectives. Whilst this makes me vulnerable to years of identity crises it is also what makes my future so exciting. I will be constantly learning and growing, exploring texts from multiple angles.

Jewish Education is much more than a job or profession and the benefits go beyond the salary. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to contribute to my community. I am ready to grab it with both hands!