Posted on November 17, 2013 by Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez
Today is the fourth annual Global Day of Jewish Learning and this year’s theme is “Creating Together: Jewish Approaches to Creativity and Collaboration.” Two very broad and important things in my life, and as I sit here attempting to consolidate them with my experiences at Pardes this year, their coalescence becomes so obvious to me.
When Pardes’s weekly Night Sedar launched after Sukkot this year, a small group of women looked at the offerings for Night Sedar, the semester, and the year and decided that they wanted more time to study the development of halacha on issues which they found relevant to women in Judaism.
They knew they needed some guidance to make this happen, and somehow found their way to me – a Pardes Fellow. Together we made a list of topics which they were interested in learning and then prioritized them. I then took that list to Rahel Berkovits, our resident expert in “Women and Mitzvot” to refine and get support from, as well as source sheets – because while I have learned these topics before and am passionate about them, I didn’t feel like my source sheets (or knowledge!) on the topic would be nearly as comprehensive as what she has already developed.
This was becoming a truly collaborative project, born from the desire of a few women to create their own learning experience.
One student took charge of letting others know this group was forming, and it quickly escalated from 4-6 people to 15 people! And from being a simple Monday night session to having a lunchtime shiur with Rahel once a week to recap that which we had learned and discussed on Monday nights. At every step of the way, the group received nothing but support and encouragement from Pardes, and we students have the unique opportunity to select each topic as we finish one.
We are one of four groups that learns together on Monday night, amidst more people learning in chevruta on anything they want, and with anyone they want. It is not uncommon to look around the Beit Midrash during Night Sedar and see a spouse who doesn’t learn at Pardes, a faculty member with their child, or people learning in other year-programs all sharing spaces, ideas, and Torah.
Pardes creates the space on Monday nights for students whose learning is dictated by schedules and classes, to really find a space to explore things which they are personally connected to. A space to create the learning experience they want. A space to collaborate with peers and teachers on topics that really move them. If that’s not “Creating Together” – I don’t know what is.