These and Those

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

[Alumni/Staff Guest Post] Down the Stairs of Your Local Coffee Shop

Posted on January 26, 2014 by Jenna King Brill

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jkbIt was maybe five minutes after I first walked into the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies’ beit midrash that I thought: “Woah. The people here are incredible!” Anyone you talk to who has spent time at Pardes will tell you that it is the people who make it such a unique and wonderful place. It is the brilliant teachers, dedicated to teaching core Jewish texts that are relevant and alive, without sacrificing their authenticity. It is the warm and welcoming staff who work so hard everyday to make sure the school is running as it should. And perhaps most importantly, it is the student body, made up of people of such varying ages, backgrounds and beliefs, who have all chosen to take time out of their lives to sit and learn about this tradition that is theirs, but may not always feel within reach. They want to learn how to own it; to live it in a way that is honest and informed, yet true to who they are. Being part of such a community is both inspiring and empowering.

I was lucky enough after I finished my year at Pardes to be able to join the staff and begin working for Pardes out of the New York office. It is now my job to help anyone who is interested in coming to Pardes learn more about our programs and figure out a way to study there. As a Masa-affiliated post-college program, we are able to open our doors to many young people who want to spend a significant amount of time in Israel, but might not be able to afford it without the generous scholarships that Masa Israel Journey offers.

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One of my favorite parts of my job is organizing sessions with our faculty who are visiting the U.S. For instance, in mid-January, Masa and Pardes partnered for a learning session with renowned Pardes faculty member Yaffa Epstein, open to all Masa alumni in the New York area. The title of the session was “The Rabbi and the Prostitute.” We sat in the lower level of the Upper West Side Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and talked about who gets to define holiness.

The Talmudic stories we read were about mistakes, growth and learning lessons in unexpected places. And once again, I was struck by the people. This diverse group of Masa alumni, many from Pardes as well as several who had attended other Masa programs, took a couple hours out of their evening to read, share insights, debate meanings and learn from each other. Since returning from my year in Israel, I’ve missed having constant, instant access to Jewish text, culture and spirituality. Yet, it turns out it’s not so hard to find here in New York- you just have to know where to look.

Jenna King Brill is the North American Director of Recruitment for the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community, based in Jerusalem and with programs worldwide. For more information, email her at, or check out the Many Faces of Pardes and watch the Pardes These are Moments video.