Posted on April 2, 2014 by Ilana Arje-Goldenthal
When I received my acceptance letter from Tel Aviv University (TAU) Law School to do a semester of exchange, I was surprised that the semester only began on February 16th. I calculated the time between completing the fall semester in Toronto and beginning the winter semester at TAU, and realized that I would have over two months off! I began to get excited about the prospect of coming to Israel early and learning Torah intensively. The question was where I wanted to learn, and who would accept me for such a short period? I had heard from friends over the years about how great a place Pardes was, and so I contacted Pardes to see if I could study there for one month between semesters. I was excited to discover that my dates aligned with the Australian 1 month summer program, and that Pardes would let me come learn for that period!
I had the most wonderful month learning at Pardes. The last time I intensively learned Torah for many hours each day was when I spent a year after high school at seminary in Jerusalem (not to date myself- but that was already 9 years ago- oy!) I had since gone to Barnard, worked for a few years at UJA Federation in Toronto, and completed half of a law degree. I had been craving intensive Jewish learning, and sought a time when my schedule would allow me to delve into Jewish learning once more.
The experience was fabulous. I was welcomed right away into the warm and welcoming Pardes community – an incredibly unique camaraderie of diverse individuals from various backgrounds, who, although different from one another, coalesce under the common banner of open-mindedness, love for Torah learning, and Jewish community building. I felt at home right away in the intellectually stimulating Tanach, Jewish philosophy, and Gemara shiurim, taught by incredibly intelligent and sophisticated educators, and surrounded by passionate, smart, and interesting people.
When researching Pardes, I was looking for a learning environment that was different from the seminaries I attended when I was 18. My outlook on life, opinions about Judaism, and practices have changed since I was 18, and so the type of seminary that was appropriate for me at that time would not suit me anymore. I was now looking for a place that was open, inclusive, non-judgmental, co-ed, and serious about learning in a sophisticated and nuanced way. Pardes fit the bill. While I probably would have felt claustrophobic and not self-expressed at a more traditional women’s midrasha, Pardes enabled me to think openly and critically about Judaism, to pray in a traditional minyan, a creative minyan, or no minyan (and yes, I did all three), and to have a designated space and time to engage in serious Jewish learning and reflection.
Unfortunately, one month was not long enough. Though I’ve been trying to make the commute from Tel Aviv to come to Pardes once in a while, it’s more difficult now that I’m entrenched in my law school semester. Life goes by quickly, and it is so hard to find time, especially serious time, to sit and learn Torah. I hope that the month of intense learning will provide me with the fuel I need to continue Torah learning as I begin my professional career, and I sincerely hope that in the not too distant future, I will have the opportunity to come back to Pardes, and study Torah intensively once again.