Posted on May 8, 2014 by Aliza Riemenschneider
Aliza Riemenschneider (Mechina '08, PEP '10) writes regularly
on her own blog, Each & Every
At the closing community lunch, David Bernstein will stand up and make a speech, telling you that you are all b’nei/b’not bayit. Meaning, once you come to Pardes to learn, you are always welcomed back with warm, open arms anytime you return. When you hear it, you will feel love and excitement. You will feel connection, belonging– family-like feelings. You will feel like your time there has been important and valued. You will feel bittersweet. You will– despite being sad at the ending and at the leaving– look forward to a time when you will return to Pardes years down the road and experience a happy homecoming from everyone that had missed your presence so much. You imagine that Yaffa will throw her arms around you or that Zvi will give you a high five and you will be escorted by them down the hallway to the beit midrash and you will immediately open up a sefer and get right back into the thick of it. You imagine showing up, after so long away, just in time to hear Meir singing his Adar song about Esther’s body. Or that you will walk into DLK’s Mishna shiur given over in the most wonderful South African accent, or that you will pick up your intense discussion with Tova Leah about Rashi’s commentary on Parshat Shmot right where you left off, or that you will run into Levi’s Chasidut class right before he yells into the chader ochel: “LAST CALL!”
Then, after the speech, you will leave and you will return to real life. Maybe you will be ready or maybe you will not be ready. But you will go anyway and you will deal. And you will think to yourself, “I will go back to Pardes. I will go back to Jerusalem”
Then you will discover that airfare to Israel is insane. You might get married and you might have a child. If these things happen, you will then discover that airline companies do not give discounts for children’s seats and you then have to think to yourself, “Do I want a small human being on my body for a 14-hour flight?” Once that child is around one year old, you will discover that the answer is “no.”
But this story is not about you. It’s about me. I heard Dean Bernstein give this speech three times because I was blessed to spend three years learning at Pardes in the Educators Program. For each of my first two years, I looked forward to this speech because it made the future sound so promising. I was a bat bayit. I was going to come back to Pardes and be joyfully welcomed when I did. I felt this way, even though the speech wasn’t directed at me then because I and everybody else knew I was staying. Then, as I sat at the community lunch at the end of my third and final year, I began to feel a sense of dread. This time, the words were my reality. I was leaving. And a bat bayit was all I was going to be. I was no longer a returning student. I was leaving. And the truth that I didn’t even know yet was: my return to Pardes was not going to be for a long time.
I moved back to the States with a contract to begin teaching. My husband (whom I met at Pardes) and I found, in Riverdale, NY, an apartment and some furniture and then all of a sudden we were expecting. As a PEP alum, we were offered a free trip back to Israel that next summer to work on curriculum at Pardes. With a newborn, it was not in the cards for us.
I did not work that entire next year. I was home with our daughter, navigating new motherhood, looking for my next teaching job. I found one and we were offered, again, the opportunity to come back to Pardes to develop curriculum. But my new job expected me to do Montessori training over the summer. Plus, thanks to the enviable location of my new school, we had to/got to move to Brooklyn. Our trip to Israel did not happen that summer either.
Our third summer back, we did, in fact, develop curriculum with Pardes. But the workshop was no longer happening in Jerusalem. Instead, we– along with many other PEP alumni– worked together at the beautiful Pearlstone Center outside of Baltimore, MD. A wonderful week. But it was no Jerusalem.
Now our sweet daughter is almost three. My husband and I are feeling happy and blessed with our teaching positions. We will be teaching at camp this summer for the first time. And we will likely be participating in the Summer Curriculum Workshop again. But it’s in Maryland again. And Israel is growing more and more like a distant memory.
For both my husband and myself, learning at Pardes was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For myself, I had never even been to Israel until I was 25 years old. I came originally on a Birthright trip, extended by trip to a full month, and within a year I was living in Jerusalem. It was all a dream-come-true. I can’t say that I wish my life had turned out any different than it is right now. But that doesn’t mean that some things aren’t difficult. Teaching does not pay very well and it is almost cruel how someone like myself– who’s life feels completely dedicated to Judaism and the Jewish people– cannot even afford make it back to Israel. That is difficult.
Life after Pardes, in general, is difficult. Pardes and Jerusalem provided opportunities to my Jewish soul that cannot be found anywhere else. Not even in the most Jewish neighborhoods in the most Jewish city outside of Israel can all of that mindfulness and meaningfulness and connectedness be found.
But life after Pardes has also been empowering. I feel capable and knowledgeable as an adult who made the choice for myself to learn Torah formally for its own sake. I feel empowered to make informed decisions about Jewish life and practice for myself. I feel comfortable and happy in a post-denominational Jewish world. I feel ready and able to aid in the progress and movement of my Jewish community. I feel like I can help. I feel like I can do.
I like to think that we will make it back to Israel someday. I’d like to be the one to introduce the city of Jerusalem to my daughter. But I don’t know what the future holds. I only know that what’s in my past is beautiful and I cannot stay there. I have to live in the present with the love I gained at Pardes always in my heart.