These and Those

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

The Secret Ingredient

Posted on July 31, 2014 by Janu Mendel

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

janmendI could seriously fill an entire book about the experiences that led me to Pardes, but don’t worry — for the sake of short attention spans (it’s okay, I have one too) — I’ll keep it brief.

So long story short, I grew up in this little bubble outside of the United States. I never had the benefit of Jewish day school, overnight camps or the plethora of programs available to college students. Post bar-mitzvah, I was that typical unaffiliated Jew that everyone loves to scoff at. You know, the one who might appear in a synagogue for Yom Kippur. Even then, that only happened if I was back home in Jamaica (yes, there are Jews in Jamaica). Then not too long ago, due to some family adversity coinciding with my meeting of a wonderful young rabbi in Miami, I made my return to being actively Jewish. As I became more involved, I was reminded how special this community is. I knew I needed to “beef up” my background so I decided to come to Pardes. Still with me? Great!

Pardes is pretty amazing. Nothing was ever boring. I loved that instead of just studying Torah, the courses were created around the text with a very specific purpose. This gave a sense of progression from one class to the next, which for learning, is much more useful than a very static approach. We didn’t just study Exodus, we studied to learn about “The Emergence of a Nation” and instead of just studying the book ofJudges, we learnt about “Chaos and Leadership in the Promised Land.” I had never done text-based Jewish study. Did I feel intimidated? You bet. Did it stop me? Not a chance. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. The program was so well designed that in each time-slot, there were a variety of classes, some more advanced than others. Because of that, I knew I would be in classes with people at or around my same level. There was truly something for everyone.

The best part of Pardes is the teachers, hands down. The fact that so many people choose to come back is truly a testament to them and you can be sure that I had my favorites! Not only were they supremely knowledgeable, they were also full of passion, which for me, is the secret ingredient. Anyone can do something, but those who do it with passion will find the most success. There were times when the instructors would be sharing things with us and you could see the excitement on their faces or the sparkle in their eyes. I felt like they were sharing glorious secrets that I was privileged to hear. When walking up those stairs to Pardes (or taking the elevator If I’d had a long night), I never once felt a moment of dread or wishing I didn’t have to be there. I took note of that. For me, it meant I was going to a place where I felt I belonged. Even when I was running on zero sleep (yes, Jerusalem has good night-life!), I tried my very hardest to get there on-time because I didn’t want to miss anything. Very unusual for a guy who loved finding ways to cut class in high school…

After the program ended, I felt like a more complete person. The crazy thing is that I didn’t feel lacking as a person beforehand. I mean, I knew I had some stuff to learn but who knew I would learn AND grow?! Well, anyway… there’s my two-cents on Pardes. I guess it was a little long after all. Sorry (but not really). Cheers!