These and Those

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

I’ve been saying Watermelon a lot.

Posted on August 1, 2014 by Rachel Dingman

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I don't formally blog, but I did spend some time reflecting 
on something I shared at our 2014 Pardes Summer Program 
Tish. Here are my reflections:

racdingAt a dinner at Yaffa’s house she made the joke “sing along if you know the words, if you don’t just say Watermelon”. Needless to say, I said watermelon a lot at Pardes.

I fully intend on writing a really positive reflection on my time at Pardes, because truly I can’t imagine a better way to spend my summer. But first, I have to start this reflection where I started — feeling inadequate, nervous, and doubtful. I came to Pardes with very little Hebrew knowledge, I had never even seen the Talmud, and I hadn’t been to services in over 2 months. During my first class I was reassured that I wasn’t alone in my lack of Hebrew skills, and that we were going to be diving into text in a very analytical way (my inner Philosophy major was stoked!) Just as I started to feel a bit better in my courses we had our first Shabbat dinner at Pardes. This was an incredible show of community and it felt great to sit around the table, however; it was a quick reminder that I didn’t really fit. I didn’t grow up going to camp, I didn’t know all the tunes, I had never seen a bencher or said after meal blessings, I didn’t have a very religious upbringing, and, as I said before, I had to say watermelon a lot. I left that Shabbat with a conflicted feeling (that honestly I’m still figuring out): how can I simultaneously feel an intense draw to a religion and people but yet feel so much like an outsider.

Wow — all of that in the first week. So much happened over the course of my time at Pardes, seriously, I could write a book. What I will say now is that over the next two weeks I started to realize that Judaism is a journey, and that simply putting your foot on the path is enough to make you feel incredibly connected. At our Tish (which was amazing) I shared some of these sentiments with the group. What happened over the next few days was an incredible outpour of supportive words, hugs, and l’chiams. In three short weeks I started too feel confident in discussing Torah, excited, not ashamed, about the things I didn’t know, and dedicated to putting both feet on the path.

Pardes really is a special place. For me, it challenged me to think critically about the role religion, Jewish learning, and Israel plays in my life. I was asked during Shabbat lunch what I was leaving here and what I was taking with me back home… my answer… I am leaving behind the feeling of being inadequate and the feeling that not knowing is something to be ashamed of. I’m brining back a dedication to learning, a ton of great ideas for campus programs (much thanks to my Exodus class with Reuven Grodner… side note… he is simply amazing… take a class with him and it will change your life), and an excitement about defining my personal and professional Jewish life.

I might still be saying Watermelon for awhile but I’m saying it with my head held high, my hand raised to ask questions, and my heart full.