These and Those

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


Posted on August 9, 2016 by Estella Gabay

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Before I got on the plane to Israel, I had many doubts. It wasn’t my first time in Israel, but my purpose was different from my previous visits. I was hesitant this time, overwhelmed.

I am from Istanbul. I am Jewish, living in a Muslim community. Am I living a Jewish life? I ask that question to myself, and so do others. I constantly have to explain myself to people. I work, study, and live with non-Jewish people. There is one other Jewish person at my university so my friends are all from different religions. If I decide to tell my friends and acquaintances who I am, I have to face many questions:

-Are you Israeli?

-Why do you kill people?

-Do you believe in Moses?

-How are you even Turkish?

We are all born with many questions to ask others and ourselves. So I answer what I can, but when these questions are answered, other questions spring upon me. When I told my friends I was going to Israel this summer, I knew what to expect:

-Isn’t it dangerous?

-Won’t you die?

-Is everyone religious?

-Will you be religious?

-Will you pray the whole day?

-Will you move there?

-Do you have enough long skirts?

-Do you know enough Hebrew?

-Do you know Arabic?

-What’s the point?

I let the questions control me until I walked through the door of Pardes. I left all my judgments behind. If I wanted Pardes to be open-minded, then I had to be open-minded. I wanted to leave my comfort zone. I was glad I got on that plane as soon as I was aware of my surroundings.

On my first day, I ended up going into the teacher’s room by mistake. I should have been mortified, My first day in a new environment, and I’m already embarrassed, right?

I wasn’t.

There were many people around when I managed to find the right room. People started introducing themselves, and the questions began:

-What’s your name?

-Where are you from?

-Why are you here?

-Do you want to move to İsrael?

Every person we meet is unique in some way, so we feel the need to ask questions. We want to know more about the people we are interacting with. Also, we are all the same in some way, so we ask more questions in order to know how we are similar to the people that come from all around the world.

-How is the Jewish community in your country?

-How do you spend your time?

-What are your future plans?

-Do you accept yourself for who you are?

The most exciting, overwhelming part of Pardes for me was all of the discussions. Learning about anything, anywhere with anyone. There is no limit in learning. There is one thing in common with all the conversations though: questions.

We may agree on some level in our discussions, we may get annoyed. We ask a question, and wait for an answer. We are looking for reflections in questions.

Sitting in a room, we hear someone ask a question, any question. Somehow, it affects how we see that person. If a question is able to define us, how much do we really need the answer?

Estella Gabay