These and Those

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

The Power of Introductions

Posted on September 8, 2016 by Jesse Nagelberg

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As a recent college graduate, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what school orientations looked like. You walk into the room, look for someone you know, take a seat, and wait for the teacher to go over the program syllabus, rules, regulations, and expectations. Many times the teacher will tell you all about themselves, their background, their experience, and their history. Orientation day or syllabus day always delivered important information, but never really felt useful. Like a day or class to get through to really get to the meat of what you were there to do.

I’m not sure what I expected when I arrived at Pardes for Orientation, but my first day at Pardes was unlike any orientation I had attended before.

It was a morning full of introductions. Not just of the teachers. Not just of the staff. But of every individual in the Pardes community for this educational year.

I walked into the building, walked up the stairs, and upon opening the door, two faculty members I had met for only moments the day before during registration turned to see who was walking in exclaimed: “Jesse! Welcome!” I instantly felt at ease, took a deep breath, smiled, and said hello back.

I followed the crowd into the Beit Midrash. The tables were all pushed to the side and all of the chairs were arranged in concentric circles around the center of the room. Even after so many years of formal education, I still played the game in my head where I contemplated where to sit in the circle. Do I seem too eager if I sit in the front? Too reserved if I sit in the back? Was choosing a seat in a circle different than choosing a seat in a classroom. I took a seat in the third row, not too close to the front, but also not in the back.

And when the Dean rose to speak, he welcomed us and immediately introduced a Pardes tradition called Opening Circle. Each student, faculty member, and staff member stood up, wherever they were seated in the circle, and introduced themselves. We spoke about where we come from, what we were doing this time last year, what we think we will be doing a year from now, and gave a fact about ourselves. It took about two hours for everyone to speak. Each person was handed the microphone and granted everyone’s full attention for their introduction. Some people were funny. Some were introspective. Others acknowledged fears and insecurities about being at Pardes or even speaking in the circle.

I don’t remember every name I heard in the circle.

I can’t tell you where everyone is from or what they were doing last year.

I’m not sure where they think they will be next year.

And even though I enjoyed hearing each person’s fact, they were not cemented in my memory.

But I remember every speaker’s face. I remember turning to wherever they were sitting in the circle and focusing on what they had to say. I remember feeling invited into their community, just because they introduced themselves to me. To us.

Most importantly, I now feel absolutely comfortable turning to the student sitting next to me or across from me in class and saying: “I don’t exactly remember your name but would you like to be my chevruta today?” And with a smile, they re-introduce themselves. The information they spoke about on day one come flooding back. And as we begin to figure each other out, just the slightest bit, we walk into the Beit Midrash, sit down at a table, crack open our book, and begin to learn together.

Jesse Nagelberg