These and Those

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

Many Voices, One Community – A Student’s Reflection from the Beit Midrash

Posted on December 3, 2018 by Julia Ullman

אֵיזֶהוּ חָכָם, הַלּוֹמֵד מִכָּל אָדָם

Eizeh hu hacham, ha’lomed mi’kol adam

Who is wise? One who learns from all people. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

What makes Pardes special to me? The students’ willingness and interest to learn from one another, and genuine curiosity regarding each other’s diverse Jewish identities makes it a special place. Each unique background lends so much to the perspectives shared in our classes and through text study and discussion; all the more so, we have so much to learn from one another. Pardes has given me the tools and confidence to feel that even as a non-traditional Jew, I have something to teach to my peers, as well.

As a student in the joint JTS/Pardes Experiential Educators program, I have the opportunity to focus in on my skills as an educator throughout the year. Though it is challenging sometimes to feel as if I really have anything unique to offer to my extremely intelligent classmates, I recently led a Reform Liturgy Workshop. And it was amazing! During this lunchtime session, I had the goal of exploring the principles and trends of liturgical change throughout the movement’s history. I hoped to share the reasoning behind some changes in the various iterations of the Reform siddur, including in the prayers, Aleinu and G’vurot (part of Amidah).

I taught from 20th century theologian and liturgist, Jakob Petuchowski’s principles of Reform liturgical development, in contrast with our own Pardes President, Rabbi Leon Morris’s published essay on modern trends. The participants were encouraged to compare the most recent Reform siddur, Mishkan T’filah, with a traditional Koren siddur, and to explore their own relationship to liturgical development. We focused on the transition from the 19th to 20th centuries norm of change and removal, to the contemporary desire to revert back to traditional text and how to reinterpret it all for our modern sensibilities. This sparked a great deal of conversation, fascinating discussion among all participants, and many “ah-ha moments” as the students explored the text of the siddurim.

In the process of preparing for this shiur, I consulted with Rabbi Leon and with Alden Solovy, a writer and teacher of creative liturgy, as well as, a fellow Pardes student. It was a wonderful process to collaborate and discuss my ideas with such incredible teachers. I am especially grateful that both Rabbi Leon and Alden were able to attend the session in order to add their voices to the conversation. Participants from completely different Jewish backgrounds asked many questions.

I hope that what I taught in this session will lead to even more conversation about Jewish denominational diversity at Pardes. I am so grateful to be able to share my passions, explore diverse interests, and learn alongside my Pardes community.