Posted on May 28, 2019 by Branden Charles Johnson
This has been the most difficult blog post to write this year. As I type these words, I can’t even believe they’re describing reality. That we just returned from the final Shabbaton of our year at Pardes feels like the awkward punchline to a joke someone told back in September. “This year is going to go by very quickly, so make sure you take advantage of every opportunity.” I’m pretty sure Dean Bernstein said something to that effect. But I digress.
The final Shabbaton of the year was a wonderful experience. From the lovely (and hot) hike we took along Nahal Alexander, which led us to the shores of the Mediterranean north of Netanya; to the idyllic, reminiscent-of-Tuscany area around the Alon Tavor Field School where we stayed, I felt the continued connection to this land that Pardes has worked so hard to capture and nourish for each of us this year. Jamie Salter did his usual great job of orienting us on the map, as well as contextualizing the specific place/s we visited.
A surprise came in the form of a cold evening with high winds. However, that didn’t prevent us from welcoming Shabbat with a lovely pre-service musical circle, followed by Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv. We watched the sun set behind the hills in the distance. To the west, we could see the minarets of a mosque. To the south, we could see a monastery perched on top of Mt. Tavor. It was a humbling reminder of the complexity of this country and, for me, a reminder of why I love this place.
Another highlight for me was walking into shacharit on Shabbat morning and hearing several people read from the Torah for the first time (or for the first time in a long time). They worked very hard to develop this skill and reach this incredible goal. These students spent months learning, practicing, and perfecting the trope. They did an incredible job. The feelings of joy, accomplishment, and pride were palpable, and elevated the spirit of the service.
One of the things I love about Pardes Shabbatonim is the ability to see and get to know our teachers and faculty outside of the classroom. They are all remarkable individuals and brilliant scholars, with wonderful stories and varied backgrounds. And it’s always a treat to interact with their families.
This final Shabbaton was the perfect culmination of my experiences at Pardes this year. It is very difficult to put into words what my time here has meant. The profound friendships I have made with people from around the world. The things I have learned about my Judaism and my role as a Jewish educator. The skills with which Pardes has equipped me to confront challenges in a variety of contexts. These are all priceless takeaways. These are the things that make Pardes such a special place. And these are the things – Pardes itself included – that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.