These and Those

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

Pardes Seminars . . . ‘Illuminating. Challenging. Grounding. Provocative.’

Posted on January 8, 2020 by Rabbi Joshua Katzan

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This blog was written by Rabbi Joshua Katzan of Los Angeles, alumnus of the Winter 2019 Pardes Learning Seminar and Pardes Year Programs ’90-’92.

“Illuminating. Challenging. Grounding. Provocative. The essence of the Pardes Learning Seminar is to practice the art of seeing ideas and Jewish text from various points of view, and to feel more soulfully alive as a result. I feel refreshed and joyfully exhausted at the end of each day. Can’t ask for more than that.”

As a guitar teacher, I am saddened by the statement, “I really want to play guitar…but I don’t want to practice.” It’s clear that the experience of making music is sensed as a way to add depth and quality to life, but the hurdle of learning seems just too great. My heart goes out to the person who senses life can be deeper, more fulfilling and meaningful, but who somehow just doesn’t jump in.

This thought came up for me as I was enjoying splashing around in the deep waters of learning at the Pardes Learning Seminar. The theme was especially interesting, “Shaping Meaningful Relationships in a Lonely World,” a topic that speaks to many aspects of our modern life, and one I have spent many years thinking about. The experience of taking a week to engage with some of the best teachers and content the modern Jewish world has to offer is simply the deepest privilege and blessing we can offer ourselves.

Rabbi Joshua Katzin at Pardes

What I treasure about the learning experience at Pardes is not only the quality of the teaching, but the emphasis on havruta study, taking time to read aloud, slowly exploring and digesting a text with another person before discussion with the whole class. To be pulled out of our own head and subconscious assumptions and to share the experience of discovery and understanding with another person in real-time is just a joy that can’t be had when reading alone. (Perhaps havruta is an antidote to the “loneliness” of our modern world.)

Gila Fine teaching at Pardes Learning Seminar

And this led to another piece of what makes the Pardes experience beautiful: the learning is not only for the mind, it inspires the heart to dance. Judaism isn’t just about “knowing” and “doing,” as interesting and important as that may be. It’s also meant to “touch.” As I learned from the master educator Dr. Shlomo Bardin, if we are “touched” by Judaism’s teachings, by the intentional-community it creates, then we, and our worlds around us, can be transformed. This Seminar was an experience of being “touched” by Judaism, spiritual thought, ethical questions, all the while being warmly guided by men and women of noteworthy integrity, kindness, skill, and openheartedness.

As a former congregational Rabbi, I felt renewed and inspired to get back to “practicing,” as I do on my guitar, to find the simple depth and joy in my Jewish learning, living, and practice. For me, it started at Pardes many years ago, and I’m thrilled to discover that I can be as touched and inspired by the experience as I was when I took my first plunge.

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