These and Those

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

Closing Circle Remarks from Yehudit Reishtein

Posted on May 31, 2020 by Yehudit Reishtein

These Closing Circle remarks were delivered by Yehudit Reishtein (Summer 19, Year ’19-’20, Community Education)

Last August, one of the first things that jumped out at me when I arrived at Pardes was a feeling of being the statistical outlier. At Opening Circle, just about everyone in the room—students and teachers alike—was younger than me. A lot younger. I felt like the poster child for Lifelong Learning. Would these strangers accept me as a colleague in search of knowledge and new skills, just as they were? How hesitant I was walking into each classroom, how fearful I was of being unable to master new material, how I worried about my ability to keep up with classmates with better educational backgrounds, or whose learning abilities were no doubt faster than mine. And the most fearsome worry of all—what if no one wants to sit with me at lunch?

By the end of the first month, I was relieved that none of my fears had come to fruition. I was learning new skills, keeping up in class, and making new friends.

Before my first class began, I thought I knew the book of Shemot—I’d probably read or heard every story in it about a hundred times. In the first class, we learned about kushi’ot—those difficult problems related to strange sentence structure, ambiguous language, or cultural differences, all those things I had stopped paying attention to somewhere around the age of eight. I had not known that most kushiyot present themselves only to those who read the text in its original language. In learning more about ancient grammar, the ta’amei mikra, and how to use the concordance and lexicon, I discovered tools to use in unlocking the secrets of the text. 

In mid-winter, I got out a Chumash to review that week’s parsha. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of the third aliyah, I noticed something amazing – without giving it any thought, I was reading the right side of the page – the Hebrew text, not the English?– AND understanding it.  Now I am so accustomed to looking for kushi’ot I cannot pick up a chumash without some questionable wording jumping out at me. I know that when I have trouble understanding, I can turn to meforshim for help. I no longer need to rely on English distillations. Thank you, Judy, Michael, and Howard for teaching me how to unlock the text.

I also studied Gemara, for the first time, and discovered why so many people study it so intensively, for so long. No one method of learning is right for everyone; Rahel and Gila opened up the text with very different approaches, which helped me appreciate that the complex Gemara text can be studied using multiple methods of analysis. 

I also want to thank my classmates who contributed so much to my learning. I had always studied alone, but at Pardes, I was expected to learn with a partner. At first, I wondered how I could learn from someone who was as unskilled as I was. However, I learned very quickly that learning in hevruta is NOT pooling ignorance, but a pooling of strengths, and that no matter who I learn with, we all have something to teach each other. Thank you all. I hope I did not hold you back in any way, and that I contributed as much to your learning this year, as you contributed to mine.

Most importantly, this year I made many new friends. I hope we can remain friends. Please keep in touch.