Posted on July 6, 2020 by Brian and Jody Blum
This reflection was written by Brian and Jody Blum. (Photo credit: Debbie Zimelman)
Brian Blum is a technology and business journalist. His book TOTALED: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com
Jody Blum, M.S.W. is a geriatric social worker specializing in organizational, bureaucratic, and financial issues for Jerusalem’s English-speaking seniors. servicesforseniors-israel.com
The Covid-19 pandemic has been good news for at least one company: since lockdowns and quarantines became part of the world’s new normal, online meetings via Zoom have too. At first these were for business or education (Pardes included), but it wasn’t long before Zoom gatherings began substituting for in-person social ones: family check-in’s, virtual Pesach Seders, streaming Shabbat services.
Add to that one more: online Zoom reunions.
My wife Jody Fox and I attended Pardes from 1985 to 1986. We actually fell in love with each other in the Beit Midrash! While we’ve remained connected to Pardes, attending regular classes (we live nearby in Jerusalem), we haven’t been in touch with many of the students from that pivotal time in our lives for well over three decades.
So, we organized what might be the first-ever Pardes Zoom reunion.
For two months, Jody scoured the Internet and social media for alumni from our year at Pardes. The Pardes office helped out with emails it had on file. We ended up with some 45 connections out of the approximately 60 participants who were on our year program.
The reunion was an overwhelming success – one that we recommend be repeated by all students for whom Pardes changed their lives.
“Changing lives” was indeed the recurring theme for the 31 participants in our reunion – and a powerful reminder.
“Pardes was the formative experience in my life,” said one person.
“I’ve been searching for a community like the one I had at Pardes but have never found it,” said another former Pardesnik.
“Purim at Pardes ruined all future Purims for me,” more than one alum chimed in. (By an amazing stroke of luck, Brian had actually audiotaped our Purimshpiel; that’s now posted to the private Pardes 1985-1986 alumni Facebook page Jody created.)
Following Pardes, a substantial number of participants from our year chose to live in Israel. Of the 45 we were able to track down, 23 have made their lives in Israel. Seven live just a short hop from Pardes.
Moreover, nearly every person on our Zoom reunion remains Jewishly committed, in a true Pardes plethora of pluralistic choices – from Jewish Renewal to yeshivish. There were rabbis, educators, writers, lawyers, social workers and even an ambassador on the call.
The format for the reunion was simple: after 15 minutes of schmoozing at the top, everyone got two minutes to tell about their post-Pardes lives. We asked participants to respond to four questions: 1) where are you located, 2) what have you been up to since Pardes, 3) what Jewish community are you in today (if at all), and 4) to please share one memory from your year at Pardes.
At the end of the call, whoever wanted to stay on for some more unstructured schmoozing could; at least half the group did.
We started with a bit of Torah from alum Rabbi Shmuel Birnham who led us in a midrash and the blessing that’s said if you haven’t seen someone for at least a year (or 34, in our case).
Almost everyone had a memory about Rabbi Meir Schweiger, who was an important part of Pardes even in 1985. (“Hallel will never be the same after Meir’s version,” said one participant.) It’s hard to believe Meir is actually retiring!
Pardes alum Chanan Kessler led a short memorial service for Yochanan Lorwin who died in a flash flood at the Dead Sea in the years after he attended Pardes with us.
Before the reunion even kicked off, we asked anyone who had pictures to post them to our Facebook group. The Zoom was recorded and posted to YouTube afterward for those who couldn’t make it (or wanted to watch it again).
The Covid-19 lockdowns may be over (mostly, we hope!) but that’s no reason to not hold your own virtual reunion.
The technology makes it possible.
The people make it a pleasure.
To see more successful zoom experiences from students and alumni alike, please visit elmad.pardes.org or subscribe to our YouTube channel where we have rewatch opportunities.