Posted on January 5, 2022 by Julie Kohl
This post was written by PLS participant Julie Kohl. To learn more about the Pardes Learning Seminar program, which runs during the summer and winter, please visit www.pardes.org.il/seminar.
When the COVID surge caused my plans to go skiing in Colorado to fall through, I unexpectedly found myself with extra time during the final week of December. So, I made a last-minute decision to sign up for the winter Pardes seminar on Cultivating Courage and Resilience. It was a fitting way to end this very strange and difficult year, discovering in the ancient texts relevant wisdom for modern issues.
Having studied at Pardes in person many years ago, I expected excellent faculty and robust text study, but I did not expect to find a deep connection with a group of strangers over Zoom. The other participants came from all over, including Alaska, Canada, Houston, DC, and New York. Some were rabbis and Jewish educators, there were doctors, a social worker, and a writer.
At the opening session, we were each asked to bring an object to share that has helped us get through the pandemic, and invited to talk about a challenge we had confronted and where we found resilience. People were so open and vulnerable, which created a safe space, which only deepened over the five days as we had the opportunity to study in havruta. The faculty and staff also participated in these breakout sessions, allowing us to get to know them as people.
The schedule included a wide range of topics and sources, some familiar but looked at in a new way, and others completely new to me. Some topics sounded interesting to me; others, not so much. I was so surprised and gratified to enjoy even those I was not initially drawn to. I learned about the history of the First Aliyah and the rebuilding of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, looked carefully at the characters in the Job story, and compared and contrasted the characters of Ruth, Tamar, Judith, Esther, and Yael as biblical temptresses.
Each day started with an optional check-in session, built around provocative questions to guide our processing of the previous day’s sessions. Rabbanit Nechama Goldman Barash facilitated this session masterfully, creating space for each person to share.
The final session was especially moving, as we looked at texts about teaching, challenging each of us to consider which learnings we wanted to share with others, and how to best do this. We were even asked the mind-blowing question: If you could teach Torah to God, what would you choose to teach? I am still pondering that one and expect to do so for a long time.