Posted on February 28, 2023 by Carole Zawatsky
– Carole Zawatsky, Pardes Elul 2022 and Winter Learning Seminar 2017 Alumna, CEO of the Tree of Life, Inc.
I have learned over time, and with the experiences that life has dealt me, that sometimes hitting the pause button is critical to our spiritual, and emotional growth. After a tough year and a decades long career working in the Jewish community I did just that, I hit the pause button and gave myself the gift of a spiritual sabbatical. It was immediately clear to me what form that experience would take. I had been fortunate enough to enjoy a Winter Seminar at Pardes and returning to Pardes for a longer period of time to study and let my mind rest in the world of Jewish text was the gift I chose to give to myself. I was so excited to rent my tiny little Airbnb in the German Colony, buy a coffee on the way to class and walk through the streets of Jerusalem with purpose and meaning. I was not prepared for what it would feel like to be one of the few older learners in the program. I felt particularly unhip, and somewhat out of place on that first day of class. All of that changed as I began to study alongside my classmates and their acceptance of me was open and as embracing as we all should be to one another. I was thrilled to be studying Talmud and Prophets and Jewish thought and wanted to soak in every second. Sadly, as I was walking toward Pierre Koenig Street at the end of the first week of class, I was hit by a car. This was not in any way part of what I had envisioned for my special time, my spiritual sabbatical. However, like many unexpected difficulties I learned much from this unfortunate accident. I learned that the Magan David Adom medics are caring and compassionate as they whisked me off to Shaare Tzedek Hospital. I learned that the arms of embrace of the Pardes “family” are long and that I would never feel alone during any of this terrible incident. The English speaking nurse who had been alerted by Pardes that I was going to be coming into the ER, my fellow student, and the staff member who accompanied me gave me a sense of safety at an otherwise terrifying time. The Arab technicians in the CT lab, who wiped my tears and told me I would be ok, the neurosurgeon who came to the hospital late at night to take care of me and the nurse on the floor when I was admitted, who washed my face and gave me pink Shaare Tzedek pajamas, all of them showed me that an Israel of compassion and co-existence is possible.
When I returned to class able to listen though not read so that my brain injury could heal, my teachers and the students did everything they could to be supportive and include me in any way I could participate in learning. The Pardes faculty went well above and beyond anything I could have imagined. Their caring including escorting me on my walk to school each morning until I was ready to cross the busy Jerusalem streets on my own again, to xeroxing endless medical documents and accompanying me to the Police Station and much more. When a small group of students asked if I would like to meditate with them at lunch time, I was touched to my core. I know that the students and faculty prayed for me and that was as powerful as the medical attention I received. Pardes is “living Torah” a place that is special in every way, the text comes off the page and sits right there with you in your hospital room as an example of the best of Jewish values.
I am grateful for the time I had at Pardes. I returned to the United States to assume a position as the inaugural CEO for the Tree of Life, Inc. in Pittsburgh where we are building a new institution on the site of the most violent act of antisemitism in America. We are building a space of memory and of learning to combat hate in the very place where 11 Jews were murdered in the act of praying on Shabbat morning.
Today across the United States there has been a call for a day of Hate by neo Nazis, and today I have spent my day contemplating how we could possibly have come to this place in America. My hope is that the values that are taught and lived by the Pardes “family” are the values that win and that we are never be defined by our killers. My hope is to come back and study at Pardes again before too long, though for now I keep the sweet memories and lessons learned in my heart.