Posted May 29th, 2012
By Andrew Lustig, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
I came to Israel – to the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies – 10 months ago, so that I could study and become familiar with Jewish text. I wanted very much to live a ‘Jewish life.’ I just didn’t know what that entailed or meant.
Judaism, for me, has been like a dance. It wasn’t so much fun when I didn’t know the steps. There was very little spiritual fulfillment. It was frustrating and confusing.
But as I started to learn the steps I started to lose myself in the rhythm. The movements took on meaning. And that has led to very special experiences and insights.
Part of this learning process is and has been happening through Torah study, in many of its very different permutations, at Pardes.
Chumash class, of course. Talmud, of course. But there’s also Self, Soul, and Text. And Modern Jewish Thought. And Jewish Meditation. And the Social Justice track. The Peace and Conflict class.
The other part of this discovery is happening through thinking hard and honestly about what I want from Judaism. And what I want to give. What Judaism and tribalism mean to me. How I am responsible for a tradition, a set of rules, a style of worship, and a common fate thousands of years old.
This discovery happens late into the night on Shabbat, in the Beit Midrash, on the bus, and in my journal. All of my poetry starts in my journal. It is all rooted in a desire; a need, to come to Judaism honestly and to engage it with intention. For whatever reason, poetry is the medium that I have connected to and that I feel most comfortable using to express and ‘think out’ these important but complicated identity issues.
I wrote ‘My Child, The Holocaust Denier’ while on a Pardes Heritage trip to Poland. The trip was led by Pardes,’ Rabbi Levi Cooper. The trip was designed to be just as much about ‘life’ as it was ‘the Holocaust.’ The ‘Holocaust’ and ‘life’ in Poland are incredibly important parts of Jewish identity and Jewish history, in their tragedy and in their richness.
The poem is simply a product of my thought process while in Poland. It is a part of my struggle to come to terms with my grandparents’ history. And to envision the future I want for my children.
The trip helped me appreciate and put into context my present. My life. To appreciate the fact that I can write poetry about Judaism. That I can learn Torah in Israel. That I have the opportunity to visit one of the intellectual and cultural centers of Jewish history. And that I have the power to help build a future and an identity defined by ‘life.’