Being in Israel has taught me how to prepare. No, not how to properly pack bags, or take provisions for a hike – both of which are useful skills in this country, but how to prepare mentally. I noticed this immediately when I arrived.
Pardes began as the month of Elul started, a time when traditionally we as Jews begin to self-reflect and learn in preparation for Yom Kippur. After a month of doing so, I experienced the most meaningful Yom Kippur of my life. All because I prepared.
For Pesach this year, a friend of mine decided to organize a communal seder because his mum was visiting. He asked each of the 10 people who attended to prepare by researching one part of the seder and to share what they learned with the group. We used this as the basis for our question asking and conversation at the seder, and were there engaging in lively discussion until 3 in the morning. Our preparation served us well.
Today was erev Yom Hashoah (the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day). Instead of Pardes having its commemoration on Yom Hashoah itself, we held a day of special programming today. As our Dean said at one point while introducing a speaker, Pardes does this consciously for a few reasons, one of which is so that we as students can be prepared.
After Dr. Bernstein said this, we heard from a historian about how much Jews living in Poland during the Shoah knew about the extermination going on around them. He told us a story about the Lublin ghetto, where, in 1940 and 1941 the Judenrat (the Jewish council in the ghetto) had requested extra flour to bake matzah for Pesach. For each of these years, the request was granted. Even in the ghetto, in the midst of slavery, they were able to prepare for our celebration of freedom.
For Pesach in 1942, they made the same request, expecting based on precedent that it would be granted. But that year was different. That year, their request was not granted. That year, the day before Pesach started, the Lublin ghetto began to be liquidated. That year, Pesach was inverted. Even the little bit of freedom that they had previously held onto was taken away from them.
We can learn a lot from the Jews in the Lublin ghetto who prepared for their holidays under some of the most unfathomable conditions. These and other seemingly minor acts that must have helped maintain some sense of normalcy during the horror of the Holocaust inspire me.
All of my preparations at various times throughout the year, culminating in Pesach just last week are a sign to me of my freedom. A luxury for which I am eternally grateful.
A way, to me, to honor the lives of all of those who were murdered. To carry on the legacy of those who were somehow able to proudly maintain their Jewishness during the darkest time of our history.
Laura Herman is a current Pardes student from Toronto, Canada. She went to University of Toronto and studied History and Political Science.