I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to come to Pardes this year. It is taken me on a journey of Jewish learning and spiritual growth that has exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations.
Around March of 2012 I was working three jobs, I felt tired and disconnected from myself. I was missing learning, specifically Jewish learning. I was craving the opportunity to sit and learn and open my mind to new ideas, perspectives, and thoughts. I wanted to be surrounded by Jewish men and women who could enlighten, challenge, question, discuss, and bring to life Torah and Judaism. Having spent the four years prior to Pardes teaching in an ultra-orthodox environment that was censored, restricted, and in many ways counter to my own personal ideology I felt that I had put aside my own opinions and learning for the education of others for too long.
As fulfilling as my job was at times, it was time to refocus my energies on my own personal growth. Literally bursting with frustrating energy I searched for an outlet for 2012-2013. I sat down at my computer and searched the Masa website for different ideas and institutions. I contemplated a variety of options before finding the description for Pardes. I immediately felt attracted to Pardes’s ideology of being a “Jewish creative learning institute, emphasizing intellectual openness, rigorous textual analysis, and opportunities for personal spiritual growth.” These were all aspects I was looking for in a learning environment.
For some reason I did not enter Pardes’s website right away, but typed Pardes into Youtube to find a lecture series given by Prof. Uriel Simon regarding Manoah’s wife and women’s place in the bible and the story of Shimshon. At that moment I finished watching the lecture I knew I had to come and learn at Pardes. That night, literally a week to the application deadline I applied and the next day I informed my employers that I would not be returning the following year and needed letters of recommendation.
It is bittersweet to think that as I sit here writing this there are three days left of my year at Pardes. March 2012 feels so far away now. My experience this year has given me the opportunity to grow spiritually, intellectually, socially and get back in touch with myself. I look back and see that the decision to come to Pardes for a year has transformed my life in so many ways. Within the walls of Pardes there have been countless powerful moments of personal discovery, confidence building, and the ability to reconnect to my happiest self. In Kohelet 3:1 it says, “Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the sun.” As I reflect on my year I have come to recognize that this was the “season” for my own personal independent journey. It was my time for learning. Not just Torah learning, or Gemara learning, or Chasidut learning, but learning and reconnecting to my own thoughts, opinions, and ideas, and shaping who I am as a person at this stage of my life.