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My Summer at The Pardes Institute

At the end of the Talmudic book of Yevamot (121a), there is a story. Rabbi Akiva was traveling on a boat and saw in the distance another boat sinking at sea. He grieved over the loss of the Torah scholar whom he knew had been aboard that boat. Later, he saw the scholar alive and asked him how he had survived. The scholar answered, “I took hold of the boat, and I rode the waves until I reached dry land.”

For two years we have lived in a world of virtual learning and immense unknowns, and have at times felt like we were drowning. We couldn’t, and sometimes still can’t, find our way to dry land. 

This summer, I was lucky enough to learn in a program at The Pardes Institute. Pardes is an open, inclusive, diverse, and intellectually challenging Jewish learning community based in Jerusalem, and attending their program was a truly incredible experience. Coming together with 120 people from all over the world and from all denominations of Judaism provided me with a spiritually nourishing experience. Being able to travel to Israel to study Torah in Jerusalem was what I needed to ride the waves.

Being in the Pardes Beit Midrash (study room) gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the study of Jewish text while our traditions surrounded me on the streets and in conversations with people I met. Through classes led by talented faculty and time studying alongside inspiring havrutim (study partners) and classmates, the Torah worked its magic on me.  

I was at Pardes as part of the Senior Educators Leadership Fellowship, an exclusive 11-month fellowship designed to inspire senior congregational school educators with ongoing Jewish learning and equip them with new approaches for how to engage with real-world challenges using Jewish texts. Throughout the year, I will gather virtually with my cohort to continue our learning. Supported by expert mentors, I will also plan and implement exciting and important projects for our community.

As Jewish educators, we talk a lot about one’s Jewish journey as a lifelong learner. We teach our students that Judaism does not end at B’nai Mitzvah, nor does it end with college or beyond. It is a journey of a lifetime that should always be filled with Torah, asking questions, and challenging ourselves to find new meaning in all that we practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to model that for our BJ families and students and to have had the chance to spend time replenishing my own well of Torah.

I am looking forward to bringing my learnings from Pardes with me as we embark on a year full of celebrating shabbat together, fostering community, and returning to the normalcy we all crave. Now that we are no longer floating at sea, we can re-ground ourselves in the values we hold close: coming together to learn, be in a community, and enjoy each other’s company.

Rachel Barnehama

Written By Rachel Barnehama

Rachel Barnehama is the Associate Director of Family Life and Learning at BJ. She previously served as the Director of Education and Engagement at Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington, NY. Rachel ...

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