I came to Israel with a long list of goals.
I wanted to be in Eretz Israel, a land I felt a deep connection to. I wanted to understand the nation, the culture, the politics. I wanted to learn Hebrew, Torah, and Talmud. I came with open hands and an open heart.
But such openness, I soon learned, was a vulnerable and terrifying place to be, and I found myself swimming in cognitive dissonance, unable to reconcile numerous political, halachic, and personal convictions.
I began my studies at Pardes five weeks ago in such a state—utterly confused, and a bit lost. Here I was—first time in Israel, first time studying in a Yeshiva, in the process of doing an Orthodox conversion, and far away from my family and friends.
I didn’t solve this cognitive dissonance during my study at Pardes. But, what I did gain, which is far more powerful, is both the self-confidence to dig into the text and seek for answers myself, and simultaneously to live with questions and come to peace with the contradictions.
I had the amazing opportunity to study with strong, intelligent Orthodox women like Yaffa Epstein, Nechama Goldman Barash and Rachel Berkovitz, who showed me that you can live with ambiguities, hold true to your values, and still fight for change. I learned from Meir Schweiger, Mike Feuer, David Levi-Krause, and Alex Israel how to dive into the text, ask hard questions, debate, discuss and analyze, and never give up—even with the most difficult of texts.
I had study partners from all over the world—young and old, men and women, liberal and conservative and many shades in between. We learned to listen to each other. We learned to share, to listen, and to respect. We came together, as many different voices, all wanting the same thing—to learn for ourselves, to learn from each other, and and to become an active part of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
So, what did I leave Pardes with? Not so many answers. Rather, I leave with the desire and conviction to work for change, even whilst carrying unanswered questions, many of which I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be able to reconcile. I remember Rilke’s beautiful words: “Be patient toward all that is unanswered in your heart and love the questions themselves.”
I am so grateful to the amazing Pardes faculty and staff, to my wonderful study partners and new friends. I’ve learned to see hope rather than despair, and the possibility of peace rather than the inevitability of conflict.
So, for those of us who begin to prepare ourselves for Tisha B’Av, the day of mourning, I sit with the reality that much of the world is still broken and needs healing. I mourn for this. But, after studying at Pardes, I have hope. I’ve seen what is possible—maybe on a small scale but still possible. I will mourn for brokenness and destruction, but I will never stop believing in and praying for peace.
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Don’t forget “Israel” means “struggle”. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after their struggle together at Bethel . God wants us to struggle with Him until we learn to yield to His guidance in our lives. JV McGee has such an enjoyable insight into this. He just finished Genesis on his radio broadcast every day ( even those he died so many years ago). He is my daily vitamin that gives me strength from God’s Holy Word to conquer each day with its new challenges.