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Alumni Reflections on Pluralism and Student Life at Pardes during Covid

Hello friends close and far!

I wrote the following piece for the Pardes Havruta magazine. It's about my experice at Pardes, Covid and my thoughts on Pluralism. You can read the full magazine here.

When I told folks in Germany about Pardes, I always referred to it as a pluralistic yeshiva. Often, people didn’t understand what that meant, and many were surprised to learn that such an institution could exist.

It was important to me to describe it this way, because that’s the language folks at home understand. Pardes is a yeshiva. It’s a place where you sit and learn Torah. And being pluralistic is what makes it special among yeshivot and what brought me to Pardes. 

We all learn the same Torah!

I have been active in pluralistic contexts before, but learning Torah in this context took it to a whole new level for me. As Pardes’s President, Rabbi Leon Morris, says, “We all learn the same Torah!” That’s exactly what makes it so beautiful for me. 

In fact, the moments that stand out most are those when pluralism was both showcased and challenged. For example, I represented the Orthodox minyan on the Rosh Chodesh planning committee. We were tasked with creating one communal prayer service in which all minyanim could comfortably participate.

Thank God, after trying out different approaches, we found solutions that made most people happy. Still, there were other issues to negotiate. After services we enjoyed a communal breakfast in the park. Our approach to Birkat HaMazon, therefore, also needed to be addressed. With faculty guidance, we came up with a format that allowed everyone to feel comfortable, both leading and participating, regardless of their denomination. 

The experience that stands out most occurred during my final Shabbat in Jerusalem. I had invited friends for a meal and unintentionally included rabbinical students from a spectrum of denominations. The discussion that ensued about the differences and similarities between their schools, tracks and professions was wonderful and lively. 

While pluralism defined much of my experience, sadly, Covid did as well. It was frequently impossible for us to learn face-to-face in the Beit Midrash. With classes mostly online, I could have returned to Germany and continued to participate from home. What kept me in Israel, though, was an intense feeling of community despite the physical limitations. In small groups, outside when the weather allowed it, we made a point to have Shabbat meals together, which we greatly looked forward to, especially during the more restrictive periods of quarantine.

Everyone, no matter their education or upbringing, has their own special Torah to offer.

A major takeaway from my year is that everyone, no matter their education or upbringing, has their own special Torah to offer. I have also realized the incredible value of learning with all genders. Coming from a gender-separated school, this was anything but obvious. I now advocate for mixed settings, otherwise, we miss out on the perspectives of a large percentage of the population. 

Pluralism works and it’s beautiful. It’s also hard work, but I believe that it’s essential to making us better Jewish brothers and sisters and better humans, all members of a vibrant and colorful global community.

If anyone has any questions about what studying at Pardes could look like for you, or you just want to hear more about it, please feel free to reach out to me!

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