Saturday, December 28, 2013


This isn't the first time I have written about The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and honestly, it probably won't be the last.

Today, Shabbat, Parsha Va'Eira, was very special. There was a Bar Mitzvah of Avi, a son of one my teachers at Pardes, Meesh Hammer Kossoy. I have no idea how many students attended, but I couldn't look into any part of the crowd, and not see a classmate, teacher, dean, rosh yeshiva, spouse, significant other, etc.

Maybe this is normal for an "institute," maybe all places are like this, and they attend celebrations of co-workers and teachers. But, I have never been part of an institute that functions like this. I even looked up the definition of institute, so see if this was normal.

institute - noun : an organization created for a particular purpose

There doesn't seem to be anything explicit to think that this is how an institute would function. So what is it about Pardes that creates an environment that nearly the entire faculty and student body goes to a simcha/celebration of another faculty member? 

I think there is a sense of family that develops very quickly. We obviously all leave our homes to come to Jerusalem, yes, some with spouses, but most come alone. We quickly look up to our teachers/rabbis not just for Jewish guidance, but life guidance. Yes, they are amazing teachers of Tanakh, gemara, mishna, Rambam, Hassidute, etc., but more than anything, they serve as role models. They invite us into their homes to spend time with their children, to meet their wives/husbands. They feed us, they sing with us, they pray with us, they listen to us, they truly become like parents, (or in some cases like older siblings.) 

So, it is no surprise that when one of our beloved teachers has a celebration, we, as family, all want to attend. 

As for Avi, the bar mitzvah, he did an amazing job. He gave a dvar torah that could rival the best any Shabbat morning, read Torah and the Haftarah beautifully, ducked quickly out of the way of flying Hershey kisses, thanked his brother and sister for being the best siblings in the world, and graciously accepted all the mazal tovs he received.  

And as for his parents, they, of course, were exemplary models of loving, devoted parents who were beaming with pride over their son's rites of passage. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A special davening.

There was something very special about this morning's davening (praying) that I don't always feel. But it started way before my friend started to sing pesukei d'zimra (the opening blessings.)

This morning wasn't your average morning, yes, we came early for davening at 7am like other days, but it was difficult. After the Jerusalem snow storm and two days of canceled school, the roads were still ice. My friend/roommate and I slipped and slid our way to school, grabbing on to each other many times in order not to fall. We laughed and took pictures of crazy things we saw on our way.

Gorgeous sunrise, but also note the accident that already happened...
Uh oh....
Sliding down the street! 

I really questioned why I was on the street before 7am to go pray. But...we went. And we made it safely. Only three of us were there after we brought the Torah downstairs (the only place in the building with heat) but we looked at each other with excitement. We were going to pray, and be together and be warm and support each other. When Carolyn started, she said, "you better sing with me!" And we happily did. Soon more women came, and prayed and sang with us.  We were still small, only seven of us, but it felt like a lot. And in a gentle way, it felt strong.

Naomi led shachrit, which I had never heard her do before, and in her soft, sweet voice there was so much beauty. I read the first two aliyot of Shemot, which was exciting in its own accord because everyone at Pardes has been studying sefer Shemot and most classes just finished the first parsha. I felt a lot when I sang it, but not nerves like usual. There was an excitement to read/hear the story and continue our journey through the Torah. I think we all connected to the reading in our own way. Candace read the third aliyah which included Puah and Shifra, the first two powerful and influential women we run into in Shemot.   

Everyone smiled, even in questions, answers, clarifications, and corrections. Everyone was supportive. I felt so good. My dear friend, (who is known to have a bit an anxiety at times) read the bracha for the Torah reading with confidence and not a hint of hesitation in her voice. She made me very proud and I was excited to be the one reading the aliyah. 

I don't think I need to restate how special this morning's women's tefilla was to me. But I do want to say that I feel so lucky to have a community in which it is possible to create such a safe space. I know at the end of the year, I won't be able to take this for granted, as I am already searching for communities in the US for which this can exist and thrive. But for now, thank you, Pardes, thank you, Naomi and Melissa, and thank you, women of Pardes who are always there to support me. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hillel in the snow

There is a very famous story about Hillel, which follows: 

"Most famous perhaps is the incident which occurred before his rise to leadership, when he was not yet a scholar, but had a burning desire to study Torah. At that time, Torah study was tightly controlled and limited only to those of the highest caliber and to those who could pay for it. Hillel, working then as a woodchopper, did not have enough money to pay for entry into the Beit Midrash. On a freezing cold snowy day, he climbed onto the roof of the Study Hall, and lay at the "skylight" listening to the lecture, until he froze. When the scholars below observed his form above, they retrieved him, and changed the policy such that anyone who wished to study Torah could come in and do so."

(Taken from: 

View out the window of the Pardes Beit Midrash. 

Yesterday, in Jerusalem, the snow that had been warned about finally arrived. It wasn't that much snow. But for Israel, a place that isn't prepared to deal with this kind of weather, the city really shuts down. Yet, something very amazing happened. So many Pardes students arrived at school. Many of them very early for mechetzah and egal minyans, and even after, more for classes. Teachers and secretaries showed up, too. Level dalet and hey had nearly 100% attendance. We all braved the cold, freezing, wet, snow, ice in order to come study. Even when school was officially canceled after news of Jerusalem schools also being canceled, many students stayed for hours to continuing studying in the Beit Midrash. 

View inside the Beit Midrash! 

Maybe we are all crazy. Maybe we just wanted to be where most of our friends were already. Maybe we couldn't imagine leaving to go back out into the snow. But I think it's something about Torah. We seem to be addicted. It fills us with something that we would all describe a little differently, but makes us feel good and helps us become better versions of ourselves. And b"h we have a place to study, unlike Hillel who wasn't allowed in, Pardes opens it's doors to everyone and offers Torah to anyone who seeks it. 

So thank you Pardes for being so warm, loving, and open. Because no one wants to be outside in this weather, not even Hillel! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being part of the IFL

Beyond my time studying Torah at Pardes, I am in my fourth season refereeing American football in Israel. I have seen a lot of amazing things, bones breaking, players helping each other, Christians, Jews and Muslims gaining respect for each other on a field. But this past Thursday topped all of these things. One of the teams really went out of their way to make one eleven year old's dream come true.

Read and watch the video here.

I'm very proud to work for this wonderful organization. Way to go, Israel Football League.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Why was Rosh Chodesh Tevet different?

This month, Tevet, at the kotel really felt different. Maybe it was logistics. It started at 8am and not 7am. I decided to walk. Someone (from WoW) stopped on their way when they recognized me, picked me up, and gave me a ride. Pardes is on Hanukkah break so I didn't have to run stressfully back to school in fear of being late for my lesson. I went out to breakfast afterwards with four other people who prayed with WoW at the kotel. We relaxed, reflected, laughed. 

I'm sure all of these things contributed to a nice morning. But I really felt that the davening (prayer) itself was nicer than usual. First, there weren't as many people there in general. The summer is gone, the tourists went home, the weather wasn't great. Only the "die-hards," the men and women who always come were there. And really, it was nice. It was intimate, I could here the shaliach tzibur (the prayer leader.) Even though we did a nusach (tune) that I didn't know, we did everything out loud together. It was slow, some of my friends at school would have found it very difficult (they prefer to daven quickly). But I liked it. I knew many of the women (and men) who were there. I was greeted with loving smiles and hugs. What it really felt like what my normal morning minyan (or for people who believe only men can make up a minyan, then I can use the word tefilla.) I like praying in a group of people I know and care about and who care about me. And that's what happened this morning.

From the first moment that the woman picked me up on the street, to the women at the entrance who let me hold the Torah for a few minutes before going into pray, to women coming in around me and rubbing my back to let me know they were standing close (protecting each other from the screams from the other side of the mechetza). From the personalized blessings from Nathalie, the shaliach tzibur, to warm accepting laughter I received when I was standing under the tallit for a blessing and I told the women around me to pray hard because I wanted to find my husband. There were mothers and daughters praying together. Women who could have been my mom. Young women my age who have been empowered to stand up for what they believe. Older women who have seen change and stagnation. Because of all these things, I felt cared about and important. I felt that my prayers were significant to this group and our prayers were rising together. For me, this is why I like to pray in a group and specifically why I like to pray in a group of women. It's safe, it's strong, it's supportive, and it's non-judgmental. I really hope and pray that every woman gets to experience an openness of prayer like this.

Last month contained it's own beauty. It was a success that hundreds of women from all over Israel and America came to pray together. But it wasn't intimate, it was big and successful in celebrating the 25th anniversary. I was happy for those women to be able to come and have a wonderful experience at the Kotel. Something they will remember for the rest of their lives, but they went home. And what was left, were the women who give themselves every month. The women who don't want it to be a show, who will keep coming no matter how long it takes. Maybe that isn't provocative, maybe that doesn't make the headlines, but it's exactly what I want. And talking to these women this morning, I realized I'm not alone. I'm not going to Robinson's Arch. I am going to pray in the women's section, with tallit, tefillin, and one day, one Rosh Chodesh, hopefully soon, I and others will read from the Sefer Torah.