By Carla Farson, Pardes Year Student 2010–2011
In the spring of 2010 I received a Masa grant to study in the Year Program at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem
. By the grace of Masa, I was given the opportunity to begin my formal Jewish education and experience a year of life in Eretz Yisrael. My year with Pardes has showered me with innumerable blessings that have changed my life. The challenges and joys I have met as a Pardes student have yielded a momentous expansion of my consciousness.
In the freedom of this time and place, I have embarked on a journey of discovery in the study of Chumash, prominent commentators and their works, Halacha, personal theology, formal and informal prayer, comprehensive texts serving a halachic perspective on women and Mitzvot, critical issues facing modern Jews, Jewish philosophy, peace and conflict studies through a Jewish lens, and the Arab/Israeli conflict.
In Critical Issues in Modern Jewish Thought, I have ventured into critical scholarship on such crucial issues as the origin of the Torah, the concept of Jews as chosen people, Halacha, and what defines a Jew. This class is giving me the opportunity to use scholarly articles as sparks to ignite the emergence of my own personal theologies and views on these paramount topics.
I recognize the weight of the opportunity I was given this year for personal introspection, spiritual growth, and exploration of the culture of my ancestors. Masa and Pardes not only provide me with a context in which to experience life in Israel, but warmly invite me daily to pursue the answers to life’s most vital questions.
Who am I? What are my values? What does it mean to be Jewish? What makes Jewish community precious? What is my personal theology? What is the origin of the book that binds all Jews as one? If Judaism evolves with the times, how do we decide what changes are appropriate? Is it acceptable to keep the Mitzvot that give me strength and disregard those that give me discomfort? What do I want my Jewish lifestyle to exhibit? How will I begin to discover my place in this world and my contribution to tikkun olam?
While I have been blessed with the circumstance to decide upon answers to many of these questions, I know that my views will continue to evolve. The uniqueness of this year is that I have been prodded to expand my consciousness to the realm of these questions in an academic setting. Of equal importance, living independently in Jerusalem has allowed me to experiment with these questions and answers through real life application, supported by like-minded people and removed from the distractions of life in America.
Living and studying Judaism in Israel gives me a window in which to see into the past, present, and future. I am learning about the lives of my ancestors through the texts they left for me to discover; I am informing the way I choose to live presently while recognizing the blessings that brought me here; I am setting goals for the future. In my pursuit of balance in all things, I presently seek awareness of the moment while planning a future that will build upon the foundation I have laid.
I look forward to a life of hard work, challenge, unending personal discovery, positive change, meaningful relationships, and participation in tikkun olam. My role in repairing the world will actualize the privilege and opportunity I have been given by supporting those in need and inspiring others to live a life of meaningful discovery.