Following her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania, Rebecca Karp was not ready to plunge into the world of graphic design, her main academic focus. Instead, she chose to further pursue her extracurricular interests from the past four years, which centered around Penn’s Hillel, through study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, a pluralistic co-ed yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Though Rebecca attended Reform and Conservative synagogues throughout her youth and was active in USY, Rebecca still craved a formal Jewish education. At Pardes, Rebecca found the tools she needed to explore her Jewish identity which, while always strong, had never been fully articulated.
Surrounded by individuals from all Jewish affiliations, at Pardes Rebecca could study in an environment that actively encouraged constant questioning and reflection. The synthesis of textual study and discussion helped Rebecca shape not only her personal Jewish identity, but her outlook on life, as well. “The critical thinking and story-telling, the opportunity to learn why we do the things we do and where laws come from—it affected my everyday sensibilities,” Rebecca says of her learning experience at Pardes. “I don’t have separate ethical and Jewish values. I live my life according to Jewish values.”
During her time in Jerusalem, Rebecca discovered at Pardes an open and engaged community that extended well beyond the classroom. Instead of serving as mere springboards for each other’s ideas and beliefs, students provided one another with support and mutual understanding. During Thanksgiving, a time of homesickness for many American students, Rebecca prepared a meal for 16 religiously diverse female students in her apartment’s kosher kitchen. “There were women in short skirts, long skirts, pants, and shorts,” Rebecca recalled. “And we had all come to Israel with a common goal: to learn.”
Upon her return to the United States, Rebecca began looking for jobs in graphic design, but her heart yearned for something more. When she landed the job as assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey chapter, she was thrilled. The opportunity, which includes working with different ethnic groups in the United States to promote mutual cultural education, allows Rebecca to instill the values of understanding and openness, so central to her Pardes experience, in her own community back home.
Upon her return from Israel, Rebecca also sought to create a Jewish community similar to that which existed at Pardes. She began a Moishe House in Philadelphia, where she lived with several other Jewish post-college individuals who create Jewish-themed events for young adults in the area. Jews from all backgrounds and denominations attend the events, which have included Shabbat dinners and a documentary followed by a discussion about the Falash Mura Ethiopian population in Israel.
Looking back, Rebecca believes that her work in the Jewish community was inevitable. “But without Pardes, I couldn’t have gotten there,” she says.