Leading the Exodus

We read this past week about the moment at which three dynamic leaders stood at the edge of the sea, and how different their experiences were surrounding that moment. A mentor shared a bit about something she spoke about and it really made me think about those three leaders – Moshe, Miriam, and Nachshon.

Moshe leads the cause and then stops to pray when he feels he’s unsure of how to move forward – literally and figuratively.

Miriam packed her timbrel, inspired others to pack theirs, and was ready to celebrate the salvation she believed was coming.

Nachshon stepped right into the water and hoped the people would follow and God would provide – the ultimate display of faith.

These three leaders were all necessary, as are their leadership styles today.

We need people who are slow and deliberate and look for guidance along the way. We need people who are optimistic and ready to inspire others with their passion. We need people to boldly step out and take the first risks.

We need modern day leaders like these three to work in tandem to continue guiding Am Yisrael on our journey. It didn’t end when we exited Egypt or entered Eretz Yisrael, in fact it had only just begun.

Life is a journey, God is the guide

Today in my Chumash class, we were asked to think/write about how we view or relate to God as part of a discussion about revelation. I had to (sadly) admit to myself that I don’t really think about God on a regular basis, I have just internalized the relationship as a part of who I am and how I engage with the world. When I had to stop and think about it, I found myself caught up in a metaphor which I wanted to explore a bit more with you.

If life is a journey, then surely God is our guide and the Torah is the guidebook.

To expound it a bit more, Talmud is the sequel, Halacha is the “must see” lists, and commentaries are all the reviews and blogs which people write to distill their experiences.

Sometimes, the books are enough to keep the traveler going on a good path and having a fulfilling journey, but sometimes they leave one wandering, lost, or disconnected. Sometimes the traveler has to set aside the books, and talk personally to the guide. Sometimes a person on a journey has face the guide directly to get answers for the difficulties.

The guide is always there, even when a traveler forgets and gets caught up planning for themselves.  While one can pick the places they want to go from a book, they may be closed for renovations or generally disappointing. Meanwhile, the guide knows exactly where to go and can help weary travelers get out of these slumps – if only they would stop to ask and open up to the answer.

The traveler can’t get mad at the guide when it doesn’t work out, rather they have to slow down and be willing to open up to the answers. One has to be willing to give up control sometimes, and just trust that the guide knows what is best.

The guide is able to see the bigger picture of the journey, while the traveler is caught up in the day to day activities and the minutiae of the logistics.

While the guidebooks, “must see” lists, and reviews tell other people’s experiences, only the guide knows the individual traveler and what is best for their unique experience. The guide knows all the options, while the individual is limited to their minimal exposure to the books.

It may be hard for some of travelers (myself included) to embrace this, but it seems like the only way to truly get the most personally fulfilling journey possible is to find a balance between being self-directed with texts and giving up some control in connecting with the guide and allowing him to lead.

Quite simply, despite all of our best intentions as travelers, we can’t always rely on the texts to get us through our journey. We need a personal relationship with our illustrious guide, God, in order to maximize the experience of our journey. (And it doesn’t hurt to have good traveling companions either!)

 

{This blog has been cross-posted to These & Those, the Pardes student blog, which I help manage.)

Mel’s (not-so) Quarterly Reflections – Take 2 and 3 combined

May 1st marked 9 months of living in Israel. I’m not totally sure how that happened, but it did! So, since I missed the 6 month recap, here is one that covers both my second and third quarter here.

Living:

We adapted to our small space but are looking at apartments to move closer to Pardes and the synagogues we have found we liked and others we are told we will like.

Learning:

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing about our Israel experience. We have both been amazed at how much we have been able to learn in these past few months and how far we have come in our skills. Needless to say, we are also aware of how much more we have to go!

We will both be Fellows at Pardes next year, so there for sure another year of solid learning in our future.

Exploring:

Ya, we still haven’t really done that. *crosses fingers* Hoooopefully while we have some down time this summer we will be able to do more of this!

Community:

We have embraced that the reality of our experience is that our learning communities are really our primary community and we have made some amazing friends. Also, the sense of community here is much different than in the US.

We have found two synagogues which we really enjoy and hope to move closer to them, as well as some others in that area which we here will help us feel more connected.

Food:

So, apparently, I do actually like hummus and tahina. Thats probably the biggest thing to share food wise. We are trying to get back to a simpler and cleaner diet, with the abundance of fresh produce its really quite silly not to!

We have also deduced that the secret to Marzipan’s deliciousness must be crack. It is the only explanation for their addictive tendencies. 😉

Safety:

Amud Annan (Operation Pillar of Defense) rocked our world for a few weeks with its tensions, sirens, and uncertainty. However, the cease fire came quickly and lasted solidly for a few months. Even now as it has been violated and the rock-throwing, stabbing, etc incidents of terror have risen in the areas near the borders, there is still a sense of calm.

As such, our largest safety concern has again become the simple act of being pedestrians.

Surprising realizations:

There are only two season in Israel: Rainy season from Sukkot to Pesach, and mosquito season from Pesach – Sukkot.

Kitniyot on Pesach is awesome. (See the post about that for details.)

The “settlements” don’t feel like settlements so much as suburbs…..

We think about being homesick much less often, but when it does come it is just as intense.

Rak b’yisrael (Only in Israel):

Rockets fall across the country and people continue on about their daily lives, but snow is imminent and the entire city shuts down.

National holidays which should fall Saturday night/Sunday get pushed back a day so that people do not begin their preparations on Shabbat.

Busses wish you happy holidays.

There is no customer service and people are rude, but in a moment of need someone is always available to help.

Do you have other things you want to know about? Feel free to ask in the comments! 🙂

“New” versus “Groundbreaking”

yeshivat maharat

post by Jessica

The Times of Israel recently posted a beautiful article about the upcoming Maharat graduates (we posted the article to the RR facebook – it’s here, if you’re interested). It takes the time to profile each of the graduates and talks a little about the opportunities they face. Plus, the nice pictures are awesome. Just this past Shabbat, the Chicago Tribune ran a great piece about Rachel Kohl Finegold, who was hired by Congregation Shaar HaShomayim in Montreal. Both pieces, while appropriately realistic, were also celebratory.

As with a lot of news, sometimes it’s good to ask “Is this worth all the fuss?” After all, maybe this is just my friend Rachel (we were congregants of hers in Chicago) taking on a new job. As the Tribune points out, Rabbi Lopatin hired Rachel in 2007, before there even was a Maharat program.

So, what’s new? What’s groundbreaking?

Without the opportunity for recognition, some women have gone elsewhere. Finegold has watched friends abandon rabbinical callings to become teachers, secular lawyers or CEOs instead.

“How sad is that for the Jewish world to lose a leader?” Finegold said. Not to mention, those women still feel the sting when they walk into the shul on Shabbat, she said.

“Women are Ph.D.s, CEOs and running for president and then they have to bifurcate their identity when walking into a synagogue where they don’t feel like full participants,” Finegold said. “That can be hard. When women participate in every other area of their lives, this feels like a glaring omission.”

The groundbreaking part? The way in which Maharat is trying to address this issue. It’s the first time that Orthodox Jewish women have been trained on the model of Orthodox rabbis, deliberately, in an institutional setting, not just one-on-one. Given the way Orthodoxy has been struggling with this place of women, it’s a very big deal.

As a society, we value training and credentials. Sure, there are stories of this teacher or that prominent person in the community who is self-made, without education, but most of the time, we look for the qualifications, something that tells us, yes, this person knows what he or she is talking about. Even in my own program, when a friend and I got down about some of the course work, I called it our “entry fee” – things we have to get through to gain the degree. And once we have the degree (in not very long for me), it opens a world of possibility.

The kind of training these women are receiving will prepare them to be leaders of the community in a way that we haven’t had in the Orthodox community. The value (and controversy) of having this kind of institution is that it legitimates women’s leadership in a way that it hasn’t been in Orthodoxy. So, the answer? No, this is way more than just Rachel getting a new job. We’re seeing something new in the community – not just one woman here or there, but a real chance for a place – and a career path. At the end of the Tribune article, they talk about Shayna Lopatin (age 12) seeing Rachel as a role model. And that’s something that’s also groundbreaking.

It won’t be easy. We’re going to be “groundbreaking” for a while. There’s a reason we use that term – the word connotes moving earth! There are the myriad issues in our own community, not the least of which is what, exactly, these women will end up calling themselves (the school is granting Maharat). And we know from the experience of the liberal denominations that even once there are women rabbis, the issues don’t end. I don’t think we even know yet, exactly, what it will be like in the future. Just by doing what they’re doing, they’re already changing the landscape. For what I mean, see a piece written by another friend for the Lilith Blog – Rabbis in Red Lipstick.

There’ll be more new, old, unchanging, ever changing issues.

But for now – I’m so immensely happy for and proud of the three graduates, and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Why (not) Pardes?

Pardes Logo – Post by Melissa

Since moving to Israel nearly nine months ago, I cannot count the number of times I have had the following conversation with people I meet once it has been established that I am learning at Nishmat….

NewPerson: And your husband? What is he doing this year?

Me: He is learning at Pardes.

NewPerson: Why aren’t you also at Pardes?

The answer is simultaneously incredibly simple and incredibly complex: Nishmat was the right fit for me for this year. I wrote about it when I first posted that I was coming here, so I won’t get into all those details again now. However, I have felt all year that I could have been just as happy at Pardes, and I would have grown just as much – though perhaps in slightly different ways and speeds.

On the surface level, the two institutions appear so very different from one another. Nishmat is an Orthodox women’s midrasha and Pardes is a pluralistic co-ed yeshiva. But realistically they are both serious places of learning with a diverse faculty and student body, where students learn Gemara, Tanach, and Jewish thought. Both are places where “young adults” take a year (or more) out of their lives in order to learn more Jewish text and explore the land of Israel.

While I’m on the more “liberal” end of the spectrum at Nishmat and more “traditional” end of the spectrum at Pardes, I am definitely on the spectrum in both places and love the different conversations and learning that come from that. (I use quotes there because I’m not really sure how to define it and that seems a good option without getting into too many labels, which you know I am not into!)

I have friends from both places and can speak about anything with any of them – from obscure things in the Gemara to the bizarre thing I saw in the shuk. Yes, some of those friends are guys and/or future rabbis of both genders and all denominations at Pardes, but that only adds to the experience. Its nice to interact with people who bring a different perspective to the table. Not that it doesn’t happen at Nishmat too (after all, my “super chevruta” this year is a 19 year old who made aliyah on her own last summer but more about her later), but its on an even larger level at Pardes.

So as this year started to wind down and I had to make my plans for next year, one thing really stood out to me. Why (not) Pardes? I knew I wanted to continue learning full time for the next year (and beyond), so I needed to be someplace with serious learning for a 30 year old English speaking woman, and I knew I wanted more Gemara. With those factors, plus what I know about the amazing community that is Pardes, it became clear that there was only one right choice. I spoke with some of our friends there and got more excited about the possibilities that would await me, and then broached the topic with my mentor who also agreed that for what I wanted, it is really the best option here in Jerusalem, and I applied.

And I am now happy to say that next year I will be joining the Pardes community, not as a wife or a Monday night seder attendee, but as a student.

M & D learn together on Monday nights at Pardes already, and are excited to do it more next year!

M & D learn together on Monday nights at Pardes already, and are excited to do it more next year!

A Rebbetzin is not a Rabbi

I have been involved in a few conversations lately about a topic that really agitates me, so when I saw the premise used to prove the exact opposite, I simply couldn’t not say my piece publicly any longer.

A Rebbetzin is not a female Rabbi. Sorry Orthodox Jewry, but its just not reality.

While many Rebbetzins or Rabbanits  (not getting into the semantics on this one now, been there done that) do serve as leaders in their communities, many do not. While some have a high level of education, some do not. And on the flip side, while some women who want to be leaders in the community marry Rabbis, others do not. The premise is that all women who want to lead have to marry Rabbis, and that all Rabbis have to marry women who want to be leaders. This is not realistic and it is not fair.

In this recent opinion piece by Rabbi Dan Friedman posted on The Jewish Week, the author uses this assumption to reach a conclusion I agree with, I just wish I could agree with his process more. The fact of the matter is that there are indeed women serving in great leadership roles in the Orthodox world, there are women who are certified by programs in Israel and America to be religious/halachic leaders and there are those who have stepped up without a formal program backing them. That is a great thing to recognize and to share widely. The problem begins when we believe that reassigning a title or suggesting that one method should be good enough for everyone will be the solution. Its not.

For some women, that is the level of religious and communal leadership that works for them. However, that it is good for a portion of the population doesn’t inherently mean that it is good for everyone. We have to allow women to find ways to lead that are personally meaningful – be it a a Rebbetzin, Jewish educator, communal worker, yoetzet halacha, or full fledged member of the clergy*.

We no longer tell girls who dream of working in the medical profession than being a nurse is “close enough” to being a doctor, so why should those who dream of working in the religious world settle for “close enough”? If women are able to learn at the level of men, why limit their professional advancement to who they marry?

*I said clergy so as to leave the semantics question out of it. I don’t think what the title is matters as much as giving women formal training to serve in these functions.

Connecting to Yitzhak

I spent the month of Elul learning the akeda (Avraham’s would-be sacrifice of Isaac) in much depth from the text, Rashi, and other commentators – and the entire time I had a nagging feeling about it. I left almost every class in angst about the whole thing. It really didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t explain why. We talked about tests and challenges, and I tied it into what we we learning about callings from Yonah. I was intellectually enlightened and psychologically wrecked.

Walking home from a very emotional Kol Nidre, I had a moment of clarity – I can relate a little too well to Yitzhak at this point in my life.

Avraham heard Hashem. He was following a direct calling. While it was difficult, there was no doubt that he was doing exactly what he was supposed to be. He doesn’t have a moment to wonder what the end result was or what the process would entail – and even if he did, he could rely upon the knowledge that this was what he was supposed to be doing. While Yitzhak understands that this is part of the plan, he didn’t get the call himself. He doesn’t have Hashem’s “voice” in his head reminding him of this. He has to rely on his heart and faith. He doesn’t know the end result clearly, even if he can sense it.

D has a clear calling to be a rabbi. While he may sometimes think about other things because it is a long road still, he knows that this is exactly what he is supposed to do. Meanwhile, I don’t know. I have a hunch about where my path is taking me and what my contribution is supposed to be, but I haven’t had a lucid moment of calling. I don’t know what my test is, and don’t think I will until its over.

(Ironically, I have always felt a strong connection to Sara and it is said that Yitzhak and Sara are very similar personalities. I also love praying and do best with Mincha – two additional things which we learn from Yitzhak. I’ll have to flush that out more before I can write in detail on it though.)

While I of course do not feel that I am remotely on the same level of any of the accomplishments or challenges of Yitzhak, I feel a deeper connection to him now and hope that as I continue to learn about his story I can better flush out how to handle my own. In the interim, I guess I just have to rely upon my faith and the calling of the person who I am walking with on this journey.