Practical Responses to the Need for Adult Learning

Photo courtesy Pardes

By Sherwin Pomerantz

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’s piece highlighting adult learning as the number one priority for the Jewish future is both edifying and instructive.

Here in Israel one of the prime sources providing an answer to the need for adult learning is the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies which has developed into a fountainhead of leadership for world Jewry. Undoubtedly on the basis of a clear vision of its mission and a dedicated combination of staff, faculty and laity fully committed to maintaining an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community, based in Jerusalem with programs worldwide.

The concept of Pardes was the brainchild of Michael Swirsky. It was to be a non-denominational institute for learning Jewish texts in a co-educational beit midrash [house of study]. Established in 1972, it was originally designed to be a one year program aimed at post-college young adults primarily from North America. At that time no other institutions of its kind existed. Among the founding teachers were Adin Steinsaltz and David Hartman. Dov Berkovits was its first Director while its further progress was due in no small part to the educational leadership provided for many years by its recently retired Rosh haYeshiva, Rav Daniel Landes.

Originally housed next to Ulpan Etzion in Baka, today Pardes is located in rented facilities in Talpiot. It also owns an adjacent lot on which it intends to begin building its new facility sometime next year.

Pardes’ students, all of whom are post-university participants from abroad or part of the local adult community, encounter and grapple with classic texts and traditions of Judaism, while exploring their relevance to today’s most pressing issues. Pardes empowers students with the knowledge and tools to take ownership of their Jewish experience. Diversity is at the core of Pardes and students represent a broad spectrum of the Jewish world. The result is a vibrant community constantly engaged in honest, dynamic and constructive debate leading to serious personal reflection and growth.

In Israel where Pardes has an active adult education schedule with evening programs drawing in excess of 150 people per session; two week-long full time executive learning seminars each year geared to intensive study of a specific text; as well as three and four week immersive learning opportunities for both local and overseas participants; the commitment continues to be directed at quality adult learning.

The Pardes model has inspired more than four decades of Jewish leadership marked by openness, passion, Jewish literacy, knowledge and inclusivity, and continues to inspire new possibilities for Jewish communities worldwide.

The results 45 years later? Among its many alumni over 1,100 are engaged in positions of Jewish community leadership, to wit:

  • 85 currently in rabbinical schools, with 368 already ordained.
  • 181 teachers and administrators in 86 North American Jewish day schools spanning all movements.
  • 124 Hillel professionals in 25 US states and 5 other countries.
  • 31 college professors of Judaic studies
  • 46 synagogue Judaic studies educators
  • 176 Dorot Fellows (53% of all Dorot Fellows)
  • 141 Wexner Graduate Fellows (27% of all Wexner Fellows)
  • Founders and leaders of new communities, minyanim & Moishe houses in Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.
  • Institutional directors at the Wexner, Avi Chai and Steinhardt Foundations, Lippman Kanfer, AJWS, AIPAC and multiple Jewish federations across North America.
  • Communal innovators in pretty much every alternative educational environment in North America.

This year, under the leadership of its new and dynamic President, Rabbi Leon Morris, Pardes is poised to refine and enlarge its vision for the future with a new emphasis on alumni engagement, recruitment and increased North American activities.

As Pardes enters “middle age” it can be proud of what it has achieved and the amazing contribution it has made to the cadre of Jewish leadership worldwide. Nevertheless, there are always new challenges in Jewish life and Pardes is eminently well situated to address those and realize even more successes in the years to come. May it be so.

Sherwin Pomerantz is a 33 year resident of Jerusalem, President of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based business development consulting firm, past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel and currently Israel Board Chairperson of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.