It’s a question we’ve been asked a lot recently. And having spent most of the last week packing our lives into endless boxes to be stored in nine different locations (there’s a spreadsheet to keep track of it all) it’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves too. So why are we leaving our jobs, our lovely home and our incredibly family and friends for 13 months in another country?
Well, it’s something we’ve been hoping to do for years, pretty much since we got married. And while our lives have changed since then, and more years have passed than we expected, the vision stuck.
Here are some of my hopes for the year ahead.
- I’ve always loved studying Jewish texts, and it feels like there is an unending amount to learn. They are my heritage and shape my day to day Jewish practice. I’ve longed for the opportunity to study properly, to make it my main focus, and now I’m fortunate enough to be doing this with some of the best teachers in the world. I’ve been teaching for a few years now, and feel that teaching and learning go hand in hand. I hope that by being more of a student, I’ll be a better teacher.
- There’s a flip side to this. There are Jewish texts I struggle with. I have big questions. My grandma claims that she can find something objectionable in every sedra (weekly portion) of the Torah, and sometimes I know what she means. But Pardes is a place where every question is encouraged, where blind faith and uncritical reading are anathemas. It’s a good place for me to study.
God. We don’t talk about God very much in my part of the Jewish world. We get on with living the life that we are taught God wants us to live. But I know there is more to my tradition than this. And it’s something I’m yearning to explore. In our most important prayer, the Shema, we are asked to “love the Lord your God” and I want to know what this means. Some will tell you that its about following commandments, but then there are approaches like this verse from Yedid Nefesh, which we sing every Friday night:
Beloved of the soul, Father of compassion,
Draw Your servant close to Your will…
Glorious, beautiful, radiance of the world,
My soul is sick with love for You.
In short (and this is something that is really quite awkward to say in the Anglo Jewish world… we need to do something about this) I’d like to grow my relationship with God. I’m looking forward to being in a place where spirituality is not something to feel embarrassed about, where it’s cool to attempt to think about, talk about, relate to God – or not to – but that the mindset and discourse are there to nurture this should somebody want.
I’m looking forward to putting more time and energy into prayer (connected to God of course, but not quite in the same bullet point – it’s complicated!) Pardes asks that I am part of a student-led minyan (prayer gathering) every day. Yes, every single day. Since N was born I haven’t done all that much daily davening (prayer) so it’s going to be a big change and probably a challenge in more than one way. I’m sure you’ll be hearing about this at some point… watch this space. I’m going to miss my home community, Kehillat Nashira, hugely, but hope that I can use my time in Israel to explore different communities and come back with ideas and skills to offer.
Israel. I fell in love with the country when I was a teen and over the years that has both deepened and grown more complex and nuanced. It is passionate, alive, intense. This year I hope to immerse myself in the bits I love and challenge myself not to ignore the other bits. I don’t want avoid discomfort. But I also look forward to seeing new sites, hiking, seeing friends and family, eating fruit straight from the trees and getting stuck in to the best that Israel has to offer.
Last but perhaps most importantly, we’re both looking forward to a year of family time in a different place – challenging ourselves to see and learn new things, meet new people, have adventures. It’s a big privilege to be able to press the pause button in our everyday lives, and a bit of a scary one. But bring on the year ahead, and bring on the unknowness of what next…