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. It was designed to be a one year program aimed at post-college young adults primarily from North America. It was established in 1972, and 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 (see video below). Click here for a full list of the faculty in 1972.
Pardes was entirely funded by the Jewish Agency until 1987, when it separated from the Agency and became an independent entity. The Agency gave bridge money to Pardes to ensure its financial survival until Pardes could reorganize itself and became self-funding.
Over the period from 1987 until the early 2000’s, Pardes expanded its board of directors to include business people and communal leaders upon whom fell the onus of raising the funds necessary to continue and grow Pardes. (Until that time, the board had been comprised primarily of academics and Jewish professionals.) While an American Pardes Foundation had existed in the United States for many years, it wasn’t until 1996 that an office was opened in New York City, its board enhanced, and it became an active partner with the Jerusalem board. It was clear that given the ages of the student body, most students had not reached financial independence, and therefore financial assistance became an integral part of Pardes.
Pardes was originally housed next to Ulpan Etzion in Baka and then moved downtown to Shivtei Yisrael Street. When the opportunity arose, a facility was rented in an office complex on Pierre Koenig Street in Talpiot. Pardes eventually purchased the space and renovated it as well as leasing additional space. With high hopes of finally having a building that would meet the growing needs of the institution, the adjacent lot was purchased and Pardes is currently working on redevelopment.
From the early 1990’s, major changes began to happen within the Institution: a summer program was added that accepted a wider age range of students; due to the requests of one year students for an additional year, the second year Fellows Program was born; Pardes begin hosting visiting groups for short term learning; the Pardes Educators Program was created with the assistance of the Avi Chai Foundation and today produces more Jewish day school teachers than any other program; and the Community Education learning began during this period, offering courses to the general population in Jerusalem and the surrounding area.
Over the course of time each of these innovations became more fully developed, and the Pardes faculty expanded. Because of its independence, Pardes has had the unique ability to create and adapt to meet the needs of an ever evolving Jewish world.
Dov Berkovits’s reflection on the beginnings of Pardes and his fond recollection of David Hartman z”l