They are leading and creating organizations and businesses of all kinds, responding to humanitarian crises, writing novels, educating at all levels, creating works of art, and so much more! In celebration of Pardes’s 50th, we are highlighting 50 standout alumni whose accomplishments exemplify the rich texture of the Pardes community worldwide.
This week, we celebrate a brother and sister alumni pair, Rabbis Amir and Maya Zinkow.
Amir is currently the chair of the Mishnah/Gemara department at the Leffell Middle School in Westchester, New York. Amir feels energized by being in the classroom and thinking about Torah Sheba’a’l Peh curriculum in Day Schools.
Maya is the Senior Jewish Educator at the UC Berkeley Hillel. She oversees the Jewish calendar and Shabbat, offers pastoral care and guidance to students, and teaches lots of Torah.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
Amir: I am most proud of the changes to Jewish life and learning that have transpired since I started at the Leffell school. Along with my colleagues, we were able to create a shift in attitude towards limmudei kodesh classes, as students began to take them more seriously and be more engaged in the subject. I have also had a role in creating an atmosphere in which Judaism is not limited to the classroom but exists in many aspects of students’ lives.
Maya: Every single day I get to teach Jews how to do Jewish, formally and informally. I get to escort young Jews to the doorway of their inheritance, give them the keys, and show them how to unlock the door. When I see the look of recognition on their faces that this profound, messy, rich, gorgeous tradition is theirs to build a relationship with, I am incredibly humbled. I am proud to get to teach the fundamentals of Judaism as well as teach students how to be engaged learners of this incredible thing that is ours.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS AT PARDES?
Amir: My favorite class at Pardes was Rav Meir Schweiger’s halakha class. It was a small cohort, maybe 6 people, in a twice a week afternoon class. It was also a simple concept: He gave us se’ifim to read in the Shulchan Aruch, along with certain Mishnah Berurahs, which we would study in chevruta and then review with Rav Meir in shiur. He managed to make this an engaging, thought-provoking class even while being an unvarying course of study. This class made me think critically about my relationship to halakha. Sure, I loved learning Gemara, but it is not a halakhically driven text. The Shulchan Aruch is purely halakha. What does the love of learning this text mean if it did not have any practical connection to my life? Could it even be called learning if it remained purely theoretical? These challenges and questions led to many changes in my relationship to Jewish practice and customs, which in term have added significant meaning to my life.
Maya: Sexuality and Sanctity with Rahel Berkovits and Nechama Goldman Barash. Our class was the pilot class, and it felt so holy to be building a community of learning grounded in the sacred reality of our bodies, genders, and sexualities. For many, I know it was the first time questions would be answered instead of hushed. For me, Rahel and Nechama offered a powerful model of expanding the bounds of the Beit Midrash; they set the foundation for me to continue learning and teaching Torah through the lens of my own experiences and alongside the voices of others who have historically been excluded from sacred communities of learning.
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR THE FIRST TIME AT PARDES?
Amir: So many things! I’ll highlight the one item that I think had the biggest effect on me: learning Torah seriously full time.
Maya: Learned gemara from the daf, led Hallel, organized a minyan, leyned Megilla, sang at a tisch, lead a tisch, tasted organ meats. Truly, I had so many sacred firsts at Pardes!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SPOT IN JERUSALEM?
Amir: I love Shuk Machaneh Yehudah, and even more so since the night life and great restaurants have increased.
Maya: Is the Pardes Beit Midrash too on the nose? That, or Tachanat Cafe. Or Beer Bazaar. Or Bardak. Or anywhere there’s hummus and ma’arav yerushalmi (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it). Give me good Torah and good food, and that’s a perfect day in Jerusalem.
HOW DOES PARDES CONTINUE TO AFFECT YOU TODAY?
Amir: Studying at Pardes convinced me of the importance of textual knowledge in Jewish life. I continue to hold this belief, and as a teacher of text I try to impart the importance of learning onto my students. We have a deep and rich tradition that gives us what are often considered Jewish values. Discovering those values in the text adds a depth of understanding and appreciation for what it means to live a Jewish life, beyond the halakha. This allows for simultaneously living with more empathy and caring while increasing a sense of purpose.
Maya: Each of my Pardes teachers made me feel like I had a voice in Torah. That is the kind of teacher I strive to be.