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.
David Bryfman is currently the CEO of The Jewish Education Project, a New York-based agency with an expanding national footprint. Over the years, David’s focuses in Jewish education have centered around experiential Jewish education, Jewish teen engagement, and Israel education. Recently, David has become involved in an initiative called RootOne that brings thousands of Jewish teenagers to Israel every summer.
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WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PASUK, PASSAGE OR TEXT?
For years, I have related to and referred to this quote by Janusz Korczak, the famed Jewish Polish educator who ran the orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today. They have a right to be taken seriously, and to be treated with tenderness and respect. They should be allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be. ‘The unknown person’ inside of them is our hope for the future.”
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
My work today helps thousands of Jewish educators do their work. But what I am most proud of is our ability to not only serve the Jewish educators of today, but to also help imagine what the possibilities for Jewish education will be in the future.
I am also extremely proud to be able to bring RootOne to the world – where we, at The Jewish Education Project, now bring thousands of Jewish teens to Israel every summer.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SHABBAT GUEST, WHO WOULD IT BE?
There are many famous, heroic, and historical figures that I would love to have a meal with. But, when it comes down to it, and I seriously think about one Shabbat meal, the answer has to be my mother. No matter how close we were, when she passed away almost 7 years ago, there was always just one more conversation to be had, just one more meal to be shared. I’m not sure I would need to ask her anything, and I’m not even sure we would need to say anything, but that’s the one person that I’ll always want to have shared more time with.
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR THE FIRST TIME AT PARDES?
Pardes was the first time that I really engaged in havruta study. Yes, I had studied with other people before, but this was the first time in my life that I recall being in an intense relationship with Jewish text and another person for an extended period of time. There was also a moment during the year when David Bernstein began engaging in serious conversations with me about Holocaust and Israel education. It was the first time that I really began to see how academic rigor and real lived experience could be in the same conversation and that the separation between the theory and the practice wasn’t always the great divide that I had previously thought it to be.
HOW DOES PARDES CONTINUE TO AFFECT YOU TODAY?
Pardes became my foundation stone for having respect and awe for Jewish text and Jewish learning. It was an incredibly inspiring and humbling period of my life – and these are two characteristics that remain constant in my work and personal commitment to Jewish education and the Jewish people. But there’s something else which is also critical here. As much as Pardes was about the text and the learning it was also deeply committed to the people. Pardes ingrained in me that learning is a deeply relational experience, and that the environment really does matter. I’m not just talking about the physical Beit Midrash or the building, but that feeling you have when you are truly welcomed into a community – regardless of who you are or what your prior experience or lack of experience with Jewish learning might be.
WHAT DOES THE JEWISH WORLD NEED MOST RIGHT NOW?
Right now, with so much seemingly wrong in the world, I am tempted to say that the Jewish world and Jewish people need a bit more humility and a bit more respect. Enough of all of the factions and tensions, it’s time for the Jewish people to tone down the vitriol and divisive behaviors often on display. But actually, what the Jewish world needs now might be the antithesis of humility – it needs boldness. The Jewish world now needs vision and purpose, and leadership to espouse such visions. It needs vision rooted in hope and promise, and not laden with nostalgia or reaction to negative forces. The Jewish world now needs a vision that builds from the current state of the Jewish people and allows Jews to become the best human beings that they can become, the greatest contributors to the communities in which they live, and the transformative change agents to help make the world a better place.
CAN YOU SHARE A SPECIAL PARDES MEMORY?
There was that visceral moment when midrash first came to life. I remember it quite clearly, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to understand what was going on in class and automatically assumed that something was wrong with me. And then it clicked, and some of it, just some of it, began to make sense. But it was at that moment that I learned about perseverance in the study of Jewish text. Whereas in the past, my default would have been to give up, it was in this class where challenge became my greatest friend.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE?
In my work, I meet many Jewish educators. I often have the privilege of being able to sit and talk with them about their journeys – and what specifically helped them to become the Jewish educators that they are today. I am amazed, simply amazed, at how many times the name Pardes comes up in the journeys of so many great Jewish educators today. The ripple effect of studying at Pardes is enormous and virtually impossible to fully quantify. Mazal Tov Pardes on reaching this incredible milestone. And thank you for everything that you have given to me and so many others.