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.
Ilene is a journalism professor at Florida Atlantic University. She teaches courses in International Reporting, Coverage of Public Affairs, and Feature Writing. She also teaches community creative writing workshops, and writes for various outlets such as The Forward, Moment, and NBC News Think.
I attended the 2003 Summer Program and studied part-time as a Dorot Fellow in 2004-05. At a Shabbaton, we sat around telling inspiring stories at seudah shlishit. I spoke about spending Pesach in Iraq during the war in 2003 as a foreign correspondent. I had jumped through hoops to access a base that the US army had just taken in Kirkuk. I had seder with Jewish soldiers and another adventurous Jewish female journalist. We had some Haggadot and matzot from the Chaplain’s religious items box. There was no electricity, so we read with soldiers’ penlights. This took place in the shadow of statues of Saddam Hussein, who had just disappeared into hiding.
As I told the story at seudah shlishit, I realized that I’d had the adventure of a lifetime; the privilege of a front-row seat to history, but I was ready for a change and hungry to learn. As for Pesach, I didn’t want next year in Baghdad. I wanted next year in Baka.
That was my entry into the Pardes community, as a journalist and story-teller. Rather than students and faculty members judging my rather unorthodox professional path for a “nice Jewish girl,” I felt accepted and appreciated. I wasn’t just-out-of-college. I was closer in age to the teachers than other students, but it all felt perfectly fine…and some teachers became dear friends. Shabbatonim like that one turned Pardes into my second home.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS AT PARDES?
The Tanach course I did with Rabbi Daniel Roth. After teaching the various sources, he sent us to the beit midrash to look for the “3rd dimension” of the text by writing creative new readings and identifying voices missing from the text to perhaps better understand the dilemmas of ancestral characters. I started writing modern midrashim, taking a classic stories and casting them in a modern setting with contemporary dialogue, etc. It elicited an amazing response, and I suggeeted a Pardes creative writing workshop. Once I was no longer a student, I began teaching it as an elective. We had many public readings at the Tmol Shilshom Literary Cafe and many students published their work. I still feel inspired by Rabbi Roth’s class and his creative approach to textual analysis. He said that by engaging in writing on these texts, we make it a true “Torat Haim.” That really spoke to me.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SPOT IN JERUSALEM?
I love to walk on the tayelet. I think it’s pretty special when the call to prayer sounds, sometimes overlapping with the Shabbat siren or the sounds of shofars blowing and church bells ringing. That blend of holy sounds can be magical!
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
Getting my students to write, whether they be college students learning journalism or kids learning creative writing, gives me joy. I’m pretty proud when I see those kids succeed after learning with me. I’m also proud of the book I wrote, Baghdad Fixer, which was an attempt to get readers to better understand the complexities of the Middle East by walking in the shoes of an Iraqi character of mixed Sunni-Shiite heritage.
I am very involved in our synagogue. I often serve as a gabbait, and sometimes gabbai sheini. I layn as well, and I’m often asked to teach at our tikkun leil on Shavuot. I love being able to play those roles and I don’t think I’d have these skills were it not for Pardes. Pardes gave me the ability to step up and really be a leader in the community. My time at Pardes also played a key role in the kind of education we have chosen for our children.
Many of my most treasured friends are people I met at Pardes. Nearly 20 years later, they are still in my life, including some of my teachers. Most importantly, I met the love of my life at Pardes. My husband, Nachshon David Carmi (Year ‘07-’08) formerly Nachshon David Mahanymi) is an incredible human being, spiritual leader, father, counselor, and Jewish educator. He is due to be ordained as Reb Nachshon in the Jewish Renewal Movement in January 2023. He is also currently a cancer patient and we appreciate him being added to Mishebeirach lists. His name is Nachshon David ben Yael veh Yoram.