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.
Over the last decade, Leah has developed a unique pedagogical approach that has been used to train and induct hundreds of rabbis and educators in the art of teaching.
Most recently, Leah served as the Senior Director of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experience at Hillel International, where she oversaw the Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF), the largest pluralistic adult Jewish educational program on campus (graduating over 20,000 students to date). Currently, she is the Vice President of Education at the Office of Innovation, within a team that is engaged daily in the question: How do you take the beauty, the wisdom and the crazy of a three thousand year old tradition and make it urgently alive today? As part of their work, Leah is involved with a project called IYUN, which emboldens educators and rabbis to teach relevant Torah in a cohort based learning experience that brings learners into a thick Jewish community.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PASUK, PASSAGE OR TEXT?
The answer to that question changes monthly! The one that comes to mind right now is Pirkei Avot 6:2. Since 2016 there has been so much change, political unrest and the challenging of systems. It can feel hard to know where to make a difference. I think the rabbis are reminding us here to look for your place in the world where we can show up and make a difference, no matter if its small, medium or large. Just look for the places where the right kind of character or person is needed, and if you are the one seeing the void, you are probably the one for the moment so see what needs to get done and do it.
CAN YOU SHARE A SPECIAL PARDES MEMORY?
I remember a time when a faculty member modeled vulnerability in a healthy and powerful way.
Rabbi Zvi Hirschfield, my hilarious halacha teacher, was teaching a shiur klali to the whole yeshiva one day. It was about the boundaries of who is and isn’t Jewish in a communal context, according to halacha and contemporary thinkers. He began the shiur by saying the following: “Before I begin teaching, I want to share something important with you. I am committed to being intellectually honest about what our tradition says about who is a part of the Jewish community and I also care deeply about every person in this room, none of whom I want to invalidate you or your family or friends’ Jewish identity. I am doing my best to hold those two values together, and I am concerned that I am going to potentially hurt or offend people in this room. I am so nervous about this, my hands are shaking. I want to be open about that as I begin this shiur as I hope you will learn with me, and if anyone feels a need to discuss any of this content 1-1, I will make myself available as well as the rest of the faculty in this room.”
It was an exemplary example of how to be intellectual honest and vulnerability as an educator and invite your students to “go on the journey” with you.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SPOT IN JERUSALEM?
Not everyone knows this, but Israel is one of the leading countries of contemporary dance in the world. Some of the most cutting edge material is coming out of Israel in the dance world. When I was learning at Pardes, I was also part of a modern dance company about a 10min walk from Pardes. My favorite spot was the studio because I got to take class, rehearse and perform but also because that was where I also really learned Hebrew. I was the only American in the company.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SHABBAT GUEST, WHO WOULD IT BE?
At my Shabbos table, I would invite my grandmother who passed away from cancer on my 21st birthday. I would introduce her to my husband and kids and I would tell her about what I’ve done with my life and would ask her the lingering questions that appeared in my adulthood that I never got to ask her. I would ask her what it was like to live in the Jewish community that she did on the South Side of Chicago in the 60’s. She was a fun storyteller and an avid poker player and I would imagine she would engage my kids with stories and then be up very late playing poker with my husband.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS AT PARDES?
I can’t pick just one! I had many favorites, but I loved my conflict resolution class with Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth. I mentally reference those texts in my life on a regular basis.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN YOUR WORK?
I consider myself to be an “accidental Jewish educator.” It was a series of happy accidents and thoughtful mentors that led me to this field. I am proud of being able to respond to what I feel was a calling in my early adulthood, and then identify a path for myself to become that person with my own vision, grit and creativity, to “turn myself into” the kind of Jewish educator I wanted to become on a “path less traveled.”
HOW DOES PARDES CONTINUE TO AFFECT YOU TODAY?
My time at Pardes was critical in terms of helping me to transform into the serious Jewish educator that I wanted to become. The ability to spend three years cultivating text skills in a serious Beit Midrash setting with thoughtful and intellectually honest educators and pedagogues was one of the milestones of my career. I draw on those three years daily in some way shape or form.