The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies held its annual graduation ceremony on June 4, handing out 56 master’s degrees to a diversity of students from across Israeli society.
Faculty, family and friends gathered at the Jerusalem campus to honor the graduates, who come from a range of professions that include a dietician, tour guide, theatre teacher, café owner, marketing director and many working in various fields of education.
Tali Bergman of Mevaseret received her degree in Jewish education with high distinction. A teacher of Arabic in Jerusalem’s Keshet School, Bergman was given the honor of speaking on behalf of her classmates at the ceremony. The following are her remarks, translated from Hebrew.
As an Arabic teacher, I would like to begin with an Arabic proverb:
من علمني حرفا كنت له عبدا – “He who teaches me a single letter, has made me his servant.”
Sometimes a phone call can change a life.
This was the case for me, when I received a phone call from the Schechter Institute, where I was offered the opportunity to become acquainted with its M.A. program. I came, I saw, I was captivated, and Schechter became a significant part of my life.
If you ask me, dear ladies and gentlemen, what this wonderful place has given me, I would answer with one word; a word forged from existence and from life itself, a word renewed by A.D. Gordon, as my teacher Dr. Dror Bondi once taught me. The word is: Havaya, an experience.
I am sure that every graduate present has their own personal story and experience from Schechter. I have no doubt, however, that we all have one thing in common. We all share the priceless added value that the Schechter Institute has contributed to our personal and professional lives.
My inspiration for the following lines comes from “Parnassus on Wheels” a book by the American novelist, Christopher Morley. In the story, the protagonist Helen McGill buys a portable book cart, with which she walks around and sells her wares. In one of the most beautiful and picturesque scenes in the story, Mrs. McGill arrives at a guest house at dinner, and so she recounts:
“In the dining-room I had noticed a huge dinner bell that stood behind the door. I stepped in there, and got it. Standing in the big hall I began ringing it as hard as I could shake my arm. In a minute I had gathered quite a respectable audience. It was up to me to do the spellbinding. “Friends,” I said… “this bell, which generally summons you to the groaning board (dining table) now calls you to a literary repast (feast).”
Here at Schechter, the dining table and literary feast are one. Dozens of gourmet dishes, prepared by the best Michelin-starred chefs, are put together each week to make up our literary meal at the Beit Midrash restaurant.
For example, our menu offers:
The key to the beit midrash we received from chef Dr. Gila Vachman, with whom we first met somewhere between the market square and the beit midrash, where she would often traverse in search of the best raw materials for her wonderful dishes. Gila prepared a truly unique dessert for us, as we hungrily followed her on her tour from Bethlehem to Moav.
Between the appetizers, main courses and desserts, delicious mid-courses were served. Such mentionable dishes include one prepared before us by Prof. Moshe Benovitz, in the oven of Akhnai, in the restaurant entrance, as well as the culinary tour before the breathtaking view of Jewish classical texts by renowned chef, Prof. Shmuel Glick.
Chef Dr. Tamar Kadari did not stir the pot. She very gently poured beauty and aesthetics into her pots and pans, transforming each dish into a legend.
And after we dined and were satiated, the post-meal dishes appeared, a gift the restaurant extends to its regulars.
A dish of this kind is set on the table, at this very moment, in a restaurant located in Safed, city of Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) and piyyut (kabalistic poetry or hymns). The restaurant is hidden in a field of pomegranates, and the particularly glamorous dishes are mystically and inspiringly served by the acclaimed chef, Dr. Biti Roi.
There were optional dishes as well. I chose a dish whose taste has continued to accompany me every day and every hour following. It is a dish conceived by the notable chef, Dr. Dror Bondi. One of the guests invited to dine with us was, none other than the honorable Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As a teacher and educator, I was particularly fascinated by his thoughts on meaningful teaching.
Heschel wrote that:
“This form of teaching will not only leave its mark on the material itself, but also on the moments spent learning… Effective teaching is dependent on both the student and teacher experiencing meaningful moments together, sharing insights, moments of gratitude and appreciation.”
As there is no end to the number of times that I’ve experienced moments like these at Schechter, it is my aim to give to my students these moments as well:
Moments of insight
Moments of gratitude and appreciation
And if you will: healing moments
Here at Schechter I gained the understanding of the true meaning of a moment, which was illustrated beautifully by the poet Wislawa Szymborska:
“This moment reigns as far as the eye can reach.
One of those earthly moments
invited to linger.”
And to conclude this meal I would like to make a toast, to experiencing the blessings of moments like these, Le’chaim and thank you very much!