WORCESTER – While school is out for the summer, planning is underway for the second year of PaRDeS, Worcester’s Jewish Community Religious School, which recently finished its first year of operation with 140 students.
The school opened September 12, 2012, after years of discussion and planning, and is a partnership between the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, Congregation Beth Israel, Temple Emanuel and Temple Sinai, who have closed their independent religious schools.
“‘Pardes,’ meaning ‘orchard’ in Hebrew is etymologically related to the English word, ‘paradise.’ In the Talmud, Pardes refers to the Garden of Eden,” explained Karen Kaufman, chair of the PaRDeS board.
The acronym for Pardes (PRDS) refers to four different approaches to the study of Jewish text: Peshat – plain or simple; Remez — hints or the deep; Derash — from the Hebrew darash, to inquire or seek; and Sod (pronounced with a long ‘O’ as in ‘bone’) — a secret or mystery or the mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.
“PaRDeS seeks to create a bit of paradise, a safe place for children to explore Jewish living, text and prayer,” she said.
The students are from one conservative and two reform congregations.
PaRDeS classes meet three days a week. On Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., students met at Congregation Beth Israel to study Hebrew and electives; this was an optional day for the Temple Emanuel-Sinai students.
All students met on Wednesday afternoons at Congregation Beth Israel to study Hebrew, as well as either Jewish values, life cycle, Jewish history or Holocaust studies, depending on the grade level. Holiday celebrations were also held on Wednesdays.
Students also came together on Shabbat mornings, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Three times a month, the students went to their home congregation to study Hebrew, as well as either Torah, Tanach or Mishnah, depending on the grade level. All students participated in a Shabbat service at their congregation at the end of the morning.
One Saturday a month, students met at the JCC for a community Shabbat. Together, they read Hebrew, learned about Israel and participated in mitzvah and tzedakah projects. Shabbat services were led by the various classes.
Additionally, the community’s Israeli emissaries led music and art sessions, as well as special programs.
“The school worked to build a pluralistic community where different methods of study and expressions of Judaism were validated and respected. There is no doubt that providing a pluralistic curriculum – especially on Shabbat – was challenging. Faculty had to stretch to provide a curriculum that was both inclusive and creative. Parents had to accept that this was no longer the religious school they had left behind, that something new was being created,” said Kaufman.
There were plenty of highlights throughout the year, she said, including Chagall Shabbat,
an art exhibition featuring the work of PaRDeS students, inspired by the work of Marc Chagall, across all grades under the direction of art teacher Renee Malowitz.
Other highlights included “the creation of our very own, brand-new PaRDeS Siddur by Rabbi (Matthew) Berger with help from Meir Sherer; [and] enjoying authentic Israeli experiences – games, song and dance with our Israeli emissaries, Rivi Behar and Ziv Zamir.”
Talia Mugg is excited to be the school’s new director. Mugg grew up in Tel Aviv and served in the Israeli army as an administrator in the Tel-Hashomer Hospital. She attended Tel Aviv University (Levinskey), where she received her degree and education certification. She came to the United States in 1992 and has been teaching Hebrew and Judaic studies to students of all ages in various settings in the Worcester area since 1994. She’s also a camp director at the JCC.
She is looking forward to helping the school “become something strong … that will excel in all its programs.”
“I think the challenges will be, as they come with every school just starting, is to get the kids and the parents and the community in a certain routine. People come from different Hebrew schools; they are used to their own routines and curriculum. The challenge is to try to find a balance, to accommodate everyone in the school. We need to find a way to make one community,” said Mugg. “My hope is to get the kids to a really high level of excellence in the school. I want them to know about Torah; I want them to know about the Hebrew language. I want to do a lot of programs with them; I want
to do Shabbatons; I want to do family education.”
Mugg, who has three children, said that she wants everyone to feel comfortable at the school. “I want people to know that PaRDeS is a Hebrew school that will accept and respect all the people in the community, their views and traditions. PaRDeS will be a place for the benefit of the children. … I want people to know their children are feeling safe and happy, that there’s a lot of learning, and that they’re having a lot of fun in the process,” she said. “I want kids to want to come to Hebrew school, and not just to come because their parents make them.”
As Kaufman looks ahead to the school’s second year, she hopes that “we can all ‘live’ our vision statement.” The PaRDeS vision statement is: “That The Worcester Community Religious School offers a pluralistic and welcoming educational, social, and religious experience; inspiring our students and our community to embrace commitment to Judaism, the Jewish people, God, Israel, and the Hebrew language. Students develop strong Jewish identities and the skills to actively engage in the diverse mosaic of Jewish life. The school nurtures life-long Jewish learning and values, and strengthens the Jewish community of Central Mass.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that the successful melding of two traditions in our school will ultimately lead the way toward strengthening our larger Jewish community,” Kaufman said. “I hope that each subsequent year will see more and more connections forged and that the Worcester Jewish community’s board members of the future will be those individuals who have had the seeds of inclusion and collaboration planted during their years as PaRDeS students.”
For further information visit http://worcestercrs.org/, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-756-1543 ext. 28.