Taking inspiration from the desert



January 25, 2016

In our Torah portion from this past week, Pashat Beshelach, the people of Israel began a long sojourn of wandering in the desert. We all have images that come to mind when we think of the desert. Sand, cacti, dust, camels… sound familiar? These images are fundamentally about dryness: the desperate lack of water.

In Jewish tradition though, the desert provides the setting of our primary source of wisdom and profundity. In the desert, the people of Israel receive the Torah. They determine their very identity as a people, and they develop what it means to live as a diverse and pluralistic community together.

This week, Hillel’s Ezra Fellows are spending four days in the deserts of Sedona and Phoenix, Arizona to explore these issues anew. The Ezra Fellows are engagement professionals from campuses across North American specially selected to take part in an elite fellowship in which they train as Jewish educators in workshops with leading practitioners from across the Jewish world. Ezra fellows have been learning all year with Mechon Hadar, and this week we have partnered with Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future to explore Experiential Jewish Education with YU’s Shuki Taylor.

In Sedona, we’ll be exploring why the desert provides such a source of profundity in our Jewish tradition. And each day, our Ezra Fellows will be joining together in chevruta to write divrei Torah on key Jewish texts that they have chosen. We’re really delighted to have an opportunity to share their wisdom with you all here on this blog. So stay tuned to learn Torah from this group of rising stars in the Jewish educational world. And celebrate with us as they come together: male and female, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and secular, to celebrate the joy of learning Torah in the very environment where our tradition tells us that the Torah was given in the first place.

Laura Yares is director of educational research and innovation for the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Experiences .