Grapevine: Pardes homecoming

“Pardes is a Jewish spiritual and intellectual home for me, and this appointment is a homecoming."

Rabbi Leon Morris (photo credit: screenshot)
Rabbi Leon Morris
(photo credit: screenshot)
THE NEW president of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Rabbi Leon Morris, took up his duties at the beginning of this month. Morris is the first Pardes alumnus to hold this position, having studied on its one-year program in 1995-1996. Based in Israel, he will provide the vision and overall educational and strategic leadership for Pardes and work with the faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and partners to further the organization’s mission, goals and objectives. These include developing Pardes’s short- and long-term learning opportunities in Israel, North America and around the globe. He also hopes to see the plans for the new Pardes building come to fruition.
“Pardes is a Jewish spiritual and intellectual home for me, and this appointment is a homecoming,” said Morris commenting on his new role. Prior to returning to Pardes, Morris worked at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where he continues to serve as vice president for North American programs in Israel. He is also a member of the faculty of Hebrew Union College. A relatively new immigrant, he came on aliya with his family in June 2014 after serving as the rabbi of Temple Adass Israel in Sag Harbor, New York, and being the founding director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.
Rabbi Morris has taught at Orthodox, Conservative and Reform institutions and is a regular contributor to the Jewish, US and Israeli press. He is an editor of the new Reform High Holy Day prayer book, Mishkan Hanefesh.
Israel board chairman Sherwin Pomerantz and Deborah Shapira, chairwoman of the North America board, stated that they were thrilled to appoint a Pardes alumnus “who understands Pardes at its core.” Rabbi Ari Berman, incoming president of Yeshiva University, congratulated Pardes, commenting: “Rabbi Leon Morris is a visionary Jewish leader who is not only an excellent teacher and sophisticated strategic thinker, but also inspires others by his stellar personal example of warmth, kindness and gentility. He has a long and impressive track record of creative and thoughtful leadership in Jewish education and will lead Pardes to new levels of achievement and success in the years ahead.”
Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, also lauded Morris, declaring: “Rabbi Leon Morris brings together all that we wish for in our graduates: a deep love for Jewish life and tradition in all its facets, a true understanding of living intentionally and respectfully as a mensch among diverse thinkers and leaders, and an unending commitment to inspiring teaching that brings texts alive for modern Jew... Pardes is deeply blessed to have him as its leader.”
MILESTONE CELEBRATIONS keep cropping up this year. Early on, the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem seemed to overwhelm everything else, but other anniversaries gradually came to the fore, such as the 50th anniversary of the Khan Theater, which opened its doors in October, 1967. Since then it has gone through a few crises and changes, but retains a sense of Jerusalem authenticity. Like so much else in Israel, the Khan owes its existence to the generosity of Diaspora supporters – in this case the American Gestetner Family Charitable Foundation, headquartered in Lakewood, New Jersey.
Over the centuries, the building – which was originally an inn dating back to the Crusader period – has taken on different purposes. It was in a somewhat ruinous state in 1967, when then-mayor Teddy Kollek decided it should serve some of the city’s cultural needs. The problem was that it was badly in need of restoration, and the Gestetners came to the rescue. They preserved the arches and the courtyard, while installing a modern sound and light system and a small theater seating 230 people. Several artistic directors have been associated with the Khan, but had no staying power, perhaps because the Khan is a not-for-profit cultural institution. The current artistic director, Michael Gurevitch, also writes and directs some of the theater ensemble’s productions, and actually begins rehearsals before the script is finished, allowing for possible scenarios to work themselves out.
THERE ARE so many well attended Israel Festival events all over the country that one can’t help wondering how people living on the miminum wage or earning slightly in excess of it can afford to pay for concert tickets, monthly cellphone fees, property tax and utilities, yet somehow they manage. Occasionally there are even events that are free of charge. Coming up in this category on Sunday, June 25, is a mega-conference on pregnancy and birth taking place at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma) at which specialists from Hadassah-University Medical Center will discus pain during cohabitation, nutrition for two, natural birth, premature births, diabetes during pregnancy, why babies cry, Caesarian section, and preparation for parenthood. Interspersed with the medical lectures will be a little spiritual uplift provided by Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi, Din Din Aviv and Tzofit Laks.
POPULAR HASSIDIC singer Avraham Fried, who is in Israel every summer, especially in Jerusalem, is back again, this time to honor Jerusalem of Gold within the framework of the 50th anniversary celebrations of reunification. Fried will be giving two concerts on the Mount of Olives on July 5 and 6 with guest artists Ishay Ribo on July 5 and Haim Israel on July 6. On June 5, Fried will have some competition from former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, who will be lecturing at Pardes on “The Past, Present and Future of America-Israel relations.”
Fried has an ever increasing following and whether in the Sultan’s Pool or at the Mount of Olives, his concerts are always sold out.