By Sara Serfaty ‘18
student-teacher Jonah Peretz said in describing his upbringing. In the month of March, Jonah student-taught with Limudei Quodesh teachers Rabbi Dahlia Kronish and Ruth Satinover Fagan as part of his studies toward a Master’s degree in Jewish education.
Jonah hails from Louisiana, where he went to public school and was not raised in a Jewish community. Afterward, he moved to Boston for his undergraduate degree. While pursuing his major in nursing, Jonah began to take advantage of the myriad, informal, adult Jewish education classes available to him in Boston. “I think part of it [beginning Jewish learning] had to do with being in a degree that required a lot of clinical thinking but not a lot of making meaning, which made me look for more meaningful ways of using my brain,” he said.
Finding the meaning he craved in the words of Jewish texts while spending long shifts working in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), Jonah hit a stalemate after five years. “I needed a change, so I took a year off to learn in Israel and to figure out what I wanted to do next. That year turned into four years, and here we are,” he said with a smile. Jonah immersed himself in the Tanakh, Talmud, and elective classes offered at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies’ year-round program.
It was in that year that Jonah chose Jewish education as a career. He put it simply: “I love Torah, and I love teaching Torah. I like geeking out about Torah and thinking about what goes into understanding a text and what goes into taking away meaning from the text.” Eager to share his love for Jewish learning, he spent a year as an education fellow at Mechon Hadar on the Upper West Side, and he is now in the first of two years working toward his Master’s in the joint program of Pardes and Hebrew College. An integral component of his studies is one month of student teaching in a North American day school. After observing teachers for a short week, Jonah began teaching, developing lesson plans, and writing and grading assessments.
Having not attended day school, Jonah has never been graded on Torah learning – “What message am I sending if I put an ‘x’ on someone’s Torah work? Am I telling them, ‘you get a B in Judaism?’” he pressed. In all, Jonah hopes “to teach Torah in a clear, accessible way that doesn’t make anybody hate the subject.”
After only a few weeks, Jonah talked about his experience at Heschel with enthusiasm. “I’ve been really shocked at how students are willing to geek out about text, struggle with it, try to find meaning within it and to give it a chance,” he said. “You guys are the students that I was warned at Pardes didn’t exist in real life. I was warned that nobody really cared about texts – that they’re not going to want to geek out about text – and that has not been true for me at all.”
Jonah returned to Pardes right before Passover, where he will learn Tanakh and Talmud in the morning, and pedagogy in the afternoon. Upon completion of the program, Jonah hopes to return to Boston, teaching either middle or high school students.