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Ilana Kurshan

By Hannah Stein

Ilana Kurshan, walked in with a warm smile on her face and her adorable baby in hand,
we all instantly brightened up excited for an inspiring shiur klali. She started off by asking the
question “why do we bother learning Torah when we forget so much of what we learn?” It
seemed like a trick question. Then Kurshan began talking about how learning Daf Yomi became
her coping mechanism through dark times. I was struck by how she was able to take such a
troubling moment, a real obstacle, and turn it around and say, “Talmud isn’t a book for people
looking for answers, it’s for people asking the questions.” This really resonated with me as I
thought about why I am here on Nachshon. For me, the experience was about seeing Israel and
its culture from a new perspective and asking questions to deepen that understanding. Ilana
taught us that despite difficult times, her learning never stops.

Reflecting on this now, I could not help but think of a message I received in my family WhatsApp group from my aunt in quarantine in Israel. Although she was stuck in her home, without her friends, children and grandchildren, she sent a picture smiling from ear to ear with the caption “Daf Yomi from quarantine!” This is what Ilana’s message exemplified to me: that in spite of chaos we must not forget the wisdom of the Torah.

Ilana led us in reading the Kohelet Rabbah which used the metaphor of wisdom being
like a vessel with which we fill and empty ourselves. Another metaphor in our text referred to
students as “ever-flowing fountains,” as we are constantly replenishing and cycling through
ourselves the “waters of Torah.” This was a beautiful and refreshing take on continuing our
Jewish learning. I walked out of the learning session feeling a number of emotions. Her words ignited feelings which surpassed inspiration. Ilana had opened up to us about her own story and did so in such an authentic manner which made me realize the importance of the phrase so often repeated by our community: לזכור ולא לשכוח.