How a JLIC couple carved out their own winding path to a fulfilling life mission

By: Ari Ziegler

The college years are often about journeying out into the world and finding that one thing that speaks to you. And for many people, the map to their ultimate destination is quite different from the one they’d originally envisioned. The remarkable stories of Rabbi David and Ariel Pardo are perfect examples.

In truth, their journey began in high school. Both David and Ariel grew up in California in traditional households that slowly grew closer to Orthodoxy. Both attended public school, Ariel through grade school and David through his high school years. “I used to keep my kippah in my pocket,” says Rabbi Pardo about his earlier years. “Then I started at NCSY and over one of thesummers I wore my kippah the whole time.” From that summer on, he started wearing his kippah proudly. “I was made fun of, my friends called it antediluvian, but I refused to take it off. It was like I’d made a statement about Judaism and I couldn’t stomach going back on it.”

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Both Ariel and David became integral parts of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at UCLA where they met Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan. “Two other girls and I were the only frum girls living on campus,” recalls Ariel. “We’d host Shabbos meals that sometimes drew a dozen people. I really  liked doing that.”

But when each began at UCLA, the idea of “JLIC couple, Rabbi David and Ariel Pardo” wasn’t yet a thought.Originally there was to be David Pardo the economist and Ariel Pardo the orthodontist. But these plans, like many visions of the future that young students bring with them to university, changed. After an internship, Ariel realized that dentistry wasn’t for her. For David, an internship with Meryl-Lynch clinched the idea of switching gears. “I had a sort of quarter-life crisis,” he says. “I looked back at college – and it seemed like everything I loved about the experience had to do with the Jewish community on campus. It all meant so much to me; I couldn’t let it become just some hobby that I’d leave behind.”

Just like that, the plans changed. David decided to attend Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York and, a year into his studies, he and a friend went to Israel where he resumed learning. David and Ariel started dating during that time. “At first it was over Skype,” recalls Rabbi Pardo, “then I flew back to America for three weeks and we dated. The next time I flew back, I proposed.”

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