By Lisa Berman, Mikveh and Education Director
Have you ever thought about all the teachers you’ve had in your life? Can you imagine what you would be without them? Do you remember your kindergarten teacher? First grade? My first grade teacher was Mrs. Rowbottom. Yup, Rowbottom. She ate her triangular sandwich quarters by wrapping them in a Kleenex so her fingers wouldn’t get messy. I didn’t really learn to be neat; I learned that six-year olds and teachers can be very different creatures.
My most influential professor in college was the wizened, gnome-like John Lachs who taught philosophy with tremendous energy, darting around the lecture hall firing questions we had never before considered. His passionate teaching made us feel as if our minds were expanding right then and there.
My Jewish education has had a different path than most, devoid of the usual Hebrew school teachers and b’nai mitzvah tutors. Chaim Potok was my first Jewish educator. His books opened up an entire world for me – one I was inexplicably and magnetically drawn to.
For eight years, Rabbi Israel (Sy) Dresner at Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne, NJ– he who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.– taught me the importance of justice and righteous anger as he railed against social inequities and paired Judaism and communal compassion forever in my psyche.
Julie Silver, Debbie Friedman, Rick Recht, Craig Taubman, Beth Schafer, David Paskin, and Jeff Klepper taught me that my personal Judaism would be one of music and singing — alone, with my children, and with my congregation. I learned liturgy from “Shabbat Alive” CDs, and no drop off at Eisner Camp was complete without the blasting of the Eisner CD on the way through the gates — and the requisite “Mom! Why do you always cry?” You can hear it for yourself, here. It wasn’t because I was going to miss my son or daughter. It was because this music taught me how they’d been given the gift of this magical place, and how fortunate they were to have it in their life.
Temple Shalom of Newton’s Julie Vanek spent nearly 80 Thursday evenings with me and a group of women teaching us the aleph bet and our first reading of Hebrew prayers; she prepared us to become b’not mitzvah — well past the age of thirteen. Learning Hebrew for the first time felt like forging new neural connections through complete brain calcification each week. Only Julie could have kept our class going — a patient, persistent, warm and tolerant teacher who even brought us ice cream from Graeter’s in Cincinnati to reward us.
I cannot begin to count the number of Jewish educators that have sewn the quilt of knowledge that is my Jewish identity. And this learning need never end. There is always one more insight to gain, one more connection to make with a fellow student, one more aha! moment there for the taking.
Perhaps yours will come at Mayyim Hayyim’s next learning opportunity, Many Waters. Join us at 7:00pm any or all of the next three Monday evenings, November 10, 17 and 24, for some exceptional teaching from Rabbis Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah, Carl Perkins of Temple Aliyah and David Lerner of Temple Emunah as we study some of our most beautiful Jewish texts inspired by the power of water.
Who have your teachers been? Give them credit in the comment section below.
Lisa Berman is the Mikveh and Education Director at Mayyim Hayyim, ensuring that all immersions are facilitated with dignity, respect and modesty and supervising the Paula Brody & Family Education Center.