Posts Tagged Jewish Education
I found interesting the juxtaposition between last week’s letters regarding Hillary Clinton’s cover picture and Rabbi Grylak’s weekly insights into the parsha. His essay began with the introduction, “From age three, Avraham was asking questions, challenging the pervading belief system of the time.”
So I’d like to ask some questions of my own. If I can sit across from a woman at the Shabbos table, if I can pass a woman in the grocery store aisle, if I can survive spiritually crossing paths with the secular women who live in my neighborhood or work in my office, why is my neshoma so profoundly threatened by a picture of a modestly attired woman in a magazine?
And, assuming that there is indeed a reasonable answer, then what about this: is it not possible — given the mores of the modern world — that some young women and girls in our communities might interpret the exclusion of feminine images from Torah publications as symptomatic of a society that degrades the value and contribution of women, and who therein find a pretext to reject normative hashkofah? If so, is the gain worth the loss?
I’m no gadol, so these are not my questions to answer. But I’m reminded of what Rav Nota Schiller is fond of saying, that the Torah allows the Jews to change enough to stay the same.
It’s worth at least contemplating which changes will ultimately benefit Klal Yisroel in the future even as we fiercely defend the traditions of the past.
I never had any great desire to be a classroom teacher until I found myself under the tutelage of Rabbi Ephraim Oratz, whose unparalleled pedagogic genius and vast reservoir of Torah knowledge inspired me to embark upon my career as a rebbe. Whatever I have accomplished in the field of Torah education is primarily because of him.
Rav Oratz was — if I may be permitted to use the term — the ultimate Torah-Renaissance man. He possessed the passion of the Amshinover chassidim, theyekkishe precision of the German Jews, the academic discipline of the Lithuanian scholars, and the worldly nobility of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch, all rolled up — as Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz would say — into one selfless, total servant of the Almighty.
Rav Oratz was truly of the old school, with countless stories about growing up in the post-depression years, about learning and teaching in the old American day school system, about playing stickball on the streets of New York. He told me once how his father had to go out every Monday morning to find new employment, because his Sabbath-observance cost him his job time and time again. More incredibly, Rav Oratz didn’t learn of this until years later; his parents kept the children in the dark so they wouldn’t feel insecure.
In our coddled generation, that kind of mesiras nefesh — self-sacrifice — is almost entirely forgotten.
Coddling was one term absent from Rav Oratz’s educational lexicon. He understood with every fiber of his being that self-esteem is not given, it is acquired by learning discipline and discovering the joy that comes from struggle and success. He never acknowledged good work with exuberant cries of excellent, fantastic, or well done. Instead he responded with a silent nod, a quick smile, a short nu, nu or, on one extraordinary occasion, with not bad, not bad at all. That was high praise indeed.
Rav Oratz would arrive exactly two minutes before each class, replace his hat with his yarmulke in one smooth, practiced motion, then look inscrutably around the room, which was usually less than half full when it was time to begin. On one occasion, when there were only two of us present on time, he looked at me and asked, “Is something else going on this evening?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Rav Oratz shook his head. “Just one of those things I guess I’ll never understand,” he said.
There weren’t many things Rav Oratz didn’t understand. In two years of classes I never heard him unable to answer a question, although he could hold his tongue indefinitely when he wanted us to come up with the answers on our own.
“Wouldn’t you have hated to have him as a rebbe?” a member of the Ohr LaGolah leadership-training program once commented — after Rav Oratz was safely out of earshot.
“Wouldn’t you love to have had him as a rebbe now?” I shot back.
There’s nothing more inspirational than witnessing a true master do something as well as it can be done. Watching Rav Oratz teach made me want to be a teacher. That was it. My course in life was set, without prompting, without a sales pitch, with just enough encouragement to convince me that I could succeed if I put my heart into it. And I wanted nothing more than to do what he could do, even if I did it only half as well he could.
A collection of insightful Torah essays that will change the way you look at the world and at yourself.
A Crucible for Silver
Forging a brighter future for our children and ourselves
By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
Read the title essay here.
Available at Block Yeshiva High School, the Kollel bookstore, or from the author
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WE NEED YOUR HELP!
I hope you’ve had an opportunity to enjoy my last book, Celestial Navigation. Besides offering deeply thoughtful insights into the cycle of Jewish holidays, this project has raised over $11,000 for Block Yeshiva High School. But this was only possible through the generous sponsorships that enabled us to print and distribute 4000 copies.
A Crucible for Silver
Forging a brighter future for ourselves and our children
Not only has Block Yeshiva consistently turned out the highest caliber of spiritually and professionally successful graduates for 35 years; it is also one of the last high schools in the country that tailors its academic program to every type of Jew without compromising educational quality or halachic standards.
At a time when so many factions of our community have become more and more polarized, the continued success of schools like Block is increasingly difficult as well as increasingly crucial for the survival of both civil society and the relevance of Jewish tradition.
Honor a family member, friend, rabbi, or teacher with a full-page tribute for $2500 or more, or a partial-page tribute for $1000 or more. All sponsors of $100 or more will be acknowledged, and every sponsor of $36 or more will receive a complimentary copy.
You can read the title essay here.
Thank you for your support. Please contact me through the form below with any questions or to be a sponsor.
I am honored to learn that I will be recognized at this year’s Block Yeshiva Scholarship Gala, acknowledging my 18 years of service to the school. Mostly, it has been my privilege to be part of an institution that can justifiably claim so much success: our students and alumni consistently strike a beautiful and delicate balance between Torah and secular culture, between the spiritual and the material worlds, and between meticulous observance of Torah law and development of moral character. Perhaps our greatest shortcoming has been our limited success in highlighting all we have achieved.
To learn more about Block, take a look at our blog.
For gala reservations and ad journal tribute opportunities, click here.
By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
From last week’s Mishpacha Magazine
The reason is simple: I hated her. We all hated her.
My second-most poignant memory of Mrs. Campbell is the time I came to her during recess with a stomachache bad enough to make me cry. Mrs. Campbell said it was my conscience bothering me for talking during class.
But it is a different incident that replays most often in my memory. Mrs. Campbell had left the class alone for a few minutes while she went off to do who-knows-what, instructing us to wait without talking until she returned. How an experienced teacher could leave a room full of six-year-olds unattended and expect them to remain silent remains an unsolved mystery. Predictably, we began chattering the moment the door closed behind her and then, too late, buttoned our collective lips the instant she reappeared.
“I said that no one should talk while I was gone,” she scolded. “Now, when I dismiss you for lunch, everyone who was talking will remain seated and only those who followed directions will stand up to be excused.” She paused to let the instructions sink in, then said, “Stand up to go to lunch.”
Every single child in the room stood up. Everyone, except me.
Mrs. Campbell then broke character and did what any competent educator would do. “Now I know that Jonathan wasn’t the only one talking,” she said. “Since he told the truth, he is excused for lunch and the rest of you will have to wait.”
I tried not to look smug as I walked out alone and headed for my locker, already imagining the day when I would tell my children about the time I was the only one who told the truth. (Eventually I did, although my kids were not nearly as impressed as they ought to have been.)
Full disclosure: I am not George Washington, and if I were ever caught chopping down a cherry tree it’s an even bet I would have lied about it, to go along with the assortment of fibs I told during my formative years. And although I now look back on Mrs. Campbell with a measure of affection, the question that continues to resurface is why – why was I the only one out of two dozen first-graders who refused to lie that afternoon?
Only one explanation has ever come to mind: it just wasn’t worth it.
In Robert Bolt’s masterful drama A Man for all Seasons, Sir Thomas More asks why his protégé, Richard Rich, has testified falsely to condemn Sir Thomas for treason against the King of England. The prosecutor, Oliver Cromwell, reports that Rich has been appointed attorney-general for Wales.
Sir Thomas looks into Rich’s face with pain and amusement and replies, “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . But for Wales!”
(In terms of prestige, the office of attorney-general for pre-Elizabethan Wales might be comparable to lieutenant-governor of North Dakota today.)
In other words, the betrayal of a friend and mentor might be understandable – if not defensible – for a princely sum or extraordinary power, but never for a pittance. At least let the reward be commensurate with the crime when forsaking one’s portion in the World to Come.
I imagine the workings of my own mind so many years ago in much the same way. Certainly I was capable of lying. But why waste a perfectly good lie on such a trivial advantage as a few extra minutes on the playground? It simply wasn’t worth it.
And even though I have already confessed to the occasional untruth, I cannot deny that from that moment forward lying never came easy to me. Every impulse to prevaricate met a quiet but insistent voice – Mrs. Campbell’s? – warning me to distance myself from the nearest false word.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that Mrs. Campbell had reinforced some innate sensitivity to Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s lesson of s’char mitzvah k’neged hefseida: “Calculate the reward of a transgression against its cost” (Avos 2:1). If that lesson appears to have grown increasingly incomprehensible to our generation, quite possibly it is because we can no longer appreciate the preceding lesson, “Calculate the cost of a mitzvah against its reward.”
In his classic essay on the nekudas habechirah – the point of free will – Rav Dessler explains that the clash between yetzer hara and yetzer tov rages on the battlefront where there is an even balance between the ratzon ha’emes and the ratzon hadimyon, between our perception of truth as it is and our perception of truth as we want it to be. For those of us willing to take a cold, hard look at ourselves, Rav Dessler’s formulation offers a solid defense against the relentless erosion of priorities.
The unpleasant truth is that we give far too little thought to either the value of our mitzvos or the consequences of our transgressions. If we did, would we consistently scurry into davening even five minutes late, let alone stroll in halfway through Pesukei D’zimra? Would we find trivial small talk so compelling that we casually interrupt Chazaras Hashatz and Torah reading, indifferent to the warnings of Shulchan Aruch?
Too often, we are utterly disconnected from the lessons that are right before our eyes. Pictures of the Chofetz Chaim hang in every house without making a perceptible dent in the steady flow of lashon hara. Shammai tells us to greet every person pleasantly, yet we can’t manage a smile or even a passing glance for either our gentile neighbors or our fellow Jews.
Even when we prevail over the temptation, our victories can be hollow. We make time for learning, but we neglect the review necessary to retain what we learn. We pay for our children’s Torah education, but we begrudge the expense, even though we would willingly lay out the same money for luxuries of no intrinsic value. We sacrifice to give charity, but we bristle or sigh when a knock on the door interrupts our dinner or our recreation.
Clearly, our vision of the emes is anything but clear. What can we do to regain clarity?
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah offers this allegory:
A man went to the pond to cut a bundle of reeds. It was too heavy for him to lift, so he cut more and laid the new bundles atop the first until someone came along and helped him carry them all (Bechoros 8b).
Explains the Vilna Gaon: Because the Jewish people neglected the Torah, they found themselves exiled from their land. Nevertheless, we – their descendants – persevere in keeping the mitzvos. Despite the added hardships of exile, we shoulder the additional burdens of rabbinic mitzvos – like the reed-cutter adding to his load even though he cannot carry what he already has – all the time waiting for Moshiach to redeem us so that we can resume our proper service before the Master of All.
We have to refocus so that we see things as they really are. And, simplistic as it may seem, the way to take things more seriously is to treat things more seriously. Can’t get to davening on time? Schedule your arrival 15 minutes early to say korbanos or the day’s Tehillim. Feel too strapped to give charity? Double your usual donation.
When approached by a simple Jew who claimed he had only half an hour a week to learn Torah, Rav Yisroel Salanter famously advised him to learn mussar (works of Torah ethics). The baal habayis questioned why Talmud or practical law was not a higher priority, to which Rav Yisroel replied: “Learn mussar, and you’ll find that you have more than half an hour available to learn.”
In other words, by putting in more effort we discover what we should have known all along: it’s worth it.
And it really works. Taking my cue from Rabbi Benzion Twerski of Milwaukee, I began giving a weekly class in prayer, hoping that my own uninspired davening might benefit from the course of study. Five years and 35 printed outlines later (and still less than halfway through Shemoneh Esrei), my davening has been transformed into a wholly different experience.
And the rewards extend vastly beyond my own tefillos.
On one occasion, when my son was a high school senior, I chided him for the supersonic pace at which he davened. “You don’t understand,” he replied. Then, derisively: “You like to daven!”
But the message got through. Imagine my delight when he informed me, a few short years later, that he had just switched to the local Agudah for morning minyan. “That other place davens way too fast,” he complained.
Now there’s a story I can tell his children.
Published at CNN.com by Ron Clark, Disney’s Teacher of the Year
This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.
I screamed, “You can’t leave us,” and she quite bluntly replied, “Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can’t deal with parents anymore; they are killing us.”
Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list “issues with parents” as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.
So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?
Read the whole article here.
A few choice quotes:
For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.
Trust us… And please don’t ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.
If you don’t want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren’t succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.
And parents, you know, it’s OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong.
In all honesty, it’s usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal’s office.
Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has “given” your child, you might need to realize your child “earned” those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.
And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal.
Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.
If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, “I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me.” If you aren’t happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don’t respect her, he won’t either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.
We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask — and beg of you — to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.
That’s a teacher’s promise, from me to you.
Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.
The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.
Read the whole article here.
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An open letter to the St. Louis Jewish community
And Adam knew his wife…
Why does the Torah employ an expression of “knowledge” as a euphemism for intimacy? Because emotional and psychological intimacy is impossible with intellectual familiarity. Similarly, the term for “gratitude,” hakoras hatov, translates literally as “recognition of the good.” One cannot feel gratitude without first seeing the good; with that recognition, gratitude results naturally and inevitably in a morally healthy mind.
The Me’am Loez explains that the character trait of ingratitude underlies the Torah command to destroy the nation of Amoleik. Having become free from the Egyptian sphere of influence in the wake of the Ten Plagues, the Amolekites used their newly acquired freedom to attack the nation responsible for the overthrow of their former overlords. A nation so indifferent to how it has benefitted from another is similarly incapable of attaining even the most minimal level of human virtue. Just the opposite, such a nation will rebel pathologically and unceasingly against any moral or legal structure imposed on it by the Ultimate Authority. Consequently, its continued existence cannot be tolerated upon this earth.
With this in mind, I feel it incumbent upon me as a member of the St. Louis Jewish community in general, and as a teacher and parent of Block Yeshiva High School in particular, to express my most heartfelt and sincere gratitude to an individual who has gone above and beyond in support of our school.
Every private educational institution has been suffering through the current economy, and Block Yeshiva has been no exception. As the financial crisis has steadily worsened over several years, a few persons of note have devoted themselves to the school’s survival. They have had, and continue to have, our deepest appreciation.
Nevertheless, as the situation continued to deteriorate and the viability of the school became increasingly uncertain, one individual stepped forward to address the problems head-on, with passion and energy drawn from her increasing familiarity with Block Yeshiva and the school’s extraordinary contribution to the community. As the twelfth hour drew near, one person made all the difference. I therefore take great pleasure in publicly offering this small expression of gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Shu Simon.
Ms. Simon has not always possessed such enthusiasm for Block Yeshiva. Over the last few years, however, she has learned how the school strikes a harmonious balance between Torah studies and secular knowledge, how Block students develop academic discipline, Jewish awareness and commitment, refinement of character, and international distinction, how Block serves the greater Jewish community, and how Block graduates are sought after by the most prestigious yeshivas, seminaries, and universities. The more she learned about Block, the more intimately connected Ms. Simon felt to the school and the more prominent role she shouldered in support of our mission.
While many around her indulged in hand-wringing, finger-pointing, and strategic astigmatism, Shu Simon demonstrated the singular purpose and tenacity that are the signs of true leadership. (I know nothing of the details of what she did – my job it is not to address the business operations of the school but to attend the academic and spiritual welfare of the students, per my training and experience.) But amidst an atmosphere in which ideology and personal bias have frequently overshadowed Torah values and objective achievement, Ms. Simon has won a place in the hearts of all those who have sacrificed their time, energy, and tranquility on behalf of Block Yeshiva.
Any individual or institution that aspires to high standards and ideals will inevitably acquire detractors. On the other hand, attempting to be everything to everybody results in becoming nothing to anybody. Those who know the Block faculty and administration well have already recognized their invaluable contribution to the community. Those who haven’t are not paying attention.
Tragically, we live in a culture where educators often feel unappreciated for their labors, and so we would be especially delinquent if we missed this opportunity to show our appreciation for Shu Simon. May her efforts serve as a call to action for others, as well as a reminder that the crisis is far from over. At best, we have gained a little time to rally our forces.
If you don’t know Block Yeshiva, it’s worth your time to find out who and what we are. If you do, then you already know Block’s value. Don’t remain silent, lest the voices of cynicism and ingratitude create an illusion of discontent and carry the day.
And again: thank you Ms. Simon.
Rabbi Yonason Goldson