These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Teach the Way You Daven

Posted on March 21, 2012 by Esther Mazal

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Since I lifted off from the Holy Land on February 23th, life has definitely been a whirlwind on what I affectionately like to refer to as “My Whirlwind North American Tour” (sounds snazzy, huh?). From New York City to Boston to Detroit (to Toronto for an impromptu drop-in in my hometown, then back to Detroit for work on Monday!) – it’s definitely been an intense ride.

No hoards of fans or seas of camera flashes, no VIP status or personal dressing rooms, instead my “tour” has been filled with appearances at every Jewish Day School in the Boston area, finding kosher snacks to pack for my plane rides, and an every-growing stack of long-distance charges on my phone bill.

Yes, it’s a lot less glitz, but a lot more growth.

And I’m channeling my “inner actress” not towards the end of making Steven Spielberg’s latest script come alive, but instead to making the Torah come alive – classic and timeless, always a best-seller.

I came into this experience the way I do with every other big project – cramming like a maniac before I go, needing to be completely prepared, which obviously never works out anyway.  But I was especially anxious about something that had been plaguing me throughout this year, something which my exceptionally kind and patient teaching coach (shout-out Susan Yammer) definitely got an earful of during every one of our coaching meetings – that when it came to teaching, I was just not creative. Not creative at all.

Being creatively-challenged for me felt the same as standing at the foot of a massive, towering mountain that I just could not climb over, with no way around it. Now usually, I’m a fantastic mountain-climber; agile, focused, blessed with good balance, and I always have the right shoes for the mission. But for years, in every teaching context I’ve ever been in – be it student teaching at a Jewish high school as part of my Bachelors of Education degree, or running Shabbat programming for little kids at my shul, this mountain loomed in front of me for every lesson plan. And no matter what, I felt like I just couldn’t find a way to overcome it. Then, during our week-long conference at Hebrew College, my whole teaching world got flipped upside down in one single-handed sweep.

In one single line of timeless advice from President of Hebrew College Prof. Danny Lehmann, I was given all I ever needed to overcame that towering mountain.

We were sitting around the conference table at a break from our seminar, and I was probably griping about this handicap. It was right after I davened Mincha (=prayed the afternoon prayer), in a little nook I found in the hallway of Hebrew College, right outside our classroom. Now davening for me, truly, is my cherished jewel. Each time, it is an incredibly powerful and cherished spiritual experience – my imagination takes me on a journey through each individual bracha, visualizing each one as it comes to life in full colour and sparkles, a whole other beautiful world behind my eyelids. And in that world of prayer, my imagination reigns Queen. So Prof. Lehmann simply said, in response to my gripe: “Just teach the way you daven”.

“Teach the way you daven”. What a chiddish.

Since that moment, here at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield Detroit, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – from oodles of construction paper to colorful Wiki worksheets to home-made video assignments, my imagination has found a new territory to reign Queen. Maybe, because a lot of davening goes into those lesson plans, too. And now, standing in full-fledged Wonderwoman pose on the top of that towering mountain, my creative juices are endlessly flowing, just looking for outlets and lessons to create, and I couldn’t feel more alive than when I am teaching. I am so in my element, and I am so incredibly happy.

Thank you, Prof. Lehmann, for changing my classroom.