These and Those

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

[Alumni Guest Post] Frostbite and Recovery by Evan Wolkenstein

Posted on March 24, 2014 by Hirsch Fishman

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Evan Wolkenstein (Year '99, Fellows '00, PEP '00-'02) 
reflects upon the 2014 Pardes 'Spring Forward' Retreat for 
Judaics Teachers (from his blog)

3v4nI had no business being outside without my arms covered.

But Stu and I needed to run. Clearly. That’s what we’ve always done together.

Stu packed smarter than I did. He brought a hat, gloves, and fleece to Waynesboro, PA. And whatever room in my suitcase that these useful layers might have occupied was taken up with a winter coat. I didn’t know that long corridors would join the conference rooms to the dining hall. So I’m equipped for a dog-sled race through the Tundra, but not for a run, even a half hour run.

Now, I’m in my room, admiring the naked trees I was just running beneath, and the line of pines just beyond, and it all seems very cozy, and I can relax, as the symptoms of what I feared was frostbite have subsided. From this vantage point, warm and looking out at the cold, I feel very much in solidarity with the educators at our Pardes “Spring Ahead” conference.

While Pardes educators are reknown for their fiery passion for teaching and learning, and while the schools that employ us are warm, welcoming, and community oriented, the “practice” of teaching can at times be very cold. And while the school day sprints by (teachers are the only people in the building who look at the clock and wish it went slower), the school YEAR can be like a long, slow, well — dogsled race. Through a blizzard. Uphill both ways.

It’s easy to have the spark extinguished – a kind of numbing can settle in (like the one my hands are just recovering from). At the same time, the spot under my icicle of a watch was pink and raw. And every teacher knows how some days can leave you touchy and irritable and the next student who puts up his or her hand for help before trying to solve the problem is going to get “differentiated” – (sounds threatening, doesn’t it? Not sure what it means).

Colleagues are great. Supervisors are great. That little voice, the internalized Camp Counselor who once told you how brave you are for making it through the 2 hour hike, and now speaks in your ear when wipe-out are great. But nothing takes the place of leaving it behind. Frosty emails. Icy looks of aggravated adolescents. That frigid feeling when you try something new, something exciting, and it’s met with a yawn…or gets smashed to smithereens because the wifi went out. Those ice-cold feelings need a warm place in order to desfrost.

Gathered around the fireplace, here, I’ve seen people sharing warmth. Courage. Passion. Kindness. And I know we are re-kinding in each other the sort of fire that made me decide to be a Pardes Educator in the first place.

My wrists and hands and ears are fine. But my heart? It’s never been warmer.