School’s Out!

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With the school year winding down, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. The ups and downs, what was great and what maybe could’ve been better. This was my first foray into having my back toward the board rather than facing it. It took a lot of getting used to, some things came quickly, while others I still have yet to grasp. With this year under my belt, it’s my hope that I’ll build off the successes and strive every day to get better and better, enabling me to one day look back at a career which was spent innovating rather than remaining stagnant. There are those who have years of teaching experience, while others have years of first-year teaching experience, and I hope to one day be counted among the former.

The part of the year that stands out most to me is Pesach. In my Chumash class, we learned Sefer Shemot, detailing the causes for the ultimate enslavement of the Jewish people under Egyptian rule, and later delved into their ultimate redemption and receiving of the Torah. In my Gemara class, we plumbed the depths of Arvei Pesachim, the 10th and final chapter of Masechet Pesachim, which mentions aspects relating to the nuances of the Korban Pesach as well as the various details of the Seder. It was a time of great learning for my students and myself as well. However, the catalyst for Pesach what stands out the most is something other than the verses detailing the Exodus from Egypt or the Halachic guidance from the lines of the Talmud. It has to do with a unique take on an old Pesach project.

For about as long as the Jewish people have been out of Egypt and enrolled in Jewish day schools, it seems as if there have been no shortage of Pesach Divrei Torah booklets. Some are created early on in elementary school and never to been seen again after that year’s Sedarim, while others stand the test of time and are brought out annually with the matzah covers and the fruit slices again and again. The idea for a new take on the Dvar Torah compendium of one’s youth was pitched by Aryeh Eisenberg, my mentor and CEO of Bonim B’Yachad, an Israeli company that is revolutionizing online distance learning in Jewish day schools.

Here is how this venture took shape. In each of my classes, I assigned a Pesach Dvar Torah, something original or based on a source that related to any part of Pesach (with extra credit given to those who wished to submit more than one Dvar Torah). The plan was to get thoughtful insights from my students to cull together into our journal. I didn’t have to hope for articles or nag specific students time and again to submit something because this was not an extra project that they would have to undertake. Yet, in a way, it was sort of a gamble. Would the students hand in satisfactory work? It’s one thing to submit a bad assignment, but another if that assignment is printed for all to see! Furthermore, this was a project that we undertook that would leave very little time for error in order to have the journals ready by yuntif. Would we make it? Once the assignment was given, the submissions came rolling in. The topics encompassed Yetziat Mitzrayim, different parts of the Seder, analyses on Halacha and Minhag as they relates to the holiday, Pesach through the lens of the Gemara, and others. To say that I was impressed with my students is a severe understatement. With the aid of a team of student editors (also for extra credit), “Tzei Ul’mad: Go Forth and Learn” was born. With the support of HHNE’s head of school, Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, our booklets were printed for the three main feeder communities to enjoy over Chag.  I thank Rabbi Bruce, and especially Aryeh, along with everyone else who helped make transform a mere idea into a source of tremendous pride and “yiddishe nachas” for my students and their families. It can be accessed here

As I wrote in the introduction to this journal, I had always been puzzled by the following statement of Rabbi Chanina which is found in Masechet Taanit (7a):

הרבה למדתי מרבותי ומחבירי יותר מרבותי ומתלמידי יותר מכולן

“I have learned much from my teachers. I have learned more from my colleagues than from my teachers. But I have learned more from my students than from all of them.”

I have merited the opportunity, whether I deserved it or not, to learn from some of the preeminent Torah scholars of our time.

I am lucky enough to have colleagues who are of sterling character and vast Torah knowledge, well on their way into becoming the future torah leaders of the Klal Yisrael.

But one’s students? How could it be?

Only once I set foot into the classroom as an educator, did I realize just how accurate the words of Rabbi Chanina are. My students are smart, insightful, and eager to learn or offer their own interpretation on the topic at hand. They ask deep, penetrating questions; some I anticipate, while others seem to come from out of nowhere and stop me in my tracks.

It was a pleasure teaching them, and being able to put together this journal of their Torah ideas.

 

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The finished product!

Yom Yerushalayim 5776

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Today is Yom Yerushalayim, the day that we commemorate the reunification of the holy city of Jerusalem. As hard as it is for people my age to think of a world without the state of Israel, for me, it’s even more difficult to imagine an Israel without Jerusalem. I spent a year studying in the Old City and explored the nooks and crannies of our holy capital. It’s the city that I’ve spent the most time in when I’ve traveled to Israel, one that is very close to my heart. Yet, as unfathomable as this is for me and my peers, Israel sans access to Jerusalem was a reality for Jews living between 1948-1967, including my own parents.

My mother A”H was 13 at the time of the Six Day War. She told me of what it was like to be in school at that time. I remember her telling me that she walked into her classroom and there were a couple of Jewish teachers sitting together and crying, huddling over a small radio. My mother looked at them confused, wondering what exactly was going on. One teacher responded that Jerusalem was now in Jewish hands, and this was a great day for Jewish people. It was only years later that my mother truly recognized why that day was so special. 

A few years ago while I was in my first year of semicha, our last day of shiur fell out on Yom Yerushalayim. Rather than give us just a pep talk before our end-of-the-year bechina, Rabbi Mordechai Willig gave us a real treat. This consisted of learning a piece written by Rabbi Sraya Deblitzky, a mekubal and tremendous talmid chacham from Bnei Brak, from 1968 on the magnitude of the day and how he found it unbelievable that the entire country was not celebrating the miracles that occurred. Woven along with this maamar was Rav Willig’s own first hand account of being in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh during the Six Day War, as well as spending Shavuot at the Kotel HaMaaravi, which was now in Jewish hands. As one who had no idea of this amazing story, it was a real treat to hear. For those of you that have 30 minutes and 37 seconds today, take a listen to the shiur and you too will be wowed.

Until 1967, Hayinu Kecholmim, the Jewish people were like dreamers, somehow maintaining an impossible wish that one day, our holy city would be back in our hands.  In 1967, we merited to get the real estate back. Today, the dream has shifted from getting the land, to one day being zocheh to see the Temple rebuilt. One can travel to the tayelet, the lookout promenade where you can see the entire city of Jerusalem, and see a truly amazing view of the city. You can even get similar amazing perspective from Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus). But as glorious as Jerusalem appears, the landscape is glaringly incomplete without the Beit Hamikdash, our holy Temple. Today, and every day, we look at the bustling metropolis that is the modern city of Jerusalem, and marvel at how far it has come, how much it has developed. With that in mind, as well as the knowledge of what occurred 49 years ago, we pray every day that our Temple be rebuilt soon, so we may be able to celebrate together as one people, and make the city of Jerusalem even more special, even more beautiful.