Jewish Education at The Davidson School

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Teachers Were the Engine of My Jewish Education

Posted by Ben R on November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM

By Ben Rotenberg

I’ve been in a classroom in one way or another for almost twenty-seven years. I’ve gone to day schools and to Shabbat services, taught Hebrew school and bar and bat mitzvah students, participated in limmud at summer camp, and been present in college lecture halls. Whether in a synagogue classroom, a sanctuary, or on benches by the lake, each place of learning had two things in common–There were students and the teacher was someone making Jewish life relevant and engaging.

I’ve been in a classroom in one way or another for almost twenty-seven years. I’ve gone to day schools and to Shabbat services, taught Hebrew school and bar and bat mitzvah students, participated in limmud at summer camp, and been present in college lecture halls. Whether in a synagogue classroom, a sanctuary, or on benches by the lake, each place of learning had two things in common–There were students and the teacher was someone making Jewish life relevant and engaging.

In Foundations of Jewish Education this week, we discussed the role of the teacher and watched two clips that challenged my conception of what it means to be a teacher educator. The first clip was an inspiring TED Talk, “Rita Pierson: Every Kid Needs a Champion, by the late Rita Pierson, a lifetime classroom teacher. Pierson shares powerful anecdotes about the influence teachers can have by building relationships with students. 


 “I gave [my students] a saying to say: ‘I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here.’

The other clip was a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, a professor and lecturer. Robinson’s 2006 lecture, “Ken Robinson: How Schools Kill Creativity,” has been viewed more than nineteen million times.

In his talk, Robinson said,

“... Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You know, you're not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage.”


There is a nobility of purpose to Pierson’s statement that teachers can bring to Jewish formal and informal education―Hebrew school, summer camp, day school, and travel experiences. Teachers are more than just a Jewish delivery system. The teacher who integrates their knowledge, experiences, and passions into a dynamic and engaging educational experience makes people want to learn.

In thinking through my different experiences, I remember my teachers as more than what they taught (although I blush at sharing this with them). They built classrooms where I discovered the texts of Rashi. They made my tzrif (bunk) at camp a place of Shabbat celebration. My relationship to my teachers was as powerful as my relationship to other learners, because both provoked me to learn and live a Jewish life.  

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