Find For Yourself A Teacher: The Power of Learning

August 26, 2022Susan C. Bass WRJ Immediate Past President

My favorite thing about attending Sunday School was going to Zesto’s for a milkshake on the way home. We lived about 30 minutes away, and I didn’t go to school with any of the other kids in my class. It just never felt comfortable. The teachers, while enthusiastic, were not educators. The curriculum was, well, “pediatric Judaism.” When I was in 9th grade, I was invited to be part of a committee to come up with interesting, “relevant” courses for both the 9th grade and confirmation classes. We came up with cooking classes, creative writing classes, and, the immediate sensation, “Sex, Drugs, and Bible stories.” Upon my Confirmation, my Jewish education came to a screeching halt.

Fast forward about 30 years. Both of my children had celebrated their Jewish milestones: Bat/bar mitzvah and Confirmation. Then, at the urging of a friend, I signed up for the Melton program. Two years of a curriculum designed to educate…ADULTS. What a concept! This experience opened my eyes to Jewish education at an adult level – a broad view of my heritage and history beyond the familiar Bible stories.

Less than two years after completing the program, I moved from Atlanta to Houston. Within a few months, I was invited to join a women’s Talmud study group at the JCC. There were about 15 women in the class from nearly every stream of Judaism, and it was taught by a Conservative woman rabbi. We learned from the ancient texts, argued the differing viewpoints in the commentary, and connected to one another in a deeply spiritual way. Some of the chevrutah (study groups) held their conversations in Hebrew, while others relied on the English translations to guide our discussions. Ultimately, studying with women allowed us the latitude to be more open, both giving and receiving, to ideas and interpretations different from our own.

Over time, the teacher moved, and this same group of women studied under different instructors. However, when another teacher moved, we disbanded….until the pandemic shifted learning opportunities to Zoom. The original teacher was offering classes virtually, and several of us signed up. Almost immediately, we reconnected with the teacher and to one another. When that class ended, one member of our group approached the teacher with the proposition to hold weekly Zoom classes on a variety of topics with a group of 7 committed, engaged women. Our topics range from studying Prophets to ethical issues to…well, you name it!

Jews are known as the “people of the book.” Our teachings direct us to be lifelong learners. Each time we reach the end of Deuteronomy, we immediately begin again with Parashat Bereshit. Each time we study a verse, we bring our current selves into the conversation. The words of the Torah remain the same --- it is our own life experiences that may change how we understand or interpret those same words.

And so it is with Judaism. Growing from “pediatric Judaism'' to studying our heritage, traditions, and ancient texts with others can lead to a greater understanding of who we are, what we believe, and why. Pirke Avot 1:6 instructs us to “find for yourself a teacher.” By seeking out a teacher, we acknowledge that we can learn and that someone else can teach. This requires humility to understand the things that we do not know. It also requires that we recognize our own shortcomings and accept that we wish to address them. When we approach this direction in this frame of mind, we are not looking for someone who will simply say we are great and brilliant. Rather, we are seeking someone who will challenge us, push us, and help us grow.

So, I encourage you today to evaluate your own Jewish literacy, your connection to your heritage, the texts, and your intellectual curiosity. Then, “find for yourself a teacher.”

WRJ has plenty of upcoming programs to help you connect to our traditions and heritage. Here are a few events to check out: