Sunday, May 30, 2010

920. On teaching

Well ... it's been a while. Since last I wrote, an awful lot of life has happened around me; not to me, things are status quo, but this swirling activity of birth, death, grief, joy, has been exhausting. Not complaining. Better to be over one's head in the stuff of existence than bored and wearing blinders.

Yesterday was one of the amazingly joyful days. Three of my chanting students, with whom I'd been working since January (one via Skype from Brazil!), became B'not Torah at services. They are brilliant women, and so of course did perfect, beautiful jobs. (This didn't stop me from being irrationally nervous, however; I was definitely projecting my knee-jerk Torah reading butterflies on them. They, in turn, were cool as a cucumber.) I cried as I watched the woman who chanted haftarah smile as she sang "Rani v'simhi, bat-zion:" "Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion."

I was given an aliyah, much to my surprise and reluctance, and the rabbi reflected on his earlier d'var Torah about the week's parasha, Beha'alotekha, and Robert Alter's comment about "radical spiritual egalitarianism." To the elders who gather to figure out how to contain the kvetching Israelite riffraff, God grants the gift of prophesy ("the spirit of God rested upon them"). God does not fix the problem God's self, or through an agent; the people do, themselves (with a litle help, of course). Our synagogue community follows in this tradition as well, observed the rabbi, as members extend the chain of learning directly from one to another--beginning with my teacher, who made it possible for so many people to sing these beautiful words--and now it can grow threefold, as these three women find others to teach.

As a kid, I had no clue about the value of teachers. I had some amazing ones, but never acknowledged that they did more than just a job--were anything other than the hired help. I think I felt entitled to those moments of revelation, and envisioned my teachers as mere conduits of someone else's knowledge. That teaching required mastery of the art and science of connecting to others in a unique and life-changing way never occurred to me. My mother and father were certainly grateful and admiring of my teachers, but never suggested I become one. This doesn't sound like a very Jewish parent-like directive--but parents, by nature, are not egalitarian. Teaching, they believed, would never serve my talents and and goals as an artist whose imagination was meant to lead to unknown and exciting worlds. Like my parents, a bookkeeper and grocery store produce manager, teachers provided a service. My future was as a creator, a far nobler goal.

So this discovery, over the last few years, that teaching is all about learning, changing, seeing the world through someone else's eyes and ears and adapting mine to help grow theirs, has been a bit intoxicating. It's one of the most creative things I've ever done, and I'm honored to become another link on the chain.

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