Thursday, June 13, 2013
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
In Chapter 20:1 we read, “The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.”
Shortly thereafter (Chapter 20:22-29), Aaron dies. We read that the Eternal tells Moses and Aaron that Aaron will be “gathered to his kin” for disobeying His command by striking the rock for water. The sequence is described: Moses and Aaron will ascend Mount Hor; Aaron will be stripped of his vestments which will then be worn by Aaron’s son Eleazar; Aaron will die. When Moses and Eleazar descended from Mount Hor, “the whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last. All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days.”
And so the transition to a new generation of leadership begins.
When we study Torah, we are encouraged to notice what is NOT said, as well as what IS said. In this single chapter, there appears to me to be a significant silence.
Miriam died. There is no explanation of why she died or under what circumstances her death occurred, contrary to the later explanation given for Aaron's death. There is no mention of mourning her, unlike the grief expressed upon Aaron’s death. When Miriam dies, Miriam's Well disappears and the Israelites complain that they are dying of thirst.
And so I wonder: were there no tears recorded for Miriam because her death was the first of the leaders' deaths? Or was it because it was easier to focus on the loss of that which she brought (Miriam's Well) than it was to focus on the loss of Miriam herself? Much of our own grief focuses on loss as it impacts on us -- "who will listen to me?", "who will rejoice in my good news?", "how will I keep on going?"
The Women's Torah Commentary suggests the following: Perhaps they were so stunned by the loss of Miriam that they [the Israelites] were unable to express their grief directly. Instead, they cried out against Moses and Aaron, projecting and transferring their grief onto Miriam's brothers. Or perhaps they did not react to Miriam's death in such a way that would give comfort to her brothers. They seem to care only that there was no water, and acted as if Miriam's death were unimportant. We can imagine that Moses and Aaron were deeply shaken by the loss of their sister, and this may have been the reason that Moses reacted with such anger toward the people when he struck the rock, instead of speaking to it, as God has commanded. In grief mixed with rage -- such a normal reaction -- Moses lashed out at the rock to produce what Miriam could have produced with only her presence. (p 300)
As Moses' big sister, Miriam helped raise him: she protected him and watched over him. Moses may have felt that he lost not "just" a sister, but a surrogate mother. Did the Israelites (as a community) also see her as a surrogate mother?
For Moses and Aaron, Miriam's death makes all too real their own mortality -- in a way that the death of a parent or friend can't. Someone who grew up in their home, someone of their generation, someone who shares their collective memories and growing-up experiences in a way that even a "best friend" can't -- if she has died, so too will they. For all that they have managed to accomplish, they are vulnerable.
And ultimately, after the mourning period, what do we have left? We have our memories and the legacy that gets transmitted from generation to generation. That legacy sometimes comes from the generation that knew the loved one… and sometimes from generations which follow.
When I think of Miriam, I think of courage and joy. That’s due in large measure to the song “Miriam’s Well” by songwriter and singer, Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory. Debbie took a few lines from Exodus, heard what wasn’t said, and provided many of us with a new vision of the character of one of the pivotal women in our history. Without Miriam, Moses would probably not have survived. Or, if he had survived, would not have been linked to his heritage.
And that’s Miriam’s legacy: nurturer, supporter, and joyfilled celebrator.
Questions to consider:1. What legacies have been transmitted to you by your family? How are they transmitted?2. What is the legacy of various communities to which you belong?3. What would you like your legacy to be? What actions are you taking to ensure that legacy will be transmitted?
Mary F. Meyerson is the founder of Morah Mary Consulting, LLC.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
This week’s parshah – Va-y’hi – contains the culmination of the stories of Jacob/Israel and his sons.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
- more content
- less content
- more frequent meetings
- less frequent meetings
- retreats in lieu of some classes
- retreats in addition to class
- to give “credit” for volunteer work, youth group activities
- to make programs more rigorous
- to make programs more “social”
- making meals part of the program (If you feed them, they will come!)
What I seldom hear is a discussion articulating the relevance of the program offerings.
We talk about what teens will learn. We spend a great deal of time deciding who will teach them. We seriously consider methodology. We evaluate the structure in an attempt to meet their scheduling constraints. "Who, what, where and when" - that's our focus.
But, do we tell them why it’s important to learn what we want them to know? Do we specify the connection to their daily lives?
My friend and colleague, Marc Kay, challenges us: “So what?” Why does what we are teaching matter? What's the relevance?
We may have (in our own minds) an answer to that question, BUT do we share that insight with our students?
I remember asking Mr. McNaughton, in advanced algebra (back in the dark ages), why we needed to learn how to operate a slide rule. “At some point,” he assured us, “we’d need to be able to do complex calculations and this was the most accurate way to do them.”
(Does anyone out there even remember a slide rule? Or how to use it?)
Hopefully, the knowledge, values and experiences we’re trying to get our teens to grapple with have relevance for them in their lives TODAY, as well as in the future.
"So what" should be the first question we ask, not the last.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Our goal is to help them be assistant teachers, capable of acting on their own initiative to teach, modify, intervene, support and encourage.
The challenge? None of the teachers has the same style, the same pacing, the same needs for assistance. Some teachers want their aides to step in without being told what to do or how to handle a given situation. Some want their aides NOT to intervene (because the teacher may have “spoken” to the student a few moments ago, because the teacher has a need to control the classroom interactions, because the aide has overruled the teacher’s instructions previously, because…)
The challenge? For many of our aides, especially the younger ones, this is the first “job” they will have, regardless of whether they are paid or volunteer. They haven’t yet learned things like showing up on time; turning iPods and cell phones off; how distracting their whispering can be in the back of the classroom while the teacher is trying to teach….
The challenge? The age disparity between the aides and the students they’re working with is often not very wide, again especially for our younger aides. Each one will handle this challenge a little differently: some will try to assert their authority in counter-productive ways; others will try to befriend the students they’re working with; still others will refuse to engage with the students because they’re uncertain and don’t even know how to phrase the question: “How do you want me to handle things?”
The challenge? Teachers are often rehired because they’re “good” with the age student they’re teaching. Their madrich/aide is several years older than their students – and is often at an age the teachers are uncomfortable with. Quite simply: they may not know how to talk to teens!
The challenge? Other than routine administrative tasks (photocopying, delivering materials to the office, setting up for snack), teachers don’t know how to use their aides effectively. Many of them seldom provide their aide with specific instructions: “Please listen to their practice reading. Each student should read three sentences accurately. You may help them by correcting their pronunciation after they’ve made an attempt. If you do, then have the student read the word/phrase/sentence that they stumbled on three times accurately. This will help them practice it correctly and aid in fluency.” Instead, we say, “Listen to them read.”
The challenge? Our aides don’t often know how what they’re doing fits into the big picture – how does it relate to the rest of the lesson? Last week’s lesson? Next week’s material? And let’s not even mention “assessment” – a good many of our teachers have difficulty with assessment and consequently can’t guide their aides in this direction.
One of the most important paths to overcoming some of these challenges is professional development. Many communities I work with are cognizant of the need for madrichim/aide training. Training is critical and a good facilitator can help the teens address a number of these challenges, and more!
But an equally critical component is professional development for the teachers. Through workshops, classroom observations, and mentors, teachers can be guided in ways to improve their communications with their aides, incorporate the aides in their planning, and determine whether their expectations are realistic and appropriate.
Reflective practice for both teachers and madrichim/aides can help each gain insight into their own actions, responses, and expectations – and help make changes for future situations.
Directors AND teachers need to be willing to invest the time and energy in developing these bonds with the teens in their program.
- Teens who continue to remain involved in Jewish education.
- Teens who model the “coolness factor” of remaining involved, post bar- or bat-mitzvah.
- Extra hands, eyes, ears, and hearts to help educate the next generation of students.
- One-on-one assistance for the student who’s floundering.
- Feedback for teachers who truly don’t “have eyes in the back of their heads.”
- An entrance into the world of Jewish communal work for our teens.
- Beginning training for the next generation of teachers.
Classroom aides/madrichim can make a critical different in "reaching and teaching" our students - if we provide training, encouragement, meaningful evaluations for both teens and teachers!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
I was absolutely delighted when he opened the evening with "A Ship May Be Safe." It is one of the songs that I've begun to use as a reminder when I'm contemplating whether to step off the beaten track and try something new, or remain in my comfort zone! Later in the evening, he and Charlie again sang "We Are An Answer to a Prayer." I thought again about all the students I've taught through the years and how they, too, have become an answer to our prayers.
The "old standbys" (the songs I've listened to again and again on my iPod or on the CD player in the car) were like old friends. But Steve brought along some "new friends" as well. There were three in particular that I enjoyed immensely, each for a different reason. Here they are!
They shall not hurt/they shall not destroy in all my holy mountain
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God/as the waters cover the sea (Holy Mountain)
The melody is catchy and upbeat - the message articulates that all of the earth is "sacred space" (not just synagogues or churches) and that "hurting" and "destroying" have no role in sacred space. The allusions are to the animal world (The wolf shall live with the lamb/and the leopard shall nap with the kid/the calf and the lion make friends/by a little child they'll be led), but it's not too difficult to see directives for our (human) behavior.
The second song evoked images of "back in the day." Steve sang about the pace on a lazy Sunday afternoon, when there was all the time in the world. The song's not yet been recorded, and I don't remember either the title or the specific words. But the memories it brought to mind were both familiar and distant: the never-ending boredom of a "sitting-around"-Sunday afternoon in a small town, back in the days of "blue laws" (when retail stores weren't open on Sundays); of Sunday afternoon naps, boring television (if you were lucky, you got all four channels: ABC, CBS, NBC and public television), and hours of unscheduled time.
Our pace of life is much more frenetic these days - even if one chooses a day of rest (Shabbat, or Sunday), it tends to be in isolation from our neighbors' practice and not in connection with them.
Finally, my new favorite-of-favorites:
Maybe I can't do great things that will move earth and heaven above
But I can surely do small things and do them with great love.
I can surely do small things and do them with great love.
No one can do everything
but everyone can do something
Someone who's faithful in small things can be trusted with things much bigger.
In introducing this song, Steve talked about someone (perhaps himself?) who once asked Mother Theresa how she managed to do such great things. Mother Theresa's response was that she didn't do great things - she did "small things with great love." From that response, came the song.
I find myself humming it at random times... and being willing to consider anew what "small thing [I] can do with great love."
And I haven't even touched on the amazing tones Steve coaxed from his dulcimers... or the feelings of spiritually and community shared by all present that evening.
My thanks to Steve Eulberg and Soup and Song Productions for an evening that's already had a ripple effect in my life.