Sunday, April 14, 2013

The pink elephant outside the window

היום אחד תשעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is nineteen days, which is two weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שבתפארת
A day of humility in a week of compassion

One of my 6th grade students calls me "Teacher Marilyn." This puts a smile on my face. I may never be a rabbi, but I am a teacher--and isn't that a large part of a rabbi's role. I can only hope that my students remember something of what I teach them, and that something of these lessons stay with them for many years to come--even after my name fades.

I remember Rabbi Berger--a teacher I had in my after school Hebrew High School. He was a young Orthodox rabbi and, I would venture to say, Modern Orthodox before that specific term was coined. He taught us decidedly non-Orthodox teenagers with a depth that seems hard to imagine now. And now, some 40 years later, there is one class we had that still resonates with me. He must have tied it to some Jewish concepts, but that didn't make it to the memory banks. But the teaching remains.

We must have been having some sort of "What is reality" discussion. Please note, this is the late 1960s/early 1970s and that was what would now be called a trending topic :) First, he made us realize that if he said, "I see a pink elephant outside the window," we could not say that was not true. We could say that we didn't see a pink elephant outside the window, or even that there was no pink elephant outside the window--but we could not say that he did not see that pink elephant. Real or not, he was seeing it.

He then told us a more elaborate story. This involved going to Paris and getting lost looking for the entrance to the Louvre art museum. What if, he said, we finally found what we thought was the entrance, went in, saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, and marveled at their artistry. After this experience, we go outside and find that, by mistake, we wondered into a movie set and what we saw were reproductions--not the real art. At that moment, our perceptions changed. But going back to the initial viewing---was that any less real?

I have held those stories for all these years. In the nuances of this omer day, they have given me a place of humility and compassion to hear the perceptions of others. And as I traverse this new path of Jewish education, it gives me a space in which to hear the thoughts of my young students. It lets me balance the need to bring them certain knowledge without stifling their own creativity.

I can only hope that some of the things I teach my students will stay with them for the long run. I hope I can instill in them an open way to view the world, where they can really hear what others are saying without judgement. Above all, I hope they can then bring that teaching to the generation that follows them - l'dor v'dor.

No comments: