Mrs. Arnold’s Lesson

May 16, 2019

RabbiWQAidzerheadshot-206x259“What is one thing you learned today?” It was the end of the first morning of Religious School. I was in 7th grade. And Mrs. Arnold wanted to know what I had learned. It wasn’t just me. That was the question she asked each one of her students as the session concluded. Each week, we weren’t allowed to leave until we had answered it with a new fact, a new idea, or a new understanding that we had acquired. What had we learned that day?

Judaism has always valued learning. We are, after all, “the People of the Book.” The study of Torah (and all Jewish learning) is said to be equal to all of the other commandments, as it leads to doing all of the mitzvot and leading an ethical life. Learning is such a prized activity that some of our rabbis and sages pictured the afterlife as one extended period in the studyhall. For our immigrant forbearers, education was a means to success in America. So Mrs. Arnold was standing in the long line of Jewish tradition in making sure that we had learned each day.

This focus on education has also been a hallmark of Temple Beth El. From Religious School and Hebrew classes to adult education sessions, Torah Study on Shabbat morning, adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah, speakers, book groups, educational trips, scholars-in-residence and much more, our congregation has a legacy of learning. Tomorrow night, Friday, May 17, at 6:45pm, our Shabbat evening service will be a Celebration of Education. We’ll be led by our students, then treated to a “Living Museum,” where students will share their most meaningful memories of learning at Temple Beth El.

Now that I am a teacher myself, I often reflect on Mrs. Arnold’s pedagogical tool. Like most of my religious school teachers, she was passionate about Judaism, engaging in her methodology, and dedicated to her students. But that question she asked each one of us probably made her my favorite of all the religious school teachers I ever had. She wanted to make sure that we had learned. And she wanted to make sure that we knew we had learned. I find myself using that technique sometimes in classes that I teach, perpetuating her memory and humbly standing in that long line of Jewish tradition that values learning.

I hope you will join your Temple Beth El community in celebrating our legacy of learning tomorrow night. And I hope you always have a good answer to Mrs. Arnold’s question, “What have you learned today?”