Nurturing dew

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leaf-with-dewdropsEmphasis on the importance of education dates back to Bible times. The Israelites were commanded again and again to study all of the laws and commandments, and by the rabbinic era learning and study had come to be regarded as so important that the injunction to study came be regarded as more important than all of the other commandments. Scholars were considered the elite of society, exercising authority in many community activities.

The teacher-student relationship always has been sacred. Students may bring out the best in teachers, just as teachers bring out the best in students. Each owes the other respect and loyalty. The ancient rabbis considered a teacher the most exalted person in a student’s life, worthy of even greater honor than a parent. The rabbis advised people that one of the most important life tasks is to acquire a master teacher (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6).

Teaching is central to my rabbinate. One of my major goals as a rabbi (the word actually means “my teacher” in Hebrew) is to seek and take advantage of “teachable moments” in all of my interactions – in all places and with all people. From preschoolers to seniors, from classroom to conversations at the supermarket, there are always opportunities for me to learn and to teach.

Learning together has resulted in strong enduring relationships with many of my students, which are among the most meaningful connections in my life.  This past weekend two women who had been my students since they were in preschool at our synagogue planned a vacation weekend down the Jersey shore in Wildwood, NJ where I now serve as part-time rabbi – just to spend time with me and my wife!  They joined us for worship services on Friday evening and Saturday morning and for Sabbath dinner at our house, where we reminisced about our nearly three decades of learning together.  They amazed and touched us with their many memories of shared learning experiences, specific exchanges in Hebrew High classes, and the impact of small interactions during class trips and other shared experiences.

There is a Yiddish song that I often sing with my music therapy patients at Stein Jewish Hospice. It is sometimes known as “Der Rebbe haute geheisen freilach zein.” The song prescribes the way to make a rabbi happy — including a recipe for the kind of beverage to serve him. This weekend our students offered us a different recipe for happiness – the gift of a very special Shabbat filled with joy, laughter, memories and new learning together!

A Talmudic rabbi and teacher once wrote that the teaching of a competent teacher is dispersed like the dew, nurturing and rejuvenating all that it touches. May you all experience the joy of special connections with your teachers and students – and thereby spreading mutual learning like the nourishing dew.

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Go Cubs, Go!

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Although I am a long-time Yankee fan, I am very pleased the two teams in this year’s World Series are giving their fans something they have not seen in many decades. For the Cubs, it has been 108 years since they last won a World Series, and for Cleveland a mere 68 years.   Admittedly I am rooting for the Cubs for a number of personal reasons. My son-in-law’s dad was a successful congregational rabbi in a Chicago suburb for 25 years, and everyone in the family (including my two grandkids) are staunch Cubbie fans.  My son and daughter-in-law who now live in Chicago are surely fans.  In fact, they attended Game 5 of the series!

Two interesting newspaper articles about the Cubs recently caught my eye – because they put an interesting Jewish spin on the Cubs story and contained important life lessons.  In his New York Times article entitled “The Cubs Reach the Promised Land” Rich Cohen, who attended his first Cubs game in 1975, compared the Cubs to the Hebrews, wandering for decades in the wilderness. Moses understood that it would take a new generation to claim the Promised Land.  For the Cubs, that new generation has finally arrived with the team making its first World Series appearance in 71 years.

Ardent Cubs fans have continued to support their team year after year, even though it meant faithfully choosing a constant loser over a winner. Rich Cohen writes of a Cubs female fan as being Ecclesiastical.  “Among all other spectators, only she understood the truth: Life is vanity; Come October we’ll be watching the Bears.” Like Moses, Rich Cohen has waited 40 years, and is hoping not only to reach the Promised Land, but to enter into its holy space.

Just today, The Jewish Forward featured an article about the team’s theme song “Go Cubs Go,” which has been played at Wrigley Field after every home victory since 2007, as the grounds crew raises the white “W” (WIN!) flag. The song was composed by Steven Goodman, a Chicago singer and songwriter who died of leukemia in 1984 at age 36, just a few days before he was scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Cub’s first-ever appearance in the National League playoffs. Goodman grew up in Chicago and was a high school classmate of fellow Cubs fan Hillary Clinton.

Four years after Goodman’s death, his brother David and friend Harry Waller snuck into Wrigley Field (bribing a groundskeeper with a $20 bill) and scattered his ashes over left field, just as Goodman had written in the song: “Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow/From the prevailing 30-mile-an-hour southwest wind… and I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue.” Goodman’s wife Nancy and their three daughters scattered the rest of his ashes in Doubleday Field outside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The Cubs never made it to the World Series in Goodman’s lifetime, but he never lost faith that someday it would happen. In 1981 he wrote “A Dying Cub’s Fan’s last Request.” Ever optimistic, he always introduced the song by telling the audience: “The Cubs are liable to screw it up and win so I can’t sing this song anymore.”

My big take-away from these articles:  If not this year in the Promised Land, there’s always next year.  You’ve just gotta have faith!   Go Cubs!!!