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Education for Education’s Sake

July 15, 2010 – 8:43 pm6 Comments
David Solomon

David Solomon. Image source: www.InOneHour.net

By Emma Schwarcz

If you take all of Jewish history – all 5000-odd years of it – and whittle it down so that it can fit on four large stretches of butcher paper, and you stick that paper to four walls, and place what is either a genius or a madman (or possibly both) within those four walls and you furnish that man with two permanent markers and a decent hit of caffeine, you will get what most Jewish day-school graduates could only dream of. A kind of madness that takes over a room for an hour, a passion for all that has transpired to this little nation – the covenants, the onslaughts, the exiles and returns, the kings and pharaohs and Caesars, the prophets and warriors and teachers – everything summed up and argued and scribbled in febrile hieroglyphics on this paper, while the students in the centre of the room swivel their chairs to follow his path.

And swivel they did. People were crowded on desks or cross-legged on the floor. The room became humid because of the number of people crammed into David Solomon’s talk, but no one complained. No one even yawned in the hour it took to deconstruct Jewish history – I looked around the room at one point and most people were smiling, in the same way you might unconsciously mimic an actor’s expression while watching TV. Everyone was hooked. If David Solomon chose to establish a cult of some sort, we would all be in trouble.

I have to stop myself here and ask if perhaps I’m exaggerating. Was I just caught up in the moment? Am I even now still caught up in the idea of the talk, of the exuberance and the charisma and the absolute commitment to his subject? But no, the looks on people’s faces said it all – if this is Jewish education, why don’t we study more often?

As I settled in for another of David’s sessions, this time on the Talmud, I wished I could capture the essence of it and simply play it back to my family. When I mentioned I was going to Limmud Oz, they were supportive but a little inquisitive. ‘So why are you going again? It’s for research, right?’ It was for research, but it was also just because. Education for education’s sake. Something to remind me of all the things I’d like to know. My father seemed to be anticipating some sort of announcement, that I was heading to the mikveh or blow-torching the kitchen. We’re not frum, so why would I want to go to this thing? And I think it’s because his contact with Jewish education was with the antithesis of the David Solomons and Mark Bakers and Paul Forgaszes; it came less from a place of enthusiasm and more from one of necessity.

I tried to explain that actually, it was really interesting and dynamic and, yes, even fun. He looked puzzled but accepting, as if I’d just said that I quite like sci-fi conventions and would be speaking in Klingon for the next few days. The only way to convey it to those who’ve experienced the dry, didactic Jewish education, I suppose, is to show them an alternative. And for one weekend in June, at least, we had that alternative in spades.

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  • Akiva says:

    Jewish education without rigour has about as much integrity as propaganda, in my opinion.

  • Bring it on! The Jewish world needs more David Solomons, and more opportunities for Jews to engage with our rich history and light the fire of enthusiasm for Jewish learning of all types.

    There’s an old Chassidic story about a man who goes to his Rebbe with a question: “I’m a busy man, and only have one spare hour a week to study Torah: what should I learn: Talmud (which would be considered the ‘bread and butter’ of Torah study) or Chassidut (exploration of mystical aspects of the Torah)?

    His Rebbe responded that he should spend the hour learning Chassidut, because in doing so, he would come to realize that he could indeed find a further hour for Talmud study as well in his busy week.

  • ariel says:

    David Solomon is the man!
    We need him to educate the dayschool educators!

  • not from caulfield says:

    Thanks Emma

    Yes, I too come from a secular family, and while I went to a Jewish day school for many years, I think it would raise serious concerns among family members if I showed any voluntary interest in Judaism. Funny!

    I missed Limmud Oz, but thanks to sites like this I am informed about these events and would consider attending another year.

  • Ittay says:

    for my interest, can you please define what you mean by “rigour” and give an example of propaganda in the context of jewish eduaction.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Emma – nice article. I thought Limmud Oz was brilliant – I was abuzz for days after.I went to three text based ‘lectures’ given by Rabbi Daniel Landes of the Pardes institute – in each session, I was intellectually stretched (which may not be saying much) and moved by the wisdom of his insight. I suppose those session were more formal than the Solomon lectures but that’s the beauty of Limmud Oz – I understand that the way it works is that there is no filtering – anyone who wants to can run a session. It’s truly pluralistic in terms of process and then content and format.
    A less conventional session that I heard the end of, was Amichai Lau Lavi introducing the idea of Storahtelling (which I had seen in practice on the previous shabbat) which is the idea of interspersing the reading of the parsha with a slightly dramatised interpretation of the text in English (or French or whatever- the vernacular) -the Limmud OZ sessions was very interactive and different to most Jewish educational experiences most present would have had.
    Akiva I would also be interested to understand your comment better. I don’t see a downside to stimulating people’s appetite for Jewish content – even if it is necessarily less rigorous than formal education.

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