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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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