Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chanukkah: The Educator's Holiday

       Chanukkah is an educator's holiday. How so? It's been noted many times that the Hebrew word "Chanukkah" is derived from the same Hebrew "root" as the word for education: "Chinuch" (apologies for the abysmal transliteration). The three letter Hebrew shoresh of chet-- nun-- chaf has a double meaning: "dedication" and "education." Here are a couple of ways that Jewish educators might make the link between dedication and education in honor of Chanukkah.

1. Facilitate a conversation with our students by asking them "Why do we dedicate so much time and energy to studying Hebrew and Judaism?" While it's a simple question many of us will agree with the simple truth that many of our students haven't actually thought this one through. For those of us who are meshugah l'davar for Jewish education, the answers to this question might be so obvious that we've skipped the critical step of having the conversation with our students. "I don't know" isn't an acceptable answer to the question of: "Why do we dedicate ourselves to studying Hebrew?" Every student should be able to answer this question authentically and compellingly. Moreover, their answers should mature as they grow into their Jewish identities. If we fail to make this an explicit conversation with our students then we run the risk of having students who don't ever confront the importance of their Judaic and Hebraic education and end up going through the motions without understanding why.

2. Let's facilitate the same conversation with our colleagues and fellow educators. While it might seem unnecessary, it can be invigorating for a group of educators to revisit the basic conversation of motives and aims in our teaching. Why do we have a burning passion for teaching Hebrew? Why have we spent years training to be a Jewish educator? Why are we living out our teaching careers at Jewish schools even if we're teaching general studies rather than Jewish studies? Hearing what inspires others to dedicate their lives to Jewish education strengthen our ties with our colleagues. It's a safe way of moving beyond the small talk that often fills the pockets of our days. Also, we may have colleagues who honestly don't have compelling answers to this question, or may be looking for new ways of expressing long held commitments. Like our students, some of our colleagues may not have had the chance to really reflect on their commitment to Jewish education. Many of us work in schools that have a wide spectrum of Jewish knowledge and observance. Engaging our diverse faculty in the conversation can be truly educational and promote synergy among the faculty.

3. Go for gelt. At our weekly Jewish and Hebrew studies department meeting today we stumbled upon the fact that each of the educators at the table had a different explanation of where the tradition of Chanukkah gelt comes from. We laughed as we shared our varying interpretations. Rather than pretending that we knew the absolutely correct answer to what seemed like a simple question, we got on the computer and did some research. Laughing, we realized that, to a certain extent, we were all correct. What I'm calling "going for gelt" refers to the fact that, in spite of the many years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge at the table, there's always the possibility of learning something new. It's a wonderful feeling to be thrust into a place of uncertainty. It is great to realize that "I don't know" can lead to new knowledge. Everyone at the table today felt comfortable exploring the gelt question together. It was a simple reminder that learning is fun and that being a part of a learning community is rich and rewarding.

So there you have it. My 1/2 shekel on some of the many possible intersections of dedication and education that Chanukkah begs us to consider as Jewish educators.

Chag Sameach! 

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