Saturday, November 21, 2009

Me a Rabbi? Awkward, good moments.

Of course there were plenty of awkward moments and there were some pleasurable moments, moments that allow me to look back and feel like I had accomplished something.There was some kind of purpose to it all. I must admit, I was motivated. I liked kids and I had remembered how difficult it had been to study and I did want to make it easier for them. I read any books I could get my hands on. I created a goal system where the kids set their own goals and congratulated themselves when they had accomplished their goal. This felt like a lot of fun. They seemed to like it and of course it made me happy to see them happy. I must admit that Avi was a great support at motivating me to teach. Sometimes I was so depressed and scared. I had failed to miserably the week before that I just didn't want to go in there the next week. I couldn't believe that I would actually have to. At the same time there were some memorably pleasant moments. Ariel, who I had been warned about, was a difficult student to get through to. I was told to never give him any kind of negative note home because he would be beaten. He never if rarely looked at me and it was difficult to know if and when he heard what I was saying. I had decided that I would begin implementing the self-goal program. Until then, I would tell them which piece of Talmud we would be studying that day and we would. Today, was different. I told them to choose their own goal of what and how many lines they should study and then we would go ahead and study them. "What" they all seemed to say incredulously, "what do you mean, we decide?" they asked. "We don't want to study anything!". Yes, yes, I told them, I understand. It took a while to explain to them that although I was intent on studying something. I was giving them a choice as to how much they would study or how they wanted to master it. ( Meaning what kind of method did they want to use to master it? How many times did they want to repete these lines of Talmud? What kind of goal did they want to make for themselves?). Ariel was a student who had been particularly difficult to reign in. Besides, his lack of attention, and his lack of being able to look at me, he just seemed pretty uninterested. Faced with the prospect of making his own decisions about what he would learn and how, he seemed a little uncomfortable and a little excited. He was obviously not given too many choices at home and he seemed to enjoy the freedom and the trust I put in him.It took a while of explaining until I got him to understand what it meant to make his own goal but he finally got the idea. I had a feeling that it was good for him. I must say that what happened next was something I can never forget. It was strange, surprising, heartrending and encouraging.Once he was clear on what he had to do, he started focusing on it. He seemed to exult in havinag a small goal that he knew he could accomplish. As he began enjoying his reading the Gemara, shukeling, swaying back and forth, a sighn of increasing involvement and enjoyment. At some point he was so happy, he looked up at me and he said 'Rabbi, I think I'm going to be a yeshiva bachur". He was smiling so big, I had never seen him smile that big. He had hope. He had seen himself in a new light. He was a champion. I had given him a new image of himself. He now felt that he could accomplish. He seemed to be relishing that feeling of accomplishment. This was a truly great moment for me. This had been a deeply personal work for me. It had taken me time until I had been able to make small and manageable goals for myself. I was relieved that I had finally found a way to feel proud of myself and now, of course, I felt such exhilarating joy in being able to pass on a similar feeling of accomplishement to my young friend, my student. Of course, this moment of triumph was mixed with some ambivalence and pain. I had taught him how to feel satisfied with the study of Talmud but I myself was carrying a secret burden of hatred for the Talmud. Inside I was angry that I had put myself in a position of teaching kids Talmud. No, I didn't really think it was so important for them. I didn't feel like I was teaching them something deep and meaningful. It was a little strange for me to hear my student tell me how excited he was that he would some day be a yeshiva bachur when I was trying my hardest to erase the memories of my days in yeshiva. So, I justified it all by saying that I had taught him a lesson about goal setting, self esteem and focus. I tried not to think about the fact that I was inspiring him to lead a life that I could not say I was proud of. Yes, then there was the other feeling. I had some deeply pleasurable memories from my days in yehiva. I didn't understand what happened to them and why my life needed to take such a different turn but I knew that there was a distance between me today and who I was then. Yes, maybe, he would find joy in that life. Maybe it was OK for him. Maybe it was good.