Becoming A Jewish Teacher

by Rabbi Shula Stevens

“S/He who learns receives but one fifth of the reward that goes to one who teaches.” &mdash Midrash Song of Songs

“Those who learn for the purpose of teaching receive inspiration” &mdash Midrash Rabbah

Sixteen years or so ago, I was enjoying a quiet summer afternoon in my studio, painting small blue watercolor wavelets around the edges of the Hebrew letter ג Gimmel. My reverie was interrupted by the phone. “Hi,” said the caller, “this is Judy. I’m a member of the Education Committee. Your name is on the list of our Adult B’nai Mitzvah class from last spring. We were wondering if you would be willing to put your newly acquired skills to work.” “Goodness,” I thought, “this is surely out of the blue…!? What can she mean? What skills?” I brought myself back to the conversation. “Well, perhaps,” I faltered, “what does the committee have in mind?” “We’re wondering if you’d like to teach in our afternoon Hebrew school,” Judy answered. “Me?” I blurted out, “But, I barely know anything. I mean, I kind of have a grip on the alphabet, but I mostly learned my portions of the service off of the Cantor’s tape. I’m really just a beginner!” “That’s all right,” said Judy, “we can help you. You’ll have a teacher’s manual, and all you need to do is stay a few steps ahead of your students.” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “they must be desperate for teachers.” They were! And, so is Gan HaLev.


As it turned out, I learned on the job, with support from the Temple Educator, my fellow teachers, and my students. Along about spring, I began to hit some sort of a stride, and by the time my first class graduated, I was hooked! One thing led to the next, and her I am, 16 years later, a rabbi, and on the other side of that initial conversation — making the call to unsuspecting folks on behalf of our Education Committee at Gan HaLev: We desperately need teachers for our religious school, and we are looking for them from within the congregation.


This is actually a long-standing tradition at Gan HaLev. The Religious School started with just a few families who wanted an alternative for their children’s spiritual training. The parents became the teachers, and what an outstanding job they have done over the years! Now, as their children are older, and as their lives transition into other concerns, we need other parents and/or Gan HaLev members to carry on what was so lovingly and creatively begun. We have tried for two years to hire teachers from outside the community, but simply have not found qualified people.


So, please, even if you think, as I did, that you’re not qualified — even if you just feel panic at the thought of facing a room of sweet souls and teaching them what’s really important about our spiritual heritage — I’m asking you to consider the possibility anyway. We will support you, and you will find your way.


Reflecting back on the experience that day, water is a symbol of the Torah, and the letter Gimmel encapsulates the energy of moving forward into new levels. I didn’t know that back then, but I do now: I learned it through teaching! Now I understand that this was one of the craziest and best leaps of faith I ever took. I’ve learned and grown in ways I never thought possible: my life has beens o enriched and blessed by each and every student I’ve encountered. And, I have far more to paint about when I do have the time to sit and paint!


What might you learn? The possibilities are endless! And, you will be performing a מִצְוָה גְדוֹלָה mitzvah g’dolah — in traditional Jewish thought, there is no higher occupation than that of a teacher.


Please feel free to call Laurie Chorna or me if you are willing to explore the possibility of becoming a Jewish teacher in the coming year.


Wishing you all the blessings,


Rabbi Shula Stevens


—from our July-August 2006 Newsletter

Copyright © 2006 Rabbi Shula Stevens