Friday, June 28, 2013

A Teacher's Restoration

Two decades ago, I prepared four boys for their bar mitzvah on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest.

I was an inexperienced, recently-ordained rabbi whose idealism propelled me to instill a love of Hebrew and Judaism to these adolescent young men.

I secured myself with optimism, pedagogy, and perseverance, and still I completed each fifty minute class with a feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt. Could I make a difference that would last beyond the bar mitzvah speech?

This week, on the second day of a workshop on Modern Israel, I sat next to a nicely dressed young man who worked as a research assistant at Emory University. I noticed his name tag.

"Daniel, did you ever live on Bainbridge Island?"

"Yes," he replied.

"I guess you don’t recognize me. I was your bar mitzvah teacher."

The entire table stopped its chatter and reacted to this revelation.

He pulled up his Facebook page on his iPhone and proudly showed off his twelve-year-old self's extended Afro hairdo.

"Yes, that is the you I remember."

We passed around the phone and with each giggle, the table participants gave me the enduring understanding look.

Daniel has a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic. He is thinking about getting his Ph.D. He is employed full-time and teaches students about Jewish identity.

Two decades and a primary source Facebook photo later, my faith in the bar mitzvah process has been restored retroactively.

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