I feel for parents who are working full-time jobs from home, alongside coaching their kids through the school curriculum. However, my empathy rises for those parents whose kids pursue additional Jewish studies for Bar and Bat Mitzvah training. I was a student of remote Jewish learning well before it was mandated by a pandemic. In fact, my parents were 40 years ahead of their time.
Growing up in Minot, ND, my parents worked hard to make sure I had a strong sense of my Jewish identity. We lit the candles most Friday nights. I went to a Jewish summer camp from the time I was ten until I graduated high school. And, my parents worked with the Minneapolis Talmud Torah to help teach me how to read Hebrew.
When I was in second or maybe it was third grade, I learned to read Hebrew on Beta videotapes sent to me from the Minneapolis Talmud Torah. Just a clarifier – Beta in those days didn’t mean test mode. Rather it stood for Betamax, a video format that lost the war to VHS. The cassette was shaped like a medium-sized brick, and almost as heavy. The tape player wasn’t slim and discrete, but rather large and grey with an injection window that received the tape like it was swallowing hardened cement.
My parents would queue up the video and the teacher appeared on the tv screen my teacher with chalk in hand, writing out Hebrew letters on the blackboard. From the front of the empty classroom, she instructed me on the Hebrew alphabet, and how the sounds came together to form the words on the page.
Ironically, there was always a lot of commotion going on outside the room. If you attended Talmud Torah in the eighties it’s likely I heard your chatty voice amongst on the other side of my classrooms closed door. I would sit about two feet away from the screen in our basement and follow along in my workbook. This two-feet distance is likely why I wear coke bottle thick glasses today.
Following the lesson, my Dad and I would sit, side-by-side, squished together on an over-sized 1970’s chair and ottoman that was bright orange with yellow and green speckles. Together, we’d read out loud from a book that accompanied the lesson. Sounds like an Andy Warhol-stein image, right? Well, not exactly. Here’s how I remember it:
Me: I can’t remember the sounds!
Dad: Let’s start again.
Me: (energy rising) I don’t want to do this!
Dad: (patiently) Just read it through.
Me: (tears) nooooo!
Dad: Let’s keep going
Me: (emphatic) FINE!
Due to my Dad’s persistence through my stubbornness, I did learn to read Hebrew. My rate of reading, however, is like a first grader reading English. This was of no fault of the teachers, or my father, rather my own stubbornness to practice between US Postal deliveries of the lessons.
When you finish reading this story, call a teacher. Thank them for the grit and fortitude they bring every day to make sure our kids reach new heights in learning.
As for me, my appreciation specifically goes out to our community’s teachers of Judaica. Forty years ago, my parents enlisted this committed team to bring me an on-demand Hebrew education. The COVID-19 crisis is likely presenting this cohort of teachers with huge challenges, which I have every confidence they will meet with the same spirit of creativity they brought to me. I applaud their tenacity for educating our kids on Hebrew and Jewish traditions. I know how stubborn kids can be when learning Hebrew. I was that kid.
I love this story! At least you actually learned Hebrew remotely. I quit before I even started (which is why I had my Bat Mitzvah in my 30’s). And your chair and ottoman would have matched my bedroom carpet, lol. Well done, Heidi. ❤️
I had very similar experiences in the forties and fifties. We lived in Devils Lake, North Dakota. Population, about 6,000. My Dad ordered Judaica books from Behrman House Publishing and said he was their best customer west of the Mississippi. I had an aunt and uncle living in Minot, 120 miles away, and I visited them and went to Sunday School every few months.
Adeline Fremland, a teacher at Temple of Aaron, and I corresponded with her Sunday School lessons. I was supposed to take the train from Devils Lake to St. Paul to spend the week-end with her and her family. One of her children became ill and I couldn’t go. I was heart-broken.
The best solution was for me to take the train to Fargo about once a month, leaving early Saturday afternoon. I stayed with friends of my parents who had a nice my age living with them. If there was a Youth Group activity on Saturday night we went. Sunday morning we walked to Sunday School. (I did my accumulated lessons on the train ride to Fargo and my secular homework on the way home.) After lunch, I took the train back to Devils Lake.This worked fine until I was in junior high. I ‘d choose a week-end to go to Fargo and later I’d find out there was a dance or slumber party that I didn’t want to miss.
In 1956, Dad bought a men’s clothing store in Fargo and we moved there. I was going into tenth grade and had missed a Bat Mitzva. The Rabbi said that I could be confirmed but I had to learn Hebrew. I was tutored for one year and joined the fourth graders the next year. And I was confirmed.
I adored summer camp. I was with all Jewish kids! I attended Council Camp (later Camp Tikvah) for one year and Herzl Camp for several years. Those weeks at camp were instrumental in my developing Jewishness.