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What made me become a Hebrew Teacher

My love for Hebrew was certainly aroused by my feelings of affection for two teachers in the first years of school, Mrs. Kobrin and Rev. Wolk. Don’t get me wrong; I cherished no dream of ever being like them. My friends, kept me in stitches imitating teachers. I did not want anyone ever to make jokes about me. Now, thinking back I realize that the subjects I liked most at school were taught by teachers who amused me the most. I’ve come to the conclusion that being a funny character is one of the strengths of being a good teacher.

Her class was in a bright airy room painted pastel blue. In the morning it served as a kindergarten. The only entrance was through a door, behind the stage of the Communal Hall, that led first to a kitchen.

Daily I clutched the thin blue-covered first Hebrew reader in my sweaty hand as I hurried the kilometer-long, Burger Street to her class. The big attraction for me was Mrs. Kobrin. A smart looking no nonsense dame, a thick bush of honey-colored hair pulled back neatly, revealing a broad smooth white brow. A stout ruler alway at the ready, in her hands.

I was so busy staring at this amazing creature, dreaming of a time she had once embraced me, that I forgot how to read the ABC and she rapped me on the knuckles. I cherish the conflicting memories, the rap on my knuckles, the gentle fragrance of her powder, and her soft breasts, under the white blouse with the tiny dark blue flowers against my tearful cheek. By a combination of her big stick and tender caresses she arroused my determination not to be a cry baby, to grow up and enter the next class.

One entered Rev. Wolk’s class directly from the field outside the synagogue. There we learned to read the prayer book and the 5 books of Moses. He had a wide mouth, a rather pale face, and thin fluffy looking snow-white hair.

At the age of 12 I arrived at the laws of war in the book of Dueteronomy. The Bible won my heart when we reached chapter 21 in the book of Dueteronomy. It specified how a woman captured in war should be treated. This law showed the mercy and sensitivity of the Biblical laws more than any text I’d ever read.

10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

Reading this in S.Africa, in 1952, against the backdrop of the cruelty of apartheid, and in the wake of the holocaust, I was astounded that a 3000 year old law of mercy and kindness was a dead letter.

Unfortunately, I had a great wish to be popular, not wanting to give the impression of being overly serious. On the one hand my mind was deeply involved with learning, especially Bible, on the other I would get a laugh out of my friends by chewing gum and blowing gigantic bubbles. Once the confounded stuff plastered itself all over my face and old Wolkie threw me out of class. I succeeded in convincing my mates that I wasn’t a serious fellow,

The good reverend made us split our sides laughing, without intending to. When a child lost his place in the text he uttered a Tarzan-like cry, aya ya weeee. Holding his middle and index finger together to form a short bony stick he woke up a drowsy child with a flick on the ear, These weird habits made him memorable and with him the scriptural stories also became memorable.

My affection for my Hebrew teachers and my amusement at their antics conveyed an image, not of people to be looked up to and respected, but as funny characters. My opinion of the teaching profession was very poor.

I confess, however, that I didn’t have a high opinion of myself either. I won’t burden you with the story of how that came about. It’s just a fact of my life. I grew up with a very poor self-image. I couldn't see myself succeeding in any profession besides the teaching profession.

In the 9 years of working in the profession, however, my opinion underwent a change. I began to appreciate the high standard of learning demanded of a teacher and I forgot the reason that made me choose the profession. I forgot to be a weird and funny character and tried too hard to be an educator. Paradoxically this was my downfall. I forgot that the thing which makes a subject memorable and beloved is the memory of a teacher who was amusing.

Had my opinion of teachers been higher I would never have joined the profession? My low self-image carried me into the profession of which I held a low opinion, and it made me leave the profession, when I realized that I didn’t have enough intelligence to acquire the knowledge it takes to be a good teacher.

Knowledge is attained by the individual who seeks it and that individual is one in whom a memorable teacher aroused the love of knowledge.

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