by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –
Fellow educators, bear with me. I’m about to drop some #truth that, if taken out of context, may not be particularly appreciated. So let me give it with the disclaimers that I love having a job teaching Jewish teens, that I believe in the power of education and the intrinsic value of educators, and that my calling is to share my love of Jewish content and heritage with others. With all that in mind, let the following be known:
I have nothing to teach.
Cue the gasps – what could that possibly mean? Judaism is a wisdom and faith tradition with literally thousands of years of voices, history, texts, and conflicts to choose from. If someone wants to teach Judaism, they aren’t bound by language, or topic, or methodology. Jewish education has literally been the maker-space for paired learning [shoutout to hevruta study!]. And while I do subscribe to the classic educator trope that I learn more from my students than I could ever truly hope to teach them, I also have a strong enough ego to say that I definitely have wisdom to share, a pretty strong grasp on my content knowledge, and presumably more life experience than my typically adolescent learners.
I spend my free time reading about ritual and Israel and history, and lurking on social media debates about best practices for recruiting families into Jewish educational spaces, and have been known to randomly comment on the implicit pedagogy of public spaces. Yes, I’m super fun to hang out with, and yes, I clearly have what to share with others.
So how can I say I have nothing to teach?
It’s ironic that I’m typing this, and you’re presumably engaging with it, via the internet. Because that’s the reality we live in – anything that anyone could want to know, they can find themselves. You can Google me right now, and whatever backstory I’m choosing to share here in this space can be eclipsed by blog posts that I wrote as an angsty teen, photos of my dogs (seriously, check those out), and big brother-esque notes about all of the numerous addresses I’ve called home over the last few years. And when it comes to Jewish content knowledge, multiply that times a million. Thanks to innovations like Sefaria, entire chunks of the Jewish canon are available online, for free. You can find podcasts or YouTube videos on any topic imaginable. Anything one of my students wants to learn, they can find, without any need for the intermediary of a flesh and blood teacher.
The virtual world has the what covered, and often also the why. With renowned Jewish thinkers posting and speaking prolifically, meta questions are both asked and answered. Even interactions can happen online – virtual classes, study sessions, and 1:1 learning opportunities abound. And to be clear, I think all of this is amazing. I love that learning is this accessible, and that it’s so easy to access all of the above.
But if everything is available literally at the push of the button, what do I have to teach?
I can’t offer content alone. I may be able to offer it in a more entertaining way, but that’s not enough to make Jewish learning a compelling choice. I often say that what coming to my classes/programs/events offers is community, but even that’s changing – since I moved, some of my best friends are ones that I’m virtually connected to, and we keep in touch without skipping a beat, despite the hundreds of miles between us.
As an educator, the most compelling thing that i can offer my learners is myself.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said that what the Jewish people need isn’t textbooks, it’s text people. And I so believe that to be true. As an educator, I’m at my best when I bring all of myself – not just the content, but my love of the content, not just the rituals but my connection to them and challenges with them, and the trifecta that is the relationship between educator/learner/content. So I may not have the monopoly on content, or on methodology. But like all of us, I have what to give, and I’m so honored to give of myself to my learners.
How do you share yourself with your students?
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath is a Jewish educator passionate about connecting with Jewish teens and emerging adults, talking about Israel, history, philanthropy, and food, and sharing meaningful icebreakers as often as she can. By day, she works in the Cleveland Jewish community and is in the process of pursuing an EdD in Jewish Educational Leadership.