Most of my friends are shocked when they find out I still go to Hebrew School. They are even more surprised to hear that I actually look forward to my classes each week. I explain that this is more than your average Hebrew School; our classes cover so many interesting and relevant topics, and our teachers truly value our opinions in class discussions. But, more than that, it is the people who draw me back week after week. Each of my classmates has made me laugh, reconsider my views, get riled up in a debate, and see Judaism in a new light. Thanks for being the best Hebrew School family a girl could ask for.
Although it was mandated from the moment of my birth, and the birth of every Jewish baby, that I would spend a lifetime questioning, analyzing, and never quite understanding my religion, I think these high school years might be filled with some of the hardest questions. Is there someone tallying up my “mitzvah points,” like the points awarded to each Hogwarts House in Harry Potter? Do I want to return to the days of sacrificing animals in the Temple, and would that be good for the Jewish community today? Do I have a
right as a Jew to criticize Israel’s policies more than a non-Jew? And does God really look like King Arthur?
In high school, we no longer just accept cookie cutter lessons from our earlier years. Now, we want to test each theory, play devil’s advocate and develop our own interpretations. And Shoresh has provided the perfect setting to do that. I cannot think of a single class that I have taken here that has not been discussion-based or where the teacher did not want to hear what we, the students, had to say.
In all honesty, I could not really tell you what most of our conversations were about. But in the end, that is not what is important. It is the ability to look at a passage from the Tanach and analyze it like I would Shakespeare’s Hamlet in English class. It is the ability to form my own opinion about current events surrounding Israel and defend it in a debate. It is the ability to read a Psalm during Shabbat services and
gain insight into the multiple personalities of God. And finally, it is the ability to be an active and proud member of the Jewish community. Those are the important things.
A Set of Skills
When we studied the Book of Judges in 10th grade, we read many stories of ancient Israel – stories of wars and their heroes and of conflict between monarchists and supporters of other political systems. One story that stuck with me was the story of Abimelech. In this story, Jotham stood on a mountain over Shechem and delivered a parable.
Why is this story relevant? Why should we care? Well, it reminds me of a few non-biblical stories. One comes from Hamlet, in which Laertes rushes into Elsinore shouting, "To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!" in his determination to avenge his father's death. Behind him rush the people of Denmark, chanting, "Laertes shall be king! Laertes king!" The people have thrown their support to Laertes without
truly considering why, and Laertes is ready to kill. This leads directly to the play's tragic ending, in which four major characters, including both Laertes and Hamlet, are killed.
Another story is that of how Hitler came to power. A third example is the case of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
The lesson of Jotham's parable holds true: when a leader is selected not on merit or worth but because of that leader's treachery or because that leader appears bad but preferable to the alternatives, dangerous consequences ensue.
Not only would I not know the story of Abimelech if I were not a Shoresh student, but I would also lack the analytical skills necessary to see the connections and the potency of Jotham's parable had it not been for the many enlightening discussions we have had at Shoresh.
Shoresh provides what a religious school is supposed to provide – knowledge of Tanach, of the Siddur, of our culture and traditions – and does so amazingly well. But Shoresh goes above and beyond that, giving students a set of skills that will be helpful in all settings, academic and otherwise.
Questioning is the Backbone of Judaic Studies
If there is one thing that I have learned from all my years of study at Shoresh, it is that questioning is the backbone of Judaic studies. We would not progress as a religion if we did not question every little thing in the Tanach. It is what the students in yeshivot in Israel do for eleven hours a day, it is what rabbis do when they prepare their weekly sermons, and finally, it is what we have done in Shoresh for the past five years. And, I have to say, I have learned a ton as a result of it.
Shoresh has taught me to question everything I read -- whether it is an article written by a famous and revered rabbi, or a simple passage from the Tanach. What makes Shoresh so special is that we were not just asked questions by our teachers, but rather challenged to ask our own questions, and encouraged to continue discussions relating to those questions, even if they took up the entire class period.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at Shoresh and could not have asked for a better Jewish education.
Cultivating Jewish Relationships
Buber believes that in every real interpersonal relationship, there is a bit of holiness, a spark. This is what has kept me coming back to Shoresh, every Sunday from 6 to 9, when I could have been doing homework or sleeping. Instead, I am cultivating these I-Thou relationships with my classmates and teachers.
In Hebrew, Shoresh means root. In keeping with the name, I have always felt that the Shoresh community has provided a root to continue living a Jewish life. My teachers and classmates have continued to amaze and inspire me over the course of the 5 years we have spent together.