Why Leaving Class Angry is Good and Important
There are times, more frequently than I’d like to admit, that I leave Shoresh angry. It is not every week, but it does happen. To
be fair, it doesn’t take much to make me angry. While leaving class fuming seems like a bad thing, it is not. In fact it’s both good and important because it means that someone disagreed with me or challenged my views or values. The angrier I leave, the more closely I hold the conviction that was challenged.
My public high school is not very ideologically diverse. People share the same political views and agree on the vast majority of ideas. Here at Shoresh, there is not unanimity on issues related to religion, Judaism, God, tradition, or Israel.
This past year, I probably left the most angry after a discussion that was not directly related to the curriculum. During the
discussions of plans for Passover, someone mentioned that she puts an orange on her family’s seder plate. This tradition stems
from a possibly apocryphal story in which a rabbi said that women had as much of a place on the bema as an orange on the seder
plate. As a result, some people have adopted the orange as a part of their seder plate.
The teacher, much of the class, and I got in an argument about whether or not the orange had a place on the seder plate. The
teacher's argument was three fold. She argued that the orange dignified remarks that may not have actually been made, but are
incredibly disrespectful, whatever your beliefs are on the level of participation women should have in Judaism. She also argued that she served as her own orange, that she was the proof that women belong on the bema, so an orange was unnecessary. Her last
argument was that the orange would lose its symbolic value as it was passed on through generations as people would forget the
purpose of the orange.
Unsurprisingly, I disagreed. I felt that the introduction of the orange and its eventual loss of symbolic value reflects what has
happened as women have gained full participation in Judaism in some communities. Women’s participation started out as a
completely foreign concept, but people began to accept it. Women began to participate in some places despite the outcries from
others, and slowly, just as the orange becomes normal to new generations, so too, I hope, will women’s participation in Judaism
become seen as “normal”. The orange is about more than the one person who chooses to put the orange on the seder table, but
about the change it represents.
That being said, the seder plate at my seder does not include an orange and I was not really arguing that everyone needs to
include an orange. I was arguing for a flexibility of tradition to allow for positive change in a way that is meaningful and positive to
individuals, families, and communities. Thus, I left angry. My opinions were fundamentally challenged, I was forced to defend
them, and I left riled up. I had been introduced to a new idea, formulated an opinion, listened to other opinions, and defended my
own opinion all within a small part of a class.
The informal and personal way in which opinions and ideas were able to flow candidly in the classroom are a clear demonstration of the Shoresh commitment to teaching more than just the material, but teaching interest. To make me angry about a subject is to
make me care about a subject. I never thought I would ever care so much about an orange, but, here we are.
I would like to thank all of the Shoresh teachers for exposing me to new material, new opinions; and most importantly for making
me leave angry.
To See Torah in Different Ways
“Stand by the roads and consider, inquire about ancient paths: Which is the road to happiness?” (Jeremiah 6:16).
G-d spoke these words to Jeremiah to be passed on to the people of Israel, but I think they are applicable today.
Through my studies at Shoresh, I have learned to look at the teachings in this way: observe the past and learn from
it. Even if we can’t all agree on who wrote the Torah, I think we can all agree that we are meant to learn from it.
Shoresh has taught me that it is acceptable, even celebrated, for people to see the Torah in different ways. I’ve
found that I think of the Torah as a compilation of stories that are meant to teach us about our past. They teach us
how to interact with other people, how to interact with G-d, and, generally, how to be a good person. So I see the
Torah and the writings as the “ancient paths” that will show us the “road to happiness” for the future.
In a broader sense, this passage from Jeremiah relates to our lives outside of Torah. What does happiness mean
in this context? I believe this happiness can refer to a personal sense of fulfillment or to a sense of success for
humankind. If we think of happiness in the personal sense, everyone has a different view of what happiness is and
therefore a different road to achieving it. Each person will have to consider different paths already taken or not
taken. Which one is right for you? But if we think of happiness in the context of the world, this is where the study of
history becomes important. Why, for example, is it imperative that everyone learn about the Holocaust? So that we
don’t repeat it.
From my time at Shoresh, I have learned that the only way to find the road to happiness for everyone is to consider
all those ancient paths that have either led to success or to failure. In order to ensure a happy, healthy, and safe
future, we have to build upon and learn from the decisions made by our ancestors.
I have come to appreciate the rocky history of our religion and our people. We have endured so much, yet we
thrive today. I can now call upon teachings from the Mishnah when confronted with a question on Jewish law. In a
way, Shoresh has showed me some of the ancient paths I will use to pave my own road to happiness, whatever that
will mean in the future.