May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As her class settled into their seats, Dr. Wiesen started distributing the study guide for her latest American history test. The test was the second of the year, so the class knew a bit about what to expect. This was why many students immediately began searching their packets for a specific section.

“Thirty-five dates! Fifteen names! How are we supposed to memorize all of that?!” This concern was echoed by half the class while the other half remained calm. As the muttering and complaining started to get louder, Dr. Wiesen quieted the class down. “Ladies, we talked about this last time. History is half information and half ideas. As much as I would love to test you on ideas only, I need to make sure you know important facts as well. I’m sorry if that’s challenging to some of you but not everything can be easy.” Shifra’s hand shot into the air, and she immediately began to speak, not waiting to be called upon. “But I’m terrible at memorizing! It’s not fair!” “Me too!” announced Rivka. Starting to feel frustrated, Dr. Wiesen shut down the complaints. “If you’d like to discuss something personal, please see me after class. Now let’s get back to learning.”

Both Shifra and Rivka knew it was pointless to speak with Dr. Wiesen today. She would likely brush them off with some comment like, “life isn’t fair.” Instead, the girls decided to ask their parents to reach out. So, that evening, Shifra and Rivka’s parents sent separate emails to Dr. Wiesen, asking her to ease up on the memorization. “If a student has a particularly difficult time memorizing information,” wrote Shifra’s mother, “how does it benefit that student to be tested on names and dates?” “Unless memorizing strategies are part of the curriculum, all this memorization is simply testing Rivka’s memory, not her mastery of the ideas learned in class,” argued Rivka’s father. “This puts Rivka at a disadvantage from the start, and benefits students with stronger memories who may not understand the ideas as well as others.”

Upon reading these emails, Dr. Wiesen felt a number of emotions. She felt insulted by parents questioning her decisions and frustrated that memorizing continued to be an issue. However, Dr. Wiesen also felt doubt. Was it possible that these parents were right? Was she in fact being unfair to Shifra, Rivka and other students with weaker memories? With these mixed feelings, Dr. Wieder wasn’t ready to reply. Instead, she wrote back thanking the parents for the emails, saying she would get back to them soon.

The next day, Dr. Wiesen found herself in the hallway, supervising snacktime. A few minutes in, a voice rose above the others, yelling. “Can you please stop! It’s so annoying! Now I can’t sit here!” Dr. Wiesen walked in the direction of the voice and saw Kayla Steiner storming away in the opposite direction. Dr. Wiesen walked quickly to catch up to Kayla, and reached her just as she turned the corner. “Kayla, is everything okay?” Kayla looked up with an annoyed look on her face. “Leeya keeps singing during snack time, and it’s really annoying! She knows I don’t like it, so why can’t she just stop!” Dr. Wiesen didn’t know exactly what to say, so just told Kayla she would talk to Leeya and see what she can do. Kayla thanked her teacher and they went their separate ways.

Later that afternoon, Dr. Wiesen was working in her office, which she shared with Mrs. Bader, one of the Chumash teachers. Mrs. Bader was also Kayla’s advisor, so Dr. Wiesen told her what happened and asked for advice. Mrs. Bader told Dr. Wiesen that Kayla had a noise sensitivity. Kayla could be bothered by other people singing, chewing loudly or blowing their noses, among other things. This wasn’t really something Kayla could help, and it occasionally caused her to overreact. Kayla’s parents had told Mrs. Bader that she could explain this to any students with whom Kayla got annoyed. Dr. Wieder thanked her officemate for the information and went to find Leeya.

Dr. Wieder explained to Leeya that sometimes people have weaknesses that can’t be simply overcome. Kayla had that challenge with certain sounds. She suggested that Leeya try not to sing around Kayla, which would be setting her up to get upset. “I get it,” said Leeya “It’s like testing students on material they have no way of knowing. Doing so is just setting them up to fail.” Dr. Wieder smiled. “Leeya, thank you so much! You have no idea how helpful you just were!” She went straight to her office to email Kayla and Rivka’s parents.

Parshat Kedoshim includes the commandment of “Lifnei iver lo titen michshol, not to put a stumbling block in front of someone who is blind.” This mitzvah is not taken literally, instead it teaches us not to give people bad advice, or put them in positions to fail. By using the analogy of a blind person, Hashem is telling us that many people have ways in which they are “blind,” unable to avoid the challenges right in front of them. Our job is to accept this possibility. We do so by not judging others for their weaknesses, and by not putting others in positions in which their weaknesses will cause them to fall.


Yair Daar is the director of Student Life at Bicultural Hebrew Academy High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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