April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I was recently asked what I love about my job. Having been an educator for 33 years, I had to pause for a moment before responding to the question. Although a number of responses came to mind, they each had one thing in common: reading. I love reading out loud to the classes. I love bringing a story to life. Reading a story, pausing to ask questions or answer questions, sharing my connections with the text, and then having those few students come back the next day or weeks later with a connection to the story brings me joy.

I vividly remember spending hours in the local public library as a child “making friends” with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can put myself back in time to fifth grade with Mrs. Bloom. We sat in our wooden chairs at our wooden and metal desks listening to her read The Little Prince. These two characters and books have been part of my life for over 40 years, sometimes by my doing and sometimes by coincidence.

A bit more than three decades ago, I participated in my first college graduation ceremony. It was a sunny day in May at Cook College in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We wore green caps and gowns. As gifts to the graduates, we each received a tree sapling and a copy of The Little Prince. The people at the college had no idea who had read this book or heard this story before. I brought the copy home and felt it was time for getting reacquainted.

Getting a bit more current, 10 years ago I had the opportunity to finish my doctoral degree and attend the commencement ceremony. There were two things holding me back. The first being that the graduation was in Minnesota, and the second being my father’s failing health. With encouragement, I went to the ceremony along with a childhood friend school, one of my children, my older brother and another colleague. After the weekend, we drove from Minneapolis to Chicago. Along the way we meandered purposefully, stopping at sites related to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Although they were done with this indulgence by the time we reached Chicago, I was invigorated. A photo of us outside one of the Wilders’ homes is still a dear artifact of this journey.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I spent hours outside in the mud. Within the woods of the Catskills, I found a rock and water was spewing out from a crack. After a good amount of digging, dragging rocks and clearing debris, a stream and short waterfall began to form. Over time, it became a shallow, clear and cold flowing stream. I snapped a photo and posted it to social media with the caption “Channeling my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder.” It was work, it was fulfilling, and it was hours of toil filled with contemplation and reflection. Without a doubt, childhood reading fueled my connection to nature and helped transform a toilsome activity into a fulfilling experience.

Now let’s come full-circle to the present. As an educator at Yeshivat He’Atid, I engage in regular read-alouds with students. My focus this year is on reading related to growth from tragedy. I began this school year reading “The Man in the Red Bandana” and will conclude with a book by Simon Wiesenthal. Along with the teachers, we have selected stories for read alouds; some I will read and others the teachers will read to their students. I can only hope that one character will touch the students, that one character will become their lifelong friend, even if they don’t know that right now. That is the wonder of storytelling.

Am Yisrael are people of the book; we are people of stories, commentaries, songs and psalms. It is not a coincidence that our Torah is the word of God written down. Perhaps there is a natural connection to want to be engaged with words. To quote Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” When asked about my next career (as in “what I want to do when I grow up”), I can honestly say I would be a librarian. Yes, if not an educator, then a librarian, in the “old fashioned” sense of the word. The person you ask for help when you have an assignment. The person who finds you a book and who knows just the right one for you.

To conclude with some advice and a blessing: Read to your children, and talk to them about the books you share. Model for them how to connect to stories. What do you learn from your books? What inspires you? Let them know. May we all enjoy the privilege of finding the right words that speak to us. May our children experience the power of storytelling so that they grab the right stories and never let them go.

By Dr. Hope Blecher


Dr. Hope Blecher is a middle school teacher and curriculum coordinator for grades 3-7 at Yeshivat He’Atid.

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