May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I have often said that in teaching, you get more than you give, if you can learn to listen.

My students have taught me about their educational needs, about their emotional needs and

about how I can best help them, because I’ve learned to listen.

So, I’ve taught them and they have taught me.

I can say the same about writing for The Jewish Link.

“Hey, aren’t you?”

I submitted my first piece to The Jewish Link in April of 2016. The piece was called, “I’m A Triathlete and I Don’t Roll on Shabbos.” I started blogging when my son Eric was born in 2005 to chronicle his development and in 2010, I began blogging about my triathlon experiences.

(https://davidroher140point6.blogspot.com/2016/10/)

Blogging is like making pizza for teenagers. You create it, they digest it, but you rarely ever hear

if they really liked it. It is rare to hear any feedback if it was any “good.”

When one writes for The Jewish Link, you know if you connect with your audience, because

when they see you on the street, they will tell you. Case in point, six months ago I walked into Lake Como Pizza across the street from my son’s high school and a group of MTA students asked me,

“Are you the Ironman guy from The Jewish Link?”

(And how do you respond to a question like that?)

I’ve learned from reading the biographies of rock musicians that you can play down who you

are, but then you look stuck up or indifferent to your readers.

You can start talking about writing but then you look like a braggart.

You can just say, “Yes,” but then you look like a stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, Nerf herder!

Or, you can just say, “Yup, that’s me. Thank you for reading my stuff.”

That’s the one I go with … and I had to make a conscious effort to respond this way.

Kinda like Arnold in the first “Terminator” movie when he chooses a response from a drop-down

menu. Just to be clear, I really enjoy when people ask me, so if you think you’ve seen me, come

say hi and ask.

My challenge is it’s my natural inclination to talk without listening, to just say everything I’m

thinking.

But I’m teaching myself to listen.

Part of it is my OCD. My wife Janet says that I’m getting better at reading the room and listening

instead of bludgeoning people with a tirade of words. She must be right. Those MTA students

asked me to take a selfie with them after I responded.

Page one of my latest 15 page term paper.

It was much more of a conscious effort to take my writing from a summary of my race to a

multiple edition narrative that has brought the reader along with me as I swam, biked and rode

140.6 miles. As difficult as it was to chronicle an Ironman Triathlon or a marathon, sharing one

of my family narratives was much harder. I can throw ideas on a page like a Jackson Pollock

painting in 10 minutes, but then it takes me six days of moving sentences around…

(Like Tetris?)

…like packing the family luggage into a Honda Accord for a trip to Great wolf Lodge for me to

get the narrative just right. To write an individual, stand-alone 800-word story with a hook, a

narrative and a meaningful conclusion is way harder for me. It requires the writer “to listen.”

After my 2016 submission to The Jewish Link, I sent in my triathlon or marathon stories

whenever I had something interesting to share. It wasn’t until 2021 when I started to

contemplate returning to school one more time…

(After you vowed that you would never do that again),

…this time, for my PhD. I considered what writing for The Link had done for me. As a

candidate for a PhD in history, I have to write a 15-20-page term paper a week, for eight weeks

with every class. I firmly believe after 18 months of courses at the PhD level the only reason I

have a GPA above the mandatory 3.0 is The Jewish Link. For the two years prior to my

application to graduate school, The Jewish Link became my writer’s laboratory where week

after week I could “Frankenstein” my thoughts together.

Writers do more than listen, we read. My parents get some of the credit for giving me a

love of books. Their home is lined with bookshelves. Some shelves are packed in like the Cairo

Geniza, lined with books, two and three rows deep. As a kid, I traveled on Shabbos. First, I went to Alaska with “Call of the Wild” and to the Caribbean with “Treasure Island.” Stephen King took me to Derry, Maine, to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado and in search of The Dark Tower with “The Gunslinger.” In high-school I went on the road with rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and RUSH—all the while, sitting on the same spot on the family sofa on Friday night.

My publisher, Moshe Kinderlehrer, who has let me, almost, every Sunday morning drag

him around Teaneck for a four- to six-mile run, had a hand in this growth. It was Moshe who

challenged me to write 800 words a week, every week. He was curious how long it would take

me to run out of things to write about.

(Two and a half years later, I’m still meeting that weekly challenge.)

Even when Moshe let me off the hook with the “get out of jail free card” of taking time off, I

kept at it.

Finally, it was my 11th and 12th grade English teacher, Harriet Levitt, who taught me

that Shakespeare wrote in stage directions to help the actors tell his story. Then she forced me

to present a persuasive argument in front of class. Faced with the challenge of doing a “one

man show,” I added a counter argument while turning my body to face where I had just stood.

That is where the parenthetical voice inside my head comes from.

(You mean me?)

Yes, you.

(So, I’m here to help tell your story?)

Zeh ha-emet.

(Even now as you race towards the 5 p.m. deadline, you are doing the “Word Tetris” thing.)

It’s just the way I stitch sentences together and I’m OK with it because The Jewish Link became the place where I could push myself as a writer to bring my readers along with me as I have learned to listen.


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected].

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