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Middah (character trait) focus: Loving My Teens & All My Students For Who They Are

Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom.  For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for me, it is a time to actively reflect on different middot (character traits) that will lead me to my own rebirth.

Over the years I have been transformed by the young people that have touched my life; each and every one of them added depth to my life.  Somehow they trusted me and as their trust grew so did my ability to connect with them.  What I love about all of the children and teens that I have known over the years is that as long as I was willing to listen, I could build relationships with them.  I am so humbled by the different connections I have experienced.

Back in 2002, when I started working at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, I had no idea how to work with preteen girls.  But I didn’t actually realize that I didn’t have the skills, I faked it and somehow with each success I grew.  I loved the girls that were to become my Rosh Hodesh Girls (a group that met during the first days of the new moon each month); my life was better because of the work I did with them for several years.  The work transformed me and made me more aware of what it means to be a teacher, a mentor, woman, and a friend.  I wish I could thank each and every one of the young women today, but I have lost contact over the years.  Sigh.

Why am I reflecting back to my Rosh Hodesh Girls now?

Loved my time with Lucy Heller, Karen Judin, Rachel Rheingold - shown with Chava Gal-Or (from left to right)

Loved my time with Lucy Heller, Karen Judin, and Rachel Rheingold – shown with Chava Gal-Or (from left to right)

Today, three amazing young women took me to lunch.  Two years ago, I met them when I began working at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson.  Two of them taught Israeli dance and one was a madricha, (a teaching assistant); all three of them were giving and wise with their students and their friends too.  Within a very short time of meeting these three teens, I grew to like them very much; they became people that I now consider to be friends.  While I have always treasured the relationships I have built with my students, it was my relationship with the now college students from Adat Shalom that opened me up to really building meaningful relationships with those that were once simply my students.

One of the things I treasured most about my time with the Temple Emanu-El teens today was when they told me how I impacted them.  What I know now is that I touched their lives because I respected them as individuals and as teens; I listened to them and appreciated whatever they brought to the table; I trusted them to be leaders.  The bottom-line is that I do not believe in coercive leadership; I believe in building partnerships.

So often I work with rabbis, teachers, and parents that feel the need to tell our teens and all of our children not only how to walk in the world. but how to use their minds.  I don’t feel this way.  I want to open a door or a window.  I want to share the tools I treasure and the knowledge that has guided me throughout life; I want to give those I work with the room to play and to experience Judaism in a way that is comfortable for them.  My goal is always to hear both what those I work with are saying and what they are not yet saying; I want all the children, teens, and adults that I work to be comfortable with me and the gifts I have to offer.  My door is open.

Today I realized that all three teens were not just my co-workers, but my friends.  May they always remember that my door will be open to them.  I have grown to love them not simply as I love all my students and families; I love them as the beautiful souls that they are; I love them as my friends.

I will always be grateful to the Adat Shalom girls and the families that trusted me so many years ago.  Without them, I would not be the person I am.

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