Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I have a weak knee, which may someday need to be replaced. I know the single most important thing I can do about this weakness is to strengthen my quadriceps — the muscles around the joint — through regular exercise. This will improve my chances to forestall, or even forego, knee replacement surgery.
I started thinking about my knee toward the end of December, while writing report card comments. In order to make specific suggestions for improvement, I issued “challenges for next semester” to students. For as long as I’ve been teaching, I’ve encouraged students to focus on the process of acquiring Torah knowledge; a student who struggles does not possess an inherent weakness, rather an opportunity to learn. My aim is to challenge students to read and analyze texts, to express their ideas and interpretations in writing and art, and to strengthen their commitment to the study of Torah.
I view my weak knee, undoubtedly the result of a combination of genetics and injury during a short-lived track career in high school, as a challenge to develop greater physical strength. Similarly, my students’ adolescent brains, which continue to develop for up to a decade after they leave my classroom, thrive on intellectual challenges.
Even my middle-aged brain possesses the potential to grow if engaged.
One year ago, I accepted my younger daughter’s suggestion to complete Pop Sugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge. As you may be able to see from the photograph, this list contained 50 categories, including a trilogy, for a total of 52 books in as many weeks. After submitting report cards to the registrar, I managed to surpass my reading goal by two books.
On December 31st, my daughter and I sat down together and mapped out our plan to accomplish the 2016 Reading Challenge, which consists of 40 categories and only 42 books. Undertaking this challenge as partners, we’re committed to keeping our minds nimble, to enriching our vocabularies, to engaging with ideas through words on a page.
Today is the first day of second semester, and I’m excited to recommend books to my students from the 2016 Reading Challenge list. I hope by sharing my challenges — both the intellectual and physical ones — I will serve as a role model for my students, by being a teacher who also strives to be a lifelong learner.
And I hope the cross-country runners will teach me how to strengthen my quads.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.