Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Growing up, I hated books.
Okay, so “hate” is a strong word. But as a kid, I was never fond of reading. Teachers would define me as “not a strong reader.” l could read, but somehow, when there was a long page with a bunch of words and nothing else to look at, my mind would go blank. On every line, each sentence would blur and betray me.
Soon, compared to other kids in my grade, my reading was much slower, and reading aloud became a nightmare. Asking for help from my teachers came to no avail. Many considered my aversion to reading pure laziness, since I was a stronger writer and had no trouble elsewhere in school. I was told to try harder, or manage my time better. But that didn’t help.
Other teachers took a different approach, and reminded me that maybe it was what I was reading that needed a change, insisting that before I read something required for class, I should first read something I would enjoy. The problem with that was, I had no idea what I liked to read (other than comic books, which those teachers did not endorse). As time passed, and my reading skills made me feel further behind, reading for school continued to make me question my own intelligence.
Soon, my dislike of reading started showing up in other parts of my life – including my Jewish learning.
As an active member of my Jewish community, I loved going to Sunday school every week. (I really did!) I loved to hear the Torah stories and loved learning Hebrew. As I got older, however, my interest began to slow when Jewish learning became focused on book recommendations given to me by my teachers or rabbi. Some of these well-meaning adults were generous enough to buy books for me, and those books piled up on my shelf.
Then something happened: College.
In college, I had no choice but to read. Therefore, I had no choice but to figure out how to read my way. I got creative. Instead of blocking out time to read for two hours, and then being disappointed when I could not focus for more than five minutes, I learned to love and appreciate the five minutes I allowed myself to focus on the pages. Instead of being upset with myself for reading at a slower pace than many, I had to learn to be comfortable with appreciating literature at my own pace. Most importantly, I learned that reading does not have to be silent.
Audiobooks were so helpful when I needed to get my reading in more quickly. That’s when I picked up my favorite new reading habit: listening to an audiobook while reading, which helped me keep my place and get back on track if my mind wandered, or my eyes started to jumble around words. If I was reading Shakespeare, I could watch a very closely adapted movie or play while following along in a book. I found that my new tools and tricks were unlike what my teachers had taught me in school but were practices that helped revive my passion for English, and even gave me the confidence to add an English minor to my studies. It also impacted my Jewish knowledge: I finally read the Jewish books gifted to me so long ago.
I hope more teachers, educators, and friends realize that the way that you read does not have to be the way everyone reads, and that the important part is that knowledge and stories are being shared. It feels like a really important Jewish lesson, too. As “People of the Book,” we should honor all the different ways to connect with reading.
Even though I still feel slower than others when reading, and even now sometimes feel anxiety when picking up a large book, I also know that no matter how long a book takes me, I will be proud to have taken the time to reach the end on my own terms… and when I see someone else struggling, I can encourage them to discover their own path toward learning, and support them in their journey.