Last week, I graduated from a two-year adult Jewish education class. My Jewish education growing up was pretty limited, but I was assured this class was a great place for beginners. Topics included life cycles and holidays, basic concepts like God, mitzvah, suffering, and Jewish history and ethics.
I have to admit it has been a love/frustration relationship. I say frustration rather than hate because frustration can lead to invention, self-awareness, inner strength, and learning, all qualities I hold in high regard—and that I cannot encourage my children to embrace if I cannot embrace them myself.
I haven’t taken any form of class since 2006. I had forgotten it requires skills that had been long since been buried under the day to day tasks of being a stay-at-home parent: skills like listening listening to other people’s opinions, analyzing them, and deciding if you agree. Skills like knowing how to respectfully share your opinion if you don’t agree with them.
Solidifying my opinion about a specific topic is a skill I realized I don’t have much practice with. I like to fly under the radar. I’m a middle child who tends to see both sides of every argument and I rarely take a strong stance on anything. “I don’t care” and “I don’t know” are staples of my vocabulary. After two years, I don’t think I’ve improved on this point in an outward way, but internally I’ve begun to take a side and have a stance more often. I’m more likely to engage my children when they ask me questions about things they are learning in school. I ask them to explain what they do know and what they think about the information they’ve been given. I’ll ask if they’re interested in learning more on that topic. Sometimes the answer is yes, but often they are just interested in sharing their day with me.
There were a wide variety of people in my class and I have to admit I was often embarrassed at how little I knew. I was a a theatre major, so reading and re-reading a piece of text and dissecting each and every line felt fairly normal.
However, I was rarely asked to do the dissecting. I am the note taker. I am the one who has the extra pencil on me. So I found myself listening and rarely talking in class, frantically taking notes trying to keep track of names and thoughts. I would go home after 2 hours of class and my husband would ask what we talked about that evening.
Like a surly teenager I would answer “I dunno, stuff.” Two days later, something that had been discussed in class would click and I’d desperately want to read more about it. I’d ask my husband what he knew about a topic we had talked about in class and suddenly after 12 years of marriage we had something other than kids and work to discuss. Sometimes it was an equal discussion, and sometimes I was able to provide him with new information. After taking the class,. I have begun to be able to think about things that are important to me in a Jewish context: my health, the environment, how we take care of ourselves and our community.
Dedicating two hours a week for two years just to myself required me to acknowledge my need for self-care. It reminded me that I like to think about things beyond day-to-day life. It was an opportunity for me to think about my health, the environment, how I take care of myself, my family and my community. I discovered things about myself, such as how I best learn. The class had no homework, but I found if I read the material ahead of time I felt more comfortable in class. I still didn’t really participate, but I felt like I was getting more out of others’ discussion.
It was easy to forget that learning is lifelong and sometimes difficult things have the greatest rewards—but I learned this valuable lesson over two years.