Parents and teachers really can’t always tell what their students are learning from them, and from the world around them.
Certainly, in this era of metrics for absolutely everything, we can measure and report data, but we can’t really know what has penetrated children’s hearts and souls.
That’s why Irene Bolton, the director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth Or, a Reform shul in Washington Township, was so gratified when one of the students in the synagogue’s religious school took to heart what he had learned about loving kindness.
|Seth Ratushewitz, left, and Jay Glaser|
Jay Glaser taught religious school students about creating mitzvah projects. He had a heart attack about three weeks ago, and Seth Ratushewitz created a mitzvah project to help him. He will focus on bikkur cholim – broadly defined as caring for those who are ill.
Seth, a seventh-grader at the George G. White Middle School in Hillsdale, said that when he heard about Glaser’s illness, “it was kind of ironic, because I was thinking about what my mitzvah project should be.” The project is part of his preparation to mark his becoming a bar mitzvah, which is set for January 4.
Seth’s mitzvah project is hands-on. He and his parents cook and deliver meals, snacks, and gifts to Glaser; often, Seth also spends time visiting with his teacher, who lives in Park Ridge. So far, they have made brisket, meatballs, and chicken. “He hasn’t really been into cooking before this,” his father, Phil, said, but Seth’s desire to help has taken him in new directions.
Seth began his project by emailing the other students and the teachers at Beth Or, and they have chipped in to help; he has sent another email now that school has reopened.
His first email included information about his teacher’s health status, and also why he cares so much. “He is a great teacher and taught us Judaism in a fun way that really helped me to learn,” he wrote. After giving an example of what he had learned – why the people were called Hebrews, then Israelites, and finally Jews – he concluded: “He really cares about us, and this is our chance to show how much we care about him.”
Seth’s response was driven partly by his abstract understanding of the importance of helping others, and partly by his feeling for his teacher. “Moreh Glaser stood out from all my other teachers,” he said. “He is funny; he taught us in a good way.” (Moreh is Hebrew for teacher.)
To Bolton, Seth’s project showcases the importance of two things – education and community.
Glaser “is real,” she said. “He is beloved. He has been at Beth Or for years. He loves his Judaism, and he wants to share it with the kids. We say that we look for a charismatic adult in a kid’s life – that’s him.” Glaser is now retired from the business world; even before that, when he held a full-time job, he would arrange to leave every Tuesday afternoon for religious school.
“He was a real proponent of ‘You’re a mensch. Do a mitzvah.’ And now he’s a mitzvah project himself,” she said.
Glaser most likely will be back at school in six weeks.
“One of the most important aspects of doing mitzvot in the approach to the bar mitzvah year is understanding what it really means to reach and become involved,” Bolton said. “It’s that the family also reaches out and gets involved, not just the students.
“In this case, it’s there.
“Seth loves Moreh Glaser, and he was about to put into his note why, and he gave an example,” she continued.
“I was crying when I read it. How many times do we see the Jewish values that we work so hard to teach – how many times do we turn around and see them live it?
“That’s what community is all about.
“In Temple Beth Or, we are giraffes. We stick our necks out. We make a difference.
“Here is a family that made a difference.”