Monthly Archives: January 2013

Blogging My Work on Behalf of the Jewish People

SociallyGold-Banner-3I wrote a guest blog for SociallyGold, entitled Why I Blog.  Here is a summary of what you will find there:

“My work is connected; I started blogging to share my connection to the work. . . . I educate on behalf of the Jewish people.  My blog helps me articulate this underlying drive. . . . For years, I hesitated to start a blog. . . . And then, one day, I started. . . . After a number of posts and drafts of posts, I can say that my blog is an essential component of my work.  It is both the follow through and the invitation to learning with me. . . .

I am grateful to Adam Goldberg, who runs Socially Gold, for the chance to write this blog post for a few reasons:

  1. I get to reflect on the larger project of my blog.
  2. I learned how to share blog posts to extend my reach.
  3. I hope to model a way for Hillel, and others, to share successes and challenges in a deeper way.

After all, I believe in my work.  My blog is one more tool to advance it, a tool I find to have increasing returns.”  Here’s the link again; go read the full text.  Feel free to come back here to comment!


Leave a comment

Filed under Jewish Community, Uncategorized

Incidental Teaching

When I teach, I have a habit of throwing in a bit of extra information related to the topic, not quite a digression, and definitely tangential.  My favorite example is from my Biblical & Classical Literature class at the University of Delaware.  When we read Genesis 6, I pause just long enough before jumping into the Noah story to mention that some scholars think the “daughters of men” might have been early homo sapiens who were taken as wives by more Neanderthal-like “children of God,” producing “heroes of old, the men of renown.”  The Time KeeperWhile such a suggestion fits well into Mitch Albom’s newest book, The Time Keeper, it does little to demonstrate the literary aspect of the generational transition from Adam and Eve to Noah.  The possibility of pseudo-Darwinian evolution in Genesis 6 is incidental to the introduction of Noah; yet, I find myself compelled to teach it.

So why do I do it?  In short, I think I toss in extra information as a way of offering a door to students’ further connection with the material.  I don’t hold them accountable for the addition; I hold myself accountable for their further education or, at least, engagement with the material.

That being said, I was struck on Sunday by the effect of an incidental teaching in my radio broadcast for WDEL 1150AM‘s “The Rabbi Speaks.”  As part of a rotation of area rabbis, I recorded a nine-minute segment to be aired around 8:45am.  Later that day, I encountered a parent from my children’s school who, by chance, heard me speaking on the radio around 9:15am.  He shared with me that he was particularly struck by . . . an incidental piece of information.

My wife Ali's amazing chocolate challah next to a six-braided sesame challah.

My wife Ali’s amazing chocolate challah next to a six-braided sesame challah.

I was speaking about challah, what today is the Jewish ceremonial bread for Shabbat meals. After explaining the origins of the term from the olive size portion of dough given to the priests (or burned for God), I threw in a comment about how these loaves used to be called berches, a few hundred years ago.  Berches is reminiscent of the Hebrew word b’rachah, meaning blessing, as in the intentional blessing of bread at a Sabbath meal.  It was meant to be an interesting tidbit that I found in an article on, nothing more.

There were two things about this encounter that jarred me into thinking more about incidental teaching:

  1. You never know what is going to stick with people.  My larger point was about the variety of types of bread used by Jews throughout the world and throughout history.  A braided egg bread is an appropriation from South Germany in the Middle Ages that spread worldwide until today when grocery store bakeries label the loaves as challah, regardless of whether the challah portion was taken from the batch of dough.
  2. There are nuggets in even our worst teaching.  I didn’t think highly of my recording.  I felt that I had done better in the past.  I remembered as soon as I finished that there were other points I really wanted to make; for example, that today students across the country, and at the University of Delaware Hillel, bake challah to improve the world through the organization Challah for Hunger.  Rather than re-record to provide an improved version, I let the original stand.  What was good but not great for me turned out to be really meaningful for someone else.


All of which makes me wonder:  Maybe the challah portion is symbolically about much more than a portion of dough belonging to God or God’s priests.

Maybe challah is a reminder that the throw-away material is precious.  In every batch of teaching material there is one ball that, if tossed gently, will be caught by the learner who needs it most.

What examples from your teaching were the extra portion that stuck?

What does thinking about that extra material as challah portions do for you and/or your teaching?

How can we be intentional with our incidental teaching to better engage our students?

I will be revisiting this idea of incidental teaching when my class starts up in February.  Stay tuned for more examples.  In the meantime, share your answers to the questions above.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Incidental Teaching


This month’s question from Ask Big Questions poses a great challenge to me.  Their question is

For Whom Are We Responsible

I love the educational approach of gaining some level of understanding by answering a question.  My initial response is to set that education in motion with more questions:

Who are “we”? Is responsibility for someone or to someone?
What is needed of us?

These questions, though, journey within a framework that I find misleading.  We can, as Ask Big Questions challenges, “understand others and understand ourselves” by asking these questions.  In the end, though, I fear we may only end up with an exercise in moral relativism:  you think this, I think that, we are both right (even if our positions are confrontational).

At the heart of the question of responsibility for others is, I believe, attention to oneself.  Responsibility implies a response to an other.  To respond to that which is not you, you must understand yourself.  The better we understand ourselves–and especially ourselves in relation to other–the better able to respond we will be.  Responsibility is based on response-ability.

What kind of self-knowledge helps develop response-ability?  Any:

  • Knowing your limitations helps you see others’ strengths.
  • Knowing your strengths helps you see others’ weaknesses.
  • Knowing your values helps you put them into practice with others.
  • Knowing your doubts helps you ask questions of others.
  • Knowing your habits helps you account for gut-reactions and above-and-beyond actions towards others.
  • Knowing your purpose helps you model purpose-driven living for others.
  • Knowing your journey helps you share life’s journey with others.
  • Knowing your privilege or deprivation helps you see inequality among others.
  • Knowing your roots and your history helps you put others into perspective.
  • AND knowing there is “something” within you helps you see that responsibility need not be a zero-sum game.

The better we know ourselves, the more we see that we are in relation to everyone else.  The greater that knowledge, the more able we are to respond to someone else, to “get” them.  This understanding of self and other is, to my mind, only a skill-building exercise of living in relationship.  To respond truly to others, to respond without loss of our own self, we must see our human capacity for divine connection.

Too often, we think of taking responsibility for someone or something as a task, a burden, or a financial/time-management hit.  There is no question that responsibility takes effort; love also takes effort, though, and gets a much better rap.  I submit that responsibility, when understood as an ability (response-ability), is a limitless capacity.  Like love, response-ability grows the more one shares it, without itself being diminished.  Response-ability is the recognition that we, each and every one of us, are connected.



We are connected because we are all part of this world; we are all God’s creatures.  We are connected because of our shared humanity; we are created in God’s image. We are connected because, regardless of belief in God, we have “something” within us–call it “divine light” or “cosmic DNA” or “neurologic pathways toward sociability”–that shines the more we let it. Responsibility indicates that we take seriously our existence as part of something greater.  The more in touch with the infinite totality of our world, the more able we are to take responsibility, to be able to respond, and to be response-able.

Can we help everyone? No, not by ourselves.

Can we address every ill in society? No, not by ourselves and probably not in our lifetime.

Can we make a difference? Yes.

Can we be responsible for those near and far (geographically and personally)? Yes.

Will we?  That depends on how we understand our response-ability.

“For whom are we responsible?”  We are responsible for our response-ability toward all.

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Uncategorized