Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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HOLTZ/A LIFETIME OF READING
21
Gershom Scholem’s writings about Jewish mysticism in contrast
to the difficult kabbalistic texts themselves.
But we should not let ourselves off the hook too easily. In the
past few years I have been involved in teaching and speaking to
groups of adults around the country specifically about the great
texts of the Jewish tradition. I am convinced that in fact there is a
tremendous hunger among Jews to connect to their own tradi­
tional sources. It is a search for authenticity, for “the real thing.”
Not books
about
texts (though those help), but the texts them­
selves. So we should not be so quick to dismiss problems of group
study. Perhaps the real answer to a lifetime reading plan is to cre­
ate the social context in which that kind of study can happen.
We have often heard about the
baalei teshuvah,
those people
who have “returned” to Judaism. But these seekers are to be
found not only in Yeshivot for Americans located in Jerusalem.
Among the laity in synagogues, among Jews whose affiliation is
not with synagogues, but in community centers and Jewish Y ’s,
there is also this kind of seeking. What we need to think about are
ways to provide authentic Jewish learning for such people and at
the same time not to intimidate or frustrate them. One of the
most difficult experiences for an adult learner to face, in any
endeavor, is the sense of incompetence that comes with learning
something new. True there is something exciting about that
which is novel, but that feeling can easily be offset by the frustra­
tions, perhaps even the shame involved in being ignorant.
I
use “shame” quite deliberately. For many of these Jewish
learners, there are old negative stereotypes to overcome — bad
childhood experiences in Hebrew School perhaps. But there is
also the shame of showing in public that one does not know what
others may assume one knows. Sometimes that ignorance is of
basic facts; sometimes it is the “simple” skill of being able to pro­
nounce (rote read) Hebrew. And there is the added embarrass­
ment of showing oneself to be incompetent where in one’s ordi­
nary life, competence is so highly valued. I have taught courses in
rudimentary Judaism with highpowered Wall Street lawyers in
my class. How does such a person — so used to being successful in
a demanding profession — deal with not being able to read the
alef-bet
? Far too often designers of programs ignore these issues.
Experts in adult education nowadays refer to this issue as
“empowering” the learner. That is, the student must feel that he