Voices from the Field
Brett Kopin edited a volume in Jewish education for early childhood written by his Bubby, Marvell Ginsburg, author of The Tattooed Torah. This is the third post from Brett about his memory of her teachings.
In the section about Sukkot, my Bubby describes ways to discuss the sensory aspect of Sukkot, and the changing of the seasons:
“Do we find different fruits in the store during summer? Winter? If things don’t grow when there is snow on the ground, how do we have oranges and other produce in the stores in winter?"
This passage and this time of year – as we mark the change in season with the rituals of Sukkot – always reminds me of the story of my Bubby and her orange tree.
A few years ago my parents bought an apartment in Jerusalem. For my Bubby especially, the purchase was an overwhelming reality – a realization of a dream to return to Jerusalem, so vivid in her imagination, and in those of previous generations. As a housewarming gift, my Bubby wanted to provide something suitable to the occasion.
“I want to give you a special gift – not just a mundane pot or pan, but something really special.” It should reflect some aspect of Israel.” After much thought and discussion we agreed on an orange tree. What could be more in keeping with Israel than planting a tree? Since we all loved to eat sweet, juicy oranges, especially on a hot day, that seemed to be the perfect gift. It will be so wonderful to walk out the door, pick an orange off the tree, and eat it while sitting in its shade.
My mom was in Jerusalem when Bubby passed away. Before flying back to Chicago, she went to the garden, and, lo and behold, the tree - which until then had stuggled to adapt to the climate - had grown a little orange! She plucked it off the branch and put it in her suitcase.
A few days later, standing at Bubby’s graveside in an early January snowfall, my mom took out the orange and told the story of Bubby’s orange tree. She then placed it in the ground. It was a tiny piece of fruit, the first from its tree, and it added a spark of color to an overwhelmingly white and barren landscape. That stark depiction of the difference between seasons charachterized my Bubby's teachings.
We were all glad that Bubby got the first fruit from her tree in Jerusalem, and just in time.
Chag Sameach, Bubby.
For other posts in this series, please see:
How can we turn our thinking about the Days of Awe, or yamim noraim (ימים נוראים), into an opportunity to revel in the awe of this special time of year? What does it mean for something to be truly awe full (or filled with awe)?
When researchers and policy makers are telling us that conversations around Israel are crisis driven and communal leaders hesitate to include “politically loaded” issues in their writings or sermons, we desperately need to celebrate and be enriched by these days of awe. We should embrace the complexity within Jewish education – within all education – rather than shy away from it; it is the essence of what makes our pursuit of truth and meaning so humbling and compelling. Israel being complex is not awful but full of awe – awe that ought to reinvigorate our sense of wow as opposed to woe.
In God in Search of Man, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, “…Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding,” a reference to the verse from Psalms ('ראשית חכמה יראת ה: Understanding and wisdom rests on being in Awe of G-d).
Heschel’s other explaination of awe in his article Radical Amazement is also particularly appropriate at this time of year. Each year on Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the creation of the world as if it were for the first time; consider the prayer היום הרת עולם: Today the world was born. In the article, he writes, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” This surely must also be the intention of the Days of Awe: to reclaim our amazement, to rebalance our role and rule in the world to one that imbues humility.
Much of what we try to model and experience through this profound period can inform our behavior and outlook for the year ahead. The rituals of the holidays – the listening to the shofar, the stirring melodies of prayers – encourage us to go beyond simple resolutions. They encourage us to focus on real deeds and behaviors that affect the heart and mind; experiential education at its foundation. How can our relationship and engagement with Israel be impacted by these opportunities?
Chag Sameach, and discover more on the iCenter's High Holiday Resource Compilation page! >>
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has a rich background in camping, running various camps in England where he grew up and later serving as the Education Director at Ramah Poconos. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom has a strong passion for teaching, feels privileged to live in Jerusalem with his family and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
Robert Aumann is an Israeli American who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2005 for his work in game theory. Israel has more Nobel prize winners per capita than any other country, and Aumann is one of the contributing reasons for this. Brett Kopin had the opportunity to interview him, and below is the transcribed interview with related questions to bring this conversation to your learners for continued discussion.
What sparked your interest or passion for math and economics?
"There are two different questions here: one is math, the other one is economics:
With math, what sparked my passion and interest was a high school teacher by the name of Abraham Gansler, who taught in New York in the '40s and '50s and maybe early '60s of the last century. He was an excellent teacher, and I fell in love with mathematics. I studied high school geometry. The challenge of it, the logic, the theorems and proofs, the constructions, they really caught my imagination. Most math did not, but that did. That is real mathematics, unlike most of the high school mathematics, which is like cookbook stuff and not real mathematics. That was what got me interested in math, and I carried it on in college and in graduate school.
Now, you asked about economics also. I took a course in economics in college and I was bored and baffled by it and dropped the course in three weeks. My interest in economics came much later and it was really sparked by my interest in mathematics and specifically in game theory. I met John Nash when I was in graduate school. We got to be friendly and he explained game theory to me and I did not think it was very interesting at that point. After graduating, I went to work for an operations research consulting outfit. They did practical consulting for real companies doing work on real projects. I saw that game theory was the right tool for dealing with their projects. That got me interested in game theory and from game theory I got into economics, mathematical economics, and the foundation of economics, and that is the story."
- Think about an influential mentor or teacher you’ve had. How did he/she impact you?
- What is something that you've learned that has really caught your imagination?
- What can Aumann’s story about Abraham Gansler tell us about the role or power of an educator?
What has been a significant challenge in your work?
"Maybe the biggest challenge is getting your paper published. You know, let me say this: Since getting the Nobel Prize I’ve had more rejections of papers by scientific publications than in my whole previous academic life combined."
How do you account for that?
"The bar goes up. I was awarded the prize for the whole body of my work throughout the years, but the thing that got the most emphasis was something I did in 1959, close to 60 years ago, and everything went from there.
The specific angle that I attacked in 1959 was the matter of repeated games. If you are involved in a situation which is repeated again and again, what I showed was that in such a situation, cooperation is more likely to cause a win-win than a one-shot interaction."
- What motivates you to explore and create?
- Describe a significant contribution or achievement you have made (or would like to make) to the world around you.
- What challenges would you like to overcome in your life?
What was it like for you to receive the Nobel Prize?
"The most moving moment was not the actual receiving of the prize (though that was moving also) but standing in front of the Grand Hotel in Stockholm and somebody said, 'Look at the roof' and there on the roof there were seven flags. The flag of Sweden was in the middle, and then there were six flags representing the countries of all the Nobel Prize winners and right there next to the flag of Sweden was the flag of Israel. That was a very moving moment.
What inspires you?
"I think the history of the Jewish people inspires me. You know, in our prayers we say three times a day, we ask God to return to Jerusalem, His city, and I decided that with the formation of the State of Israel, God is returning to His city and I would follow Him and be a part of that. That’s one thing that inspires me."
- What do you think Aumann is saying here?
- In what ways do you feel connected with Israel and Jewish history?
- How does Israel and/or Jewish history motivate you to act and why?
What would your children or grandchildren say about your work?
"Well, I guess you have to ask them. Thank God I have five children, one of whom was killed, by the way, in Lebanon in 1982, but his wife, who is remarried, is like a daughter to us, so I have five children, and I have 21 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, going on 15. So that’s it, I don’t know what to say but I’m very close with my family. I do a lot of activities with them, I study with many of my grandchildren. So it’s great having such a nice family."
If you could impart one lesson to your children, what would it be?
"I think people should do in life what they like to do – not what they think makes the most money, not what their parents tell them, but what they like. If you like something then you’ll do it well, and if you do it well, you will succeed. That’s it."
- How does family impact your life and your accomplishments?
- What does it mean to leave a legacy?
- What is one lesson you would like to impart on your future children and grandchildren?