Monday, February 9, 2015

Why We Ask: What Do You Do?

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg recently wrote a thoughtful post entitled "Don’t Confuse Earning a Living with Living", in which he relates a story about an encounter he had with a stranger sitting at a wedding.
At the meal, I found myself sitting at a table of people I had never met.  In an attempt to be friendly to the man seated next to me, I asked him, “What do you do?”  He sat up in his chair, turned to me and said, “What do I do, or how do I earn a living?  I earn a living as a plumber.  What I do, what I am most proud of, is that I learn Torah every morning before davening, and I spend time with my family every evening after work.”  His answer remains etched in my memory as he taught me a profound lesson that day in that short, but poignant answer to my simple social question.
Culturally, at least in the United States, "What do you do?" is the first thing you ask to someone that you don't know. It's an ice-breaker; a way to start a conversation. Tell me about yourself. Yet, after I made aliyah, I noticed that Israelis almost never ask this question. They ask different questions: "Where are you from?" "Where did you serve in the army?" To Anglos (like me), they'll often ask, "You're from America, right?" (It's a game where they try and identify you from your accent. It's not hard.) But they don't usually first ask about your profession. That got me thinking about the differences between cultures and countries, and wondering why people in the States ask about and identify a person through his or her profession. I think, at least subconsciously, "What do you do?" is also a question about money and social status. When you ask, "What do you do?" you're also asking another question: "How much do you earn?" Because if you're a lawyer or a doctor, I can place you in one social sphere. If you're a plumber, you're in another; a teacher or social worker? Yet another. (When they asked me the question and I told them that I was the rabbi of a shul, people would inevitably ask me the obvious follow-up: "Really? How many families?" It's the same question: Are you the rabbi of some small shtiebel, or are you an "imporant" rabbi of a significant community?) We assess people by their earning power, and extend to them social status commensurate to that financial wherewithal. It's sad, but too often true. Think about the shul you attend: how do people relate to the doctors, compared to how they relate to the physical therapists? It's not a question of how many aliyot a person gets, but a question of voice, deference, and communal authority. In Israel, people earn far less money, and doctors and lawyers don't really earn much more than teachers (which is one reason why it's so hard for American doctors to make aliyah). There are very few truly rich people, at least where I live (to the best of my knowledge). I have no clue how much people do or don't earn. This type of subconscious assessment is only natural. The people with greater means do get a greater say. We need them - at least externally - more than we do everyone else. Their donations keep the lights on; they pay for the kiddushim we enjoy, and for the rabbis' salaries as well. We have to give them a voice, especially in the decisions of the institutions that they support. Yet, this unspoken preferential treatment alienates those who don't fit the bill: the teachers, the marketers, the plumbers (although plumbers do fine, from what I hear).
I'm sure that Rabbi Goldberg meant none of this when he asked the plumber "What do you do?" Yet, in some part of his mind, I'm also sure that the plumber heard a different question: "Hello. I don't know you. Are you an important person? Does your profession make you someone I should respect?" To this question, instead of answering, "Actually, I earn a living wage by putting my hands in people's waste all day long," he chose a different path - an understandable one from that point of view. I wonder whether the plumber would have had the same reaction had his chosen profession been to own a chain of plumbers which served six states. Perhaps yes, although I doubt he would have reacted so sharply to the question.
Throughout the school year at Orot, we invite groups of young women serving in Sherut Leumi (National Service) for in-service days (yemei iyyun). Often, I give a seminar called "Finding the 'Me' Among the Masses" (מצאית ה"אני" בתוך ההמונים), in which we speak about balancing the need to actualize our individuality with the needs of the community and the country. I always begin this seminar by doing an exercise called "Why Do You Do What You Do?" (or WDYDWYD), a seminar that's given in business and school settings around the world. I do a little exercise where I ask the students to spend five minutes drawing a picture that explains "Why they do what they do." 
It's harder than you think, because before you can answer the question "why", you first have to ask yourself, "What do I do?" - a question that can be as narrow as "Why am I sitting in this room?" and as broad as "Why am I serving in Sherut Leumi?" It's always an incredible exercise.
Each time I give the seminar, I also draw a picture. During the first years after our Aliyah, I always drew a picture of my family. I interpreted the question to mean, "Why are you giving this seminar in Orot today? Why did you leave the rabbinate and make Aliyah?" The answer, to me, was always for the sake of my family and my children. Yet, each time I drew that picture, it forced me to ask other questions: If I really am doing it all for my kids, why don't I spend more time with them? (This actually prompted me to take a day off from work and take them on a tiyyul.)
Perhaps the question we should ask people when we meet them for the first time isn't "What do you do?", but instead, "Why do you do what you do?" 
That question would lead to a much more fruitful and interesting conversation.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Orot Students Enjoy Intensive Practical Field Work Week

Racheli Bartuv
Field Work Coordinator, Elkana Campus

Orot Israel College considers practical field work to be an intrinsic part of the curriculum. Thus, our students recently spent an intensive week applying much of the theoretical knowledge they had acquired in the classroom and discovering how the educational system functions in the real world.
Inter alia, they were given a firsthand look at many of the educational challenges and projects that face teachers and educators in the school system. The Orot students observed lessons, participated in peer discussion groups, and even ran various activities in different schools about midot, the plants and animals of northern Israel, Chanukah, and other topics. In addition, some Orot students participated in various workshops organized by the Pedagogic Center, including: combining film clips and graphic elements into a single presentation; assorted ways to begin a lesson; decorating the classroom setting; and preparing a dynamic learning center about shmitah.
During the course of the week, many of Orot’s individual departments also organized trips and outings for their students. For instance, the school guidance and the social-communal education departments visited the Retorno Rehabilitation Center; the Toshb”a department toured the Rambam Library; the communication and mathematics departments visited the Amit Amichai School in Rechovot; and the early childhood education department explored Petach Tikva’s unique Gan HaSfarim. Coincidentally, the education minister happened to be visiting a certain school that same week, and the Orot students enjoyed watching how the excited faculty and students prepared for his visit.

Orot Students Attend “The Wave”

by Dr. Vitela Arzi 
Head, English Department, Orot Israel College

Ideally, when studying a foreign language, one should also be exposed to authentic culture – specifically, art and literature - in that language. Thus, students in Orot Israel College’s English department not only study English poetry, literature, and drama, but when the rare opportunity presents itself, they also get to experience original English-language theater in Israel.
For instance, during the month of MarCheshvan, ADGE, an acclaimed British-American professional theater group largely known for its Shakespearean productions, brought its adaptation of Todd Strasser’s “The Wave” to Israel. Based on a real-life incident, “The Wave” is set in California in the 1960s and tells the story of a high school history teacher who conducts a shocking experiment to teach his class about the rise of Nazism. The teacher tries to show his students that even “enlightened” American teenagers can easily succumb to the lure of a fascist ideology.
ADGE has appeared in countries around the world. Its goal is to introduce classic drama to young English students in order to improve their English language skills.
Orot Israel College’s administration supports and encourages extracurricular cultural enrichment activities. Thanks to the academic dean, Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Orot funded the tickets and provided transportation to the play, and a large group of first- through third-year students took advantage of the offer and traveled to the theater in Kfar Saba. The outing proved to be a huge success.
First-year Orot student Aviva Balta said, “I really enjoyed the play. I’m glad you thought of it. This was also a wonderful way to improve our English, and as you always say, ‘language is also culture.’ And I think we were privileged to learn about a culture that is different from ours in a creative way. It’s possible, of course, to learn from books, but the play simply brought it all to life. It was amazing! In the play, we were able to see English-speakers’ mentality and what is emphasized in their culture (like football, etc.). The play was on a high level, and the actors weren’t indifferent to the audience. They included us, and we basically played a part in the show. I think this experience is very important for English students, and for me personally, it even inspired me to work harder at my studies.”
Kinneret Shteinmetz, a teacher taking courses at Orot, touched upon the play’s connection to recent events. “This week, we had the rare opportunity of seeing a quality play in English,” she noted. “The play focused on an attempt at understanding how humans can lose their critical and independent thinking and act as a mob – as exemplified by the Nazi party during World War II.
“We saw the play several hours after the deadly terror attack in the shul in Har Nof, where four Jews were murdered while still wrapped in their talitot. It is impossible not to be aware - these days, in light of the difficult images – of the parallels to World War II. Now, once again but with even greater intensity, the question that was brilliantly and professionally presented on the stage arises: How incitement and brainwashing can be dangerous and can lead people to hateful acts that they would not have done otherwise.”
Like other extracurricular cultural activities, theater is a manifestation of the holistic approach to the educational experience in general and to studying a foreign language in particular that is endorsed and espoused by Orot Israel College and its English department.

Fastforward 23 years....Orot Bat Zion 5753 Reunites in Modi'in

Judy (Beigel) Silkoff – BZ 5753/1992-3
A google search of the word ‘reunion’ brings up three official definitions; the first two refer to a gathering of old school friends, and the third to unification of a country. But it is that third definition, “the action of being brought together again as a unified whole”, that seemed to most aptly describe the Orot reunion my Bat Zion programme organised in Modi'in in January.
The idea for the reunion came about as a direct result of the get-together organized by Nomi Spanglet in Elkana last year. Green with envy that I couldn't make the trip from London to join everyone in what we used to fondly refer to as the ‘yellow michlala’, my dear friend and Orot roomie Jacqueline promised me that she would sort one out for me next time I was in Israel. And she didn't disappoint!
Thanks to the help of Nomi and of course, Facebook, it wasn't too difficult to track down everyone in our year (1992-3/5753). Turns out that out of a group of 51 girls, close to 30 are now living in Israel! And 18 of them (plus Nomi, myself, and Amy who was visiting from Toronto) gathered in Jacqueline's beautiful home on January 6th to catch up, reconnect, share photos and rekindle memories of some of the best times of our lives. The years seemed to melt away and there was so much noise, laughter, happy tears and emotion in the room. 23 years ago we came to Orot as a group of strangers but over the ensuing months we bonded in only the way Orot girls could! We may all be living very different lives now, but the strong beliefs and feelings that connected us then still hold us together – and although we didn't quite get to breaking out into song, I could definitely hear the faint strains of all those chug Shira sessions echoing in the background!