Friday, May 24, 2013

A Rabbi is a Rabbi is a . . .

Dedicated to the memory of my grandparents Lester & Sylvia Seinfeld, whose yahrzeits were this week. Also dedicated to the memory of all fallen US soldiers, including the 52 Jews who have died in uniform since 9/11/01 (see list at bottom). (To dedicate a future Table Talk, send an email.

In my grandfather's memory, and in honor of the coming end of the school year, here's a story I've told in the past with a message that we all need to hear once a year.

It was a sunny August afternoon, some weeks before my freshman year of college.

My grandparents were visiting for no particular reason and I was taking cover in the family room.

Among the old Penguin paperbacks lining the back wall. My mother's college texts that she displayed like family heirlooms. Euripides and Sophocles, Dante and Shakespeare, Brontë and Faulkner, and others in-between.

My shelter in the edifice of Plato-to-NATO.

(Ever notice that most of those guys had beards?)

That's where he cornered me.

The truth is, I didn't even known they were visiting, but in he walked with a jocular rebuke, "Don't you greet someone when they come to visit?"

"Hi, Pop, how are you?"

"I'm fine. All ready for college?"

"Not yet, getting there!"

"Well," he smiled, "I have just one word of advice for you before you go."

"Just one word?"

"One word."

I could hardly believe it. This was great. This was going to be one of those moments that I'd be able to tell my own grandchildren about, and better yet, to blog about.

I waited for the word. He had already started to stoop, yet had exchanged his 1975 dark-rimmed glasses for lighter, youthful frames.

No hurry. He was smiling, pausing for dramatic effect.

Finally came "the word":

"Don't take courses."

OK, that's interesting. Are we having a senior moment, or is there a punchline?

I raised an eyebrow or two and waited.

Then came the punchline:

"Take teachers."

"Take teachers?"

"With the most interesting subject in the world and a bad teacher, you won't learn a darn thing. But with the most boring subject in the world and a good teacher, you'll learn everything."

What a thrill! After 18 years of grandfatherly advice, here finally was something that seemed really relevant and true!

I did follow that advice, in college and beyond, and it never failed me. You can usually tell in one session. Take the great ones, no matter what they are teaching, avoid the bad ones, no matter what they are teaching.

Life is short. There is much to learn. Invest your learning time well.

Try this question at your Shabbat table: Who were the best teachers in your life? Did you ever thank them?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Please remember to thank all of your child's teachers. Gifts are unnecessary, but a hand-written thank you note from you or better yet from your child means a lot. Teaching is hard work. They don't have to be perfect to deserve our appreciation.

PPS - Want to make your Table Talk rabbi happy? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

American JEWISH casualty list since SEPT 11, 2001:
Pontell, Darin
Lieutenant JG, Navy, Pentagon
9/11/01 Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia

Evnin, Mark A.
Corporal, Marines, Vermont
4/3/03 Central Iraq

Smith, Eric A.
Chief Warrant Officer, Army, New York
4/2/03, Central Iraq

Wershow, Jeffery
Specialist, Army National Guard, Florida
7/6/03 Baghdad, Iraq

Bernstein, David
1st Lieutenant, Army, Pennsylvania
10/18/03 Taza, Iraq

Fletcher, Jacob S.
Private First Class, Army, New York
11/13/03 Samara, Iraq

Seiden, Marc S.
Specialist, Army, New Jersey
1/2/04 Baghdad, Iraq

Dvorin, Seth
2nd Lieutenant, Army, New Jersey
2/3/04 Iskandariyah, Iraq

Wong, Elijah
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Arizona
2/9/04 Sinjar, Iraq

Bruckenthal, Nathan
Petty Officer, Coast Guard, New York
4/24/04 Northern Persian Gulf

Schrage, Dustin
Corporal, Marines, Florida
5/6/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Sherman, Alan D.
Sergeant, Marines, New Jersey
6/29/04 Southeast of Baghdad

Engel, Mark E.
Lance Corporal, Marines, Colorado
7/21/04 Brook Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Tarlavsky, Michael
Captain, Army, 5th Special Forces Group
8/12/04 Najaf, Iraq

Stern, Andrew K.
1st Lieutenant, Marines, Tennessee
9/16/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Harrington, Foster
Sergeant, Marines, Texas
9/20/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Cohen, Michael R.
Corporal, Marines, Pennsylvania
11/22/04 Anbar province, Iraq

Shackelford, Michael
Sergeant, Army, Colorado
11/28/04 Ramadi, Iraq

Freeman, Daniel J.
Specialist, Army, Ohio
4/6/05 Ghazni, Afghanistan

Ben Yahudah, Benyahmin
Specialist, Army, Georgia
7/27/05 Baghdad, Iraq

Allen, Howard Paul
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Arizona
9/26/05 Baghdad, Iraq

Jacobson, Elizabeth N.
Airman First Class, Air Force, Florida
9/28/05 Near Camp Bucca, Iraq

Clark, Ryan J.
Corporal, Army, California
6/29/06, San Antonio, TX

Wolfe, Colin J.
Private First Class, Marines, Virginia
8/30/06 Habbaniyah, Iraq

Paul, Robert J.
Staff Sergeant, Army Reserve, Oregon
9/8/06, Kabul, Afghanistan

Secher, Robert Michael
Captain, Marines, Tennessee
10/8/06 Anbar province, Iraq

Oremus , Michael K.
Private First Class, Army, New York
10/2/06, Baghdad, Iraq

Krissoff, Nathan M.
1st Lieutenant, Marines, Nevada
12/9/06 Anbar province, Iraq

Blum, Aron C.
Sergeant, Marines, Arizona
12/28/06 Naval Medical Center, San Diego

Weiner , Timothy, R.
Tech Sergeant, Air Force, Florida
1/7/07, Baghdad, Iraq

Agami, Daniel
Specialist, Army, Florida
6/21/07 Northern Baghdad, Iraq

Bitton, Albert
Corporal, Army, Chicago
2/20/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Wolfer, Stuart A.
Major, Army, Florida
4/6/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Rosenberg, Mark
Major, Army, Florida
4/8/08 Baghdad, Iraq

Yelner, Jonathan
Senior Airman, Air Force, California
4/29/08 Near Bagram, Afghanistan

Farkas, Daniel
1st Lieutenant, Army National Guard, New York
7/4/08 Kabul, Afghanistan (Camp Phoenix)

Weinger, Robert M.
Sergeant, Army National Guard, Illinois
3/15/09 Jalabad, Afghanistan

Pine, Shawn
Lieutenant Colonel, Army Reserve, Texas
5/20/09 Near Kabul, Afghanistan

Schulte, Roslyn
1st Lieutenant, Air Force, Missouri
5/20/09 Near Kabul, Afghanistan

Fairbairn, Aaron
Private First Class, Army, Washington
7/4/09 Combat Outpost Zerok, Afghanistan

Walker, Morris L.
Private First Class, Army, North Carolina
8/18/09, Dila, Afghanistan

Sklaver, Benjamin
Captain, Army Reserve, Connecticut
10/2/09 Muscheh, Afghanistan

Kane, Jeremy M.
Lance Corporal. Marines, New Jersey
1/22/10, Afghanistan

Zilberman, Steven Miroslav
Lieutenant, Navy, Ohio
4/2/10, Arabian Gulf

Fisher, Zachary M.
Sergeant, Army, Missouri
7/14/2010, Lagman, Afghanistan

Malachowski, James M.
Staff Sergeant , Marine Corps, Maryland
3/20/2011, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Soufrine, Eric D.
Private First Class. Army, Connecticut
6/14/11, Afghanistan

Green, Douglas J.
Specialist, Army, Virginia
8/28/2011, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

Shapiro, Steven F.
Private First Class, Army, California
10/21/11, Iraq

Seidler, Matthew R.
Airman First Class, Air Force, Maryland
1/5/12, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Brodsky, Michael  J.
Petty Officer Second Class , Navy, Florida
7/21/12, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

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