I have 154 students this semester at Prozdor. Well, not exactly. I actually have 134 students, and twenty kids are taking two of my classes. It’s a big number, and means that over my eight years at Prozdor I have probably taught close to one thousand different kids. While I haven’t been teaching at Prozdor for as long as Norm Finkelstein (thirty years and counting), and don’t have as many students at Rabbi “E” (David Ehrenkranz, who once had over ninety kids in one class), I’m now one of the longest-serving faculty members at the school and probably have the second-highest enrollment after Rabbi E.
Believe me when I say that I love it. I have been teaching at Prozdor since 2003, including two years when I served as the Associate Director. Over my time at Prozdor, both in the office and in the classroom, I have been lucky to meet and get to know hundreds of students and their families and teach in almost every suburban branch. For teenagers to give up time on Sundays and weekdays to do meaningful Jewish learning is not an easy sell, but in Prozdor’s case it is. Where else can Jewish kids go to see all of their Jewish friends and learn at the same time? Prozdor is an institution that serves the needs of the community is a very authentic way, and Boston is lucky that Hebrew College and Prozdor are here in Newton Centre.
My teaching this semester is focused on two main areas- Israel and Bible. I teach in the new Pirke Dorot program in the 9th grade, I teach (for the fifth year) a class on Israel advocacy and ambassadorship, and I also teach classes on Tanakh, including a class called “Bad Men” that is fairly popular. Regardless of what class I’m teaching, I try to be as transparent and authentic as possible. This means I say controversial things that I believe (like when I teach that maybe we weren’t actually slaves in Egypt or that Pesach is a combination of Canaanite agricultural rituals and the Exodus motif), say stupid things without thinking (like when I share an opinion on something that probably should not have been shared), liberally sprinkle in media and youtube clips that tangentially connect to relevant issues (like the “Double Rainbow” clip and the story of Noah or this song from “Music and Lyrics” that I played the other night), or get all fired up about politics and the Middle East and start talking reallyreallyreally fast (which my “Solving Israel’s Problems” class experienced on Tuesday). With me, there’s nothing artificial. What you see is what you get.
Given all of the students I have taught, or taught multiple times, or whose older siblings I taught, these kids know me pretty well. I’m friends with many of them on Facebook (limited profile), some of them follow me on Twitter, and I see even more of them at shul when I’m at Temple Emunah.
Of course, this also means that anything and everything that has ever happened in my classes over the past eight years, or in fact anything that any kid knows about me from outside of Prozdor (like from Temple Emunah, USY, or Camp Ramah back in the day) is bound to surface in class at the most random moment. A prime example of this is a particular tale from Camp Ramah in 1994 that suddenly became the most important topic of conversation in my 8th and 9th grade class last night in Lexington. Some of my students, who were not even born in 1994, caught wind of a somewhat embarrassing story from my teenage years and were oh-so-excited to tell me that they had heard it. Part of me obviously loved it, part of me cringed, and part of me wondered why in the world this came up in conversation in a bunk full of teenagers late in the night on the Prozdor retreat at Camp Yavneh.
At the end of the day, though, I love teaching at Prozdor, and so does everyone else who works there. There’s nowhere else that you can have the opportunity to teach so many kids, who in just a few years are going be entering adulthood and making Jewish choices. So while I might moan and groan through my 154 learning reports or grades, or come face-to-face with sketchy events of my past that my kids find out about somehow, it’s all gravy. Simply put: Prozdor rocks.