It's come to this: My rabbi is now quoting Carole Dweck to me because I need to adopt a growth rather than a fixed mindset when it comes to learning Hebrew. Every time I have one of my conversion study meetings with him, I complain about how hard I'm finding it to learn Hebrew, and he always reassures me that I'm doing just fine and that the challenges don't say anything about my ability to be Jewish. He says that I'm obviously a smart, talented person, but that those qualities aren't enough to learn Hebrew (or anything else) without a lot of hard work. He also told me that I should get one of those bumper stickers that say "Patience now!" Mostly I think he was trying to find nice ways of saying, "Suck it up, keep studying, and stop whining!"
It could be a little annoying to have him always telling me that I'm fine, except that he clearly does understand what it's like to try to learn something outside of one's comfort zone. He's an advanced beginner piano student, and today he told me the following story that had happened just yesterday: His daughter is also learning to play piano, from a different teacher. They have a household rule that no one plays anyone else's music; the goal is to eliminate all sense of competitiveness, so that each person is learning his or her own piece at his or her own pace. But yesterday, his daughter's piano teacher came to the house for her lesson, and he saw the rabbi's music on the piano rack. And, as the rabbi reported, "He sat right down and fucking sight read it!" I do like having a rabbi who says "fucking." And clearly he knows how super hard it is to be learning something new in one's late 40s and to be so good at other things and so not-yet-good at this new thing.
But here is a potentially lovely thing: The rabbi was running late, so I had to wait for him for a few minutes, during which I (a) managed to pour water from my water bottle all over myself, with my typical grace, and (b) studied the list of Hebrew verbs I'm trying to memorize. And suddenly it occurred to me to ask myself, How would I teach these verbs to my students? I mean, I do teach vocabulary to 9th graders all the time, and those words are easy for me but often aren't so easy for them (witness the students who were still confusing "adorn" and "ardor" at the end of the year). So what do I do to help my students learn new words? And why couldn't I use those same pedagogical skills to teach myself this vocabulary instead of just trying to memorize a list? I mean, I never just hand my students a long list and say, "go memorize this." So that's my new challenge to think about and try to benefit from.
My homework from the rabbi includes:
- Sucking it up and continuing to work on my Hebrew, perhaps with some new tactics for learning vocabulary (which is the hard part for me; the grammar isn't so bad). Also, he recommended Ilan Stavans's Resurrecting Hebrew, which I read the first half of before I ran out of renewals on it at the public library. So I've now re-requested it.
- Doing my South African / Jewish studying this summer and telling him about it, since he doesn't know much about the Jewish history of and population in South Africa.
- Participate in Tisha B'Av, a fast mourning the destruction of the Temple and, by extension, other historical tragedies and oppressions that the Jewish people have been afflicted with. So I'm supposed to read Lamentations and parts of David Roskies's collection The Literature of Destruction: Jewish Responses to Catastrophe. And the temple is having a service that night as well (July 25), which fortunately is a day on which I'm in town.
- Read Israeli author Amos Oz's memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, since I'm currently reading Laura Schor's The Best School in Jerusalem: Annie Landau's School for Girls, 1900-1960. (It's-a-small-world fun fact: Annie Landau was Oliver Sacks's aunt!)
That should keep me busy this summer, along with my four FGS book groups and revamping my classes for next year!
Here's the especially nice thing: The rabbi clearly thinks I'm awesome, and I think he's awesome. We've got quite the mutual appreciation thing going.