Becom­ing a Soul­ful Educator

Aryeh Ben David
  • Review
By – February 24, 2017

Engag­ing stu­dents in the class­room, par­tic­u­lar­ly post-mil­len­ni­als, is no easy task. In Becom­ing a Soul­ful Edu­ca­tor, Rab­bi Aryeh Ben David offers teach­ers an acces­si­ble, inspir­ing guide for con­nect­ing with stu­dents in a way that will not only help them retain infor­ma­tion, but will also touch their souls. Ben David, the founder of Ayeka: Cen­ter for Soul­ful Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion, a for­mer Direc­tor of Spir­i­tu­al Guid­ance at the Pardes Insti­tute in Jerusalem, and edu­ca­tion­al con­sul­tant for Hil­lel Inter­na­tion­al, offers his read­ers his play­book for pluck­ing the soul strings” of stu­dents and pro­vid­ing them with a learn­ing expe­ri­ence that will extend beyond the classroom.

Not­ing that while many edu­ca­tors might excel at con­vey­ing con­tent, and pas­sion­ate­ly demon­strate their own love for their mate­r­i­al, they nonethe­less lament their inabil­i­ty to help their stu­dents inte­grate the knowl­edge they gain from their edu­ca­tion into their lives, Ben David seeks to address this issue, one which he admits plagued him through­out many years of his own career. He writes that through dis­cussing one’s own jour­ney as an edu­ca­tor, show­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties, and devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships with stu­dents through a mutu­al com­mit­ment to spir­i­tu­al growth, a teacher can cre­ate a lov­ing, trust­ful rela­tion­ship with his or her pupils. 

Par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful sug­ges­tions Ben David offers include uti­liz­ing class­room time for spir­i­tu­al chavru­tot [study part­ner­ing],” in which stu­dents respond to a prompt that con­nects what they are learn­ing to their own lives. For exam­ple, stu­dents, pri­or to learn­ing the sto­ry of Cain and Abel, can and should hear from the teacher about how he or she has strug­gled with jeal­ousy, be it on the per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al lev­el, fol­lowed by time for the stu­dents to reflect to each oth­er on how they them­selves wres­tle with jeal­ousy in their own lives. With this emo­tion­al prepa­ra­tion, under­stand­ing why Cain react­ed to the accep­tance of Abel’s sac­ri­fice to God sud­den­ly becomes not sim­ply an ancient sto­ry of frat­ri­cide, but a sto­ry that relates to the per­son­al strug­gles of each and every one of us.

Anoth­er help­ful tip Ben David offers to help bridge teach­ing from the class­room to life is through hav­ing the stu­dents dis­cuss the rela­tion­ship between the ideas dis­cussed in class and their own cir­cum­stances, con­sid­er­ing how the knowl­edge gained can help them grow as peo­ple and as Jews.

Ben David’s approach, which he sup­ports with edu­ca­tion­al method­ol­o­gy as well as spir­i­tu­al writ­ings from inno­v­a­tive mod­ern Jew­ish thinkers includ­ing Rab­bi Abra­ham Isaac Kook, is one that will no doubt ben­e­fit edu­ca­tors both in for­mal and infor­mal set­tings, and serve as a go to” guide for those look­ing to take their teach­ing to a deep­er, more per­son­al lev­el, both with­in them­selves and with­in their students.

Relat­ed Content:

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or co-edit­ed 14 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions