Is the course that a teacher teaches the same one students learn? Does an instructor have a moral responsibility to charge his or her students with ethical action? How do classroom organization and school setting inform learning?
In examining her life as a teacher — from her initial years at the progressive New York-based Jewish day school Beit Rabban (which translates to “Our Teacher’s House”), to her time as a professor at Michigan State University, to her stint serving in an American inner city public school, to her current position as a professor of English at Bar Ilan University in Israel — Ilana Blumberg meditates on these and other questions that strike at the core of contemporary education. The title, alluding to the verse in Deuteronomy that instructs, “you shall open your hand to your brother, your suffering, and your poor in your land,” is taken by Blumberg as a guidepost in her quest to position education as a call for care.
Recognizing the parochial nature of her education in Jewish schools — in which children are sheltered from broader American culture and exposure to non-Jews — Blumberg documents the widening of her own intellectual horizons. In every position she has held, Blumberg has reached beyond her concentration on Jews and Jewish texts to focus on American university students and inner city children, making the former aware of their privilege in relation to the latter. Blumberg sought to shake up her students in a positive way, asking them what they could do to address societal inequalities — asking them to open their eyes, and their hands, toward the other.
Bringing an array of lessons learned in the classroom and research in the field of education, Blumberg offers personal as well as academic reflections in this moving memoir. Readers interested in the relationship between education and global citizenship, in seeking meaningful strategies for embracing diversity in an educational context, and in reflections on intellectual curiosity, open-mindedness, aesthetic sensitivity, and religious sensibility, will all be rewarded. Blumberg’s is a life of deep thinking, experimentation, and concern for the learner whoever he or she might be. Her book is a compelling argument for the power of education to change lives. It reminds us that in Israel or America, as a Jew or as an American, learning can and should inspire compassion, combat racism, and balance fear with courage.
Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advisor to the Provost of Yeshiva University. He has edited or co-edited 17 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.