I remember my early school days with undisguised glee. Endless days of soccer to the point of exhaustion, easy walks to school around the corner from my house and dressing up in all manner of costumes for larkabout theatrical productions. Mr. Windsor was the head of Broadfields Junior School in North-West London. He seemed, to my ten year old self, about nine feet tall, and spread a feeling of stern but fair, paternalistic education. Mr. King (still teaching there today), ushered into our brains the first scientific thoughts. Mr. Allen was known for doing the Rubix Cube blindfolded, and Mr. and Mrs. Davies (we couldn’t believe two of the teachers were married!) led sumptuous class trips to Switzerland to show us Londoners a bit of the wider world.
Most of these memories can be viewed clearly in my mind’s eye, albeit through rose tinted
spectacles. Traditionally, when a Jewish child attends their first day of school learning, we spread honey on the first page they see. In so doing, we forever associate the activity of learning with beautiful sweetness. At the same time, we acknowledge that kids, as they grow older, don’t always taste that sweetness and we have to work on strategies to change that. As adults, we also need to be reminded.
Learning can be joyful for its own sake, an exciting search for truth, practical to help with real world tasks and frustrating at times until enlightenment arrives. One of our missions as adults is to never forget the original, idealized, sweet early experiences. The other is to imbue the children in our care or mentorship with a love of learning which we can do by modelling it strongly. I know I won’t have all the teachers in the congregation on my side, but I think going back to school at the end of this month can help remind us of the amazing world of opportunities afforded to us by the world of learning.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen