Community Blog Hebrew College Convocation Kavanah
My 7-year-old son got hearing aids (which we affectionately call ear robots) last week. We’ve been following his hearing loss for several years but, let’s be honest, it’s pretty hard to tell if a 4 or 5 year old has trouble hearing or just trouble listening. He’ll wear them for the rest of his life because once you lose hearing, you never regain it.
It seems to me that Elul is a pretty auspicious time to get some help with hearing and also with listening – Kol Shofar is not simply about how we hear the shofar, but about how we listen.
My son goes to bed at 6:30, happily. Our understanding – from doctors and teachers who really get it – is that he’s exhausted from the work of listening. He does a combination of straining to hear, reading visual cues: lips and body language, figuring things out from the context – what came before and how others are responding. So he’s really tired because even though hearing can be easy for most people, listening is a whole body exercise for all of us.
My son’s new hearing aids are so smart that when the noises from the outside are too loud – fire engines or alarms or even just white noise – they turn down the blaring. That way he can hear the important stuff. They are actually able to focus the listening on what’s in front of him, not what’s behind.
Each of us is here today because of a calling – a professional kol shofar, if you will, to teach Jewish through text, through music, through tefillah and – perhaps most importantly – through relationships. And while we often think of teaching as talking, and we assess students on their ‘participation’ and the words they put on paper, the truth is that the art of both teaching and learning tend to be more about listening than they are about talking.
I mentioned to a friend that, despite his excitement, my son was pretty eager to take the robots off that first night, which I found really disheartening. She told me about a college roommate of hers who looked forward to taking hers off at night. Honestly, even though I heard her, I immediately stopped listening. I didn’t want to know about someone who found hearing aids so uncomfortable that she rushed home to take them off. But later, days after the conversation, I was able to hear what she said to me, which was that her roommate really enjoyed the quiet.
Reflecting on this week through the lens of kol shofar, I come away with four hopes for the new academic and Jewish year, which will perhaps resonate with you, too:
First, to focus on the listening – I hope that we hear the call of the shofar and it helps us remember to listen with our whole bodies — yes, it can be exhausting to process all those inputs and focus on what and who is in front of you. But this is how we will teach and learn with our whole selves.
Second, find some quiet. Perhaps it’s counterintuitive, but the loud blasts can remind us that we need to turn down the volume. ‘Noise’ comes in many forms today . . . Ultimately, it is not experiences alone that teach us, but the combination of those experiences with reflection, so can we create space and time for that?
Third, I hope that kol shofar renews our calling to teach Jewish in our varied ways, and that we can tune out the loud calls that may come from the outside long enough to hear and listen to that calling from the inside.
And finally, may we all discover unexpected teachers, not the tkiyah gdolah ones, but the ones you need to listen a little bit harder for.
B’hatzlachah and shanah tovah.
Deborah Skolnick Einhorn is an Assistant Professor of Jewish Education and the Assistant Dean for Academic Development and Advising in Hebrew College’s Shoolman School of Jewish Education. Deborah’s teaching and research focuses on education, sociology and the history of American Jews, and particularly on women’s organizations and philanthropy. She received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University and is also an alumna of Tufts University and the Jewish Theological Seminary.