I read the story quite some time ago. It was told by a young woman who boarded an airplane early one winter Friday morning. She was on her way to Chicago from New York to spend a weekend there with friends.
I arrived quite early to the fourth session of the weekly class, in which we were using the book of Genesis as a source for studying leadership.
I was several minutes late for the class, and all three students, Richard, Simon, and Leon, were present and already involved in what seemed to be quite a heated discussion. Simon, usually the most reticent of the three, was the one who was talking the most.
He was an old man, frail, tired, and bereaved. News of Hitler's advancing army preoccupied him, and he was overwhelmed, if not broken, by the requests for advice he was receiving from hundreds of troubled Jews. Indeed, he may have already sensed that he had only months to live.
I love to teach teachers. I’ve had a number of opportunities in my career to lead workshops designed to enhance the skills of classroom teachers. Some of the most powerful learning experiences that I’ve had have occurred during such workshops.
I picked him up at the airport. He was arriving in Baltimore, where I was then a rabbi, to deliver an address and then return home to New York...
I have always found this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27), especially inspiring and instructive. It is in this parsha that we are told the story of Abraham’s aliyah, of his journey to the Holy Land.
If you are reading this column regularly, you may remember that Miriam was the shy participant in the class that I have been describing. You will surely remember that this was a class in which I used the book of Genesis as a springboard for discussions about leadership. I had been asked to assist the members of the class to develop leadership skills for use in their respective Jewish synagogue communities.
"Individuation!" That was Leon's opening statement of the evening.
When I was still a pulpit rabbi back in Baltimore, I would meet with a group of teenagers from time to time. The agenda was open-ended, and my goal was to encourage the group to share their feelings and attitudes freely. One of the favorite topics chosen by the kids was their school curriculum and what they found wrong with it.
The three women in the class unanimously favored one point of view. The six men were evenly split, three agreeing with the women and three disagreeing vehemently.
We have all experienced loneliness. For some of us, the experience has been momentary and temporary. For others, it has been pervasive and lifelong.
The French poet Baudelaire once remarked that the devil’s greatest success is his ability to convince us that he does not exist.