Open Your Hand: Teach­ing as a Jew, Teach­ing as an American

  • Review
By – February 11, 2019

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 coedit­ed 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.

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