My First Hebrew Teacher

Quick Comment: Bemidbar (Numbers 1-3)

 In parashat Bemidbar (Numbers 3:1-7) God instructed the Levites to care scrupulously for the sacred vessels of our ancient tabernacle in our people’s journey to the Promised Land. Today, our sacred vessels are the children we teach, and how we do it can change their lives.

On the first day of class Shulamit Steinlight, my first Hebrew teacher, who died in 2010 at the age of 95, asked us our Hebrew names. I had no clue.

“Ask your parents,” Mrs. Steinlight responded. “And if they don’t know, ask your grandparents, and tell me next class.”

When I asked, my parents informed me that my Hebrew Name was “Siskin Labe.”

Mrs. Steinlight, who had lived for some time in Israel, exclaimed with a slight wrinkling of her nose, “That’s Yiddish!” You need a Hebrew name. It will be אריה . And אריה (Aryeh) it has been from that day to this.

Mrs. Steinlight gave me much more than my Hebrew name.

We were a rowdy bunch, but Mrs. Steinlight never lost her temper and never raised her voice. She made it clear, though, that she was there to teach, and we were there to learn. But I was not interested.

Mrs. Steinlight made me feel loved anyway.

Eventually, Hebrew and Jewish learning became vital to me, and I realize that Mrs. Steinlight was one of the reasons.

A couple of years before she died I located her and called her on the phone to tell her what she meant to me. Although she was thrilled almost to tears by my call, I sensed that she did not remember me. But no matter! I will always remember that she treated me like a sacred vessel entrusted to her care. And I am so glad I could tell her.

3 thoughts on “My First Hebrew Teacher

  1. Was this themes steinlight at temple bnai Abraham in Newark, NJ? She taught my aleph class at the suburban house Annex in south orange in 1962-63. A no-nonsense teacher who gave us a strong foundation in Hebrew and holidays. Linda Ershow-Levenberg.


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