KJ Hannah Greenberg

Lecturing Stories: Part Three

Some of my local, academic encounters were laughable. At the time, though, I neither chortled nor guffawed as I needed income and had yet to reposition myself on another career path. Simply, other folks’ callousness (I’d prefer to think that they were misguided, not vindictive) often presented a stumbling block for me.

I refuse to believe that I erred in being idealistic, then or now, about Eretz Yisrael, in general, or about how Am Yisrael ought to behave, more exactly. Nonetheless, even today, I need to work on accepting people where they are in their journeys rather than feeling hurt or angry when they mistreat me.

As it were, happenstances at educational institutions, here, have lead me to feeling wronged. In one interaction, my modest dress was sized up by a department chair before she extended her hand to greet me for an interview. Thereafter, she informed me that, as a Jew of a certain persuasion, I ought to be willing to lecture for her for free.

I was aghast. I had delivered scholarship at international meetings and had interconnected with researchers across the globe for years. Accordingly, I couldn’t rationalize away that woman’s regard (or lack thereof) for me was one of  “cultural differences.” Rather, it was one of what would prove to be many events that apprised me that, sometimes, the worst animosity is among siblings, not between the nations and us.

The Rebbe tutored us there are no types of Jews, just Jews. His conviction makes a good foundation for our overcoming familial discord. We must oppose pre-existing beliefs that prejudice us against each other, notwithstanding their popularity. Our assorted paradigms might vary in their conceptualizations of “truth,” “self,” “compliance with commandments” and so forth, but those incommensurabilities can be transcended by subjugating those differences to inspired ontological orders. Essentially, we don’t have to approve of other Jews’ stances. What’s vital is that we accept, not judge, each other. I guess that department chair didn’t “receive the memo.”

Irrespective of the above, not all of my lecture stories take place in higher education venues. Some occur in secondary schools. For example, shortly after I made aliyah, I applied to teach at a private high school geared to international students.

Although that school’s head dressed similar to me, she, too, treated me poorly. She repeatedly commented on a stray curl that had slipped from my head covering and insisted that my demonstration class be profoundly edifying.

It seemed inappropriate to me that she had remarked on my appearance. It seemed even worse that she insisted that I jump through unnatural hoops (the students who were my audience were seniors who were waiting out their final week of school. Those youths had no interest in the words of nor empathy toward any adult trying to “force” new information into their heads.)

Consequently, I had suggested to that school’s chief that I present lighter fare. However, she insisted that I conduct a “regular” class. In fact, that woman was annoyed that I taught my “regular” class in a dialogical, i.e. student-centric, not in a rhetorical, i.e. teacher-centric, manner.

In the end, while I was speaking, the students threw food at each other, signed each other’s yearbooks and cross talked. Yet, the principal rebuked me because she was disappointed in the outcome of my demonstration. As well, before I left her building, she again censored me for my stray curl.

Years later, parents finally grew wise to that school’s policy of lecturing at, instead of engaging, their children. Concurrently, the school’s staff began to resist the administrator’s donnybrooks. The school closed.

In short, although it remains true that we must praise, and, if necessary, adulate, those among us who suffer from observable impediments, we’re obliged to protect the young as well as to look after ourselves. If we want reform, we must countenance personal change plus rethink any blithe agreements that we’ve made to maintain identities circumscribed by society’s canons. All of us possess some means of knowing that promotes the wisdom of experience over the demand to seek mercenary superlatives.

By dealing with differing archetypes’ respective speech contents, words-as-actions, settlements, provisions, self-projected stories about our lives, and values, we can illuminate our goings-on. It’s advantageous for us to find these equivalents because doing so enables us to enhance our own and our students’ predictive, heuristic, and generative communications.

In the States, one area of my research was classroom discourse between empowered and less privileged persons. My meta-conclusion was that I might win academic awards, receive monies to further my work and have publishing opportunities, but could never, on my own, alter the way in which pedagogy takes place or is regulated.

The same ends hold true for higher (and secondary) education in Israel. The system’s benefits (at least to a minority) outweigh the system’s costs. There’s little incentive or dedicated resources for change.

So, in looking to enter academia in Israel, I picked my battles. One outcome of this strategy was that I evolved into a full-time creative writer.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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