Hope Blecher
Member, Hadassah Lower New York State Chapter

Supporting Teachers Is My Call to Action – What’s Yours?

The Lorax
Photo Credit: Dr. Seuss Sculpture Gardens
The Lorax (Twitter)

Recently, I was punched in the stomach. A LinkedIn commentator told me my post was too personal. I was told that it was too narrative. I was told that teachers are going on LinkedIn to get out of teaching, not for help teaching. 

This was the same week that Art Spiegelman’s Maus was banned by a group of people, a school board, in a town in Tennessee. According to a NY Times report, the board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel because it contained swear words.  

This was the same week I found out that two books I treasure, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web had been on banned books lists.  

This is the same week I used social media to participate in the Rosh Chodesh service by Women of the Wall, WOW. I was in the comfort of my home while they were telling their story amidst hecklers, cheers and jeers. They were reading a Torah, our narrative.

As a person,
As a woman,
As a Jew,
As a teacher,
As an administrator,
As a person who has worked in public education,
As a person who has worked in Yeshiva education, |
I felt like I was punched in the stomach. 

Now, this commentator from LinkedIn did not know I was Jewish. I do not want you to say the person was antisemitic. That would be totally out of context and untrue. 

Now, a deep breath, a pause. Let’s look at history for the times that people’s narratives were quieted or silenced. What comes to mind? Let’s look at what happens when such attempts are made. What comes to mind? 

A few examples of people whose narratives have been quieted reflect censorship, the politics of the times and accepted societal norms. Some of their stories are slowly being unveiled by immediate family members, distant relatives or complete strangers. They include: Sally Hemings, the Indigenous Peoples, the Radium Girls, The Japanese Internment Camps in the US, Henrietta Lacks, and Andrei Sakharov.  

This gut-wrenching feeling isn’t about this style of writing.
It’s about the results of not sharing one’s story.
That story is the basis of Maus.
That story is the basis of The Little Prince.
Fern’s farm really exists.
Where would Hadassah be if it wasn’t for personal stories? 

For those readers wondering what my LinkedIn post was about, it was about The Lorax by Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.  

Maybe now more than ever, I do speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues. 

For those in education in general, in public schools or parochial settings, for those homeschoolers or un-schoolers, this book can be used from multiple lenses. Tie it to Tu BiShevat. Use it for Arbor Day and Earth Day. Use it for a lesson about what influences writers to include this and that into their books. Use it for a geography lesson and for a propaganda lesson.

Tu BiShevat is the birthday of the trees and then follows Arbor Day and Earth Day. View The Lorax through the eyes of a tree. Which trees in your neighborhood are dying and why? What can possibly be done to save those trees? Does your town have an official tree? Have students write to the local 4-H, or your local Shade Tree Commission to have your town adopt a tree.  

There are many factors that influence writers. Using The Lorax, have students predict which real life environmental elements may have influenced Theodore Geisel. Then, research his life to compare and contrast their answers with their findings. This approach can be done with other books, authors and illustrators.  

In The Lorax, Dr. Seuss includes the names of real locations. Have students look for these in the book. Where are these locales in relation to where the school is located? Plan a trip to those places. What’s the budget? Go to the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden in Massachusetts.  

There is much written by Theodore Geisel about his career as an illustrator and author. What did he represent through his war cartoons? What statements was he making through the illustrations and the written words? These articles and interviews can be used to explore the concept of propaganda. For a more current and still living author and illustrator, a similar analysis is taking place around the work of Art Spiegelman, of Maus.  

Use it as I view The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It isn’t an affront to Jews. It deepens the discussion, the learning, and breathes life into us. There were scenes throughout the three seasons of Mrs. Maisel where my daughter and I would be looking up something in the siddur, looking up a tradition online or calling a friend to say, “Did you see that?” “It happened like that in my house, too!” The scenes in the synagogue and over holiday dinners were conversation starters. A television show to which we could laugh, connect and chat about–and that dares to put on such a show representing a minority of the world’s population–that’s pop culture and that’s a good feeling, too. 

Another example is Faye Kellerman’s Rina Lazarus-Peter Decker book series. When I read Ritual Bath, I was hooked. It was the first time I read a book that had such contemporary and explicit Jewish content while being a mainstream book in the mystery genre. I read it after my aunt recommended it to me. It was a book we shared, talked about and lent to others. There were times I read something and then looked it up to check for accuracy, sometimes historic accuracy and sometimes Judaic accuracy.  

Our narratives are in our DNA. Narratives were and are the building block of Hadassah.

And just this week, Hadassah sent out a press release for an event, Telling the Jewish Story, “Telling the Jewish Story in 2022, a webinar featuring leading figures in the Jewish media world opining on the latest trends in their field”. Lisa Hostein, Executive Editor of Hadassah Magazine was one of the panelists for this webinar. 

I look forward to being part of the blocks, the structure and the community at large. This spring that participation looks like my 25+ year old daughter and I enrolling in Hadassah’s Every Move Counts program. This is a show of support for heart health and that is a topic of immediate impact to my family. My father, rest in peace, had a heart attack and lived another 20 years. My former husband has IHSS, a genetic heart disease and our twenty something year old children have yearly visits with their cardiologists.  

I come to this place from being the first girl in my family to have a Sabbath morning Bas Mitzvah. Then to earning my Menorah Award as a Girl Scout in Bergenfield, NJ and onto Cook College and learning from its first female rabbi. I bring to the current state, previous experiences as a mom who provided miniature Judaic items so my daughter could have a version of a Jewish Batsheva and Chen, aka Barbie and Ken.

I come to today with a background in public school education and then a transition to being a teacher and administrator in a yeshiva. In between, I experienced a Jewish wedding and a Jewish divorce, complete with a get. Most of all, I come to this moment as a person who’s spent most of my years on the East Coast and who’s supported a son and a daughter to embrace their passions for learning and travel, so that they can start their life journeys true to themselves.  

Today, I pulled off to the side of the road. I didn’t get pulled over by a law enforcement officer. I made the decision not to follow the GPS. I turned off my car, stepped outside and breathed in the cold, fresh winter air, along with the majesty of the snow laden reservoir. Here, I thought to myself, our hope is not lost. Hatikvah.

About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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