My 98-year-old grandmother, Honey, passed away last weekend. The love, memories, lessons and traditions that she passed on to me are invaluable. They cannot be learned in a classroom or taught from a textbook. They can’t be Googled, Facebooked, streamed through video, or fit into a tight schedule between 10:42 a.m. and 11:17 a.m. These lessons were imparted with love, taught through modeling, came via stories and experiences, and built a legacy.
As a Jewish educator, I firmly believe that there is more to an education than school. A person grows out of exposure to experiences, formal and informal learning, conversations, travel , reading, listening, eating, smelling, trying, trying again and love. You learn to associate various foods with holidays and traditions, through modeling—shopping, cooking and eating together; to support one another through tough times by watching the adults around you forge ahead together through their tribulations, side by side; to celebrate with joy and abundance by planning and partying in concert; and to be a mensch, by watching how those you love and admire treat one another, build each other up and interact.
What a blessing it was to grow up as Honey’s granddaughter! I sat around her kitchen table drinking tea with her, and preparing for our next family occasion together (Shabbat, holiday, celebration or meal of condolence). She always had time for me, was ready to share her knowledge and impart her wisdom. Ready to coax a smile out of me when I was down and remind me that relationships were the most important part of life. She also kept me in line when I forgot that. She could point out the folly of a situation and helped me grow into who I am today. I love you Honey and hope to do justice to the legacy you left for me.
Sue Penn is a mother of three, Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, president of Jewish Reconstructionist Educators of North America and a member of the Jewish Educators Assembly.