I always loved reading, and enjoyed perusing the shelves of my local library for new books. I remember one day finding a book in my local library by the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, “Torrents of Spring.” As a twelve-year-old and incurably romantic, I read the jacket and learned that is was a passionate love story. And it had such a pretty cover. So I borrowed it and, while I did read it, I doubt that I understood the story that addressed one of Turgenev’s favorite themes, “a man’s inability to love without losing his innocence and becoming enslaved to obsessive passions.” You think?
Most likely, I just shrugged my shoulders and went on to the next pretty cover in the adult section. I was lucky. My parents, though not formally educated, were both readers. My mother liked mysteries (like me) and my father loved history—general and Jewish. He often stressed how reading expanded our understanding of our history and the world around us, and was how we became vital members of our community.
Recently, I delivered a D’var Torah on leadership and I referred to a Jerusalem Post article from June 2012, that enumerated seven principles of good leadership. A very important one was that “Leaders learn.” According to the article, “They study more than others do. They read more than others do. The Torah says that a king must write his own Sefer Torah which ‘must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life’ (Deut. 17: 19). Joshua, Moses’s successor, is commanded: ‘Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night’ (Josh. 1: 8). Without constant study, leadership lacks direction and depth.”
The article was fascinating in pointing out the extensive libraries and reading habits of some noted leaders: William Gladstone, a British politician who served as Prime Minister four separate times, had a library of more than 30,000 books. He read more than 20,000 of them. In David Ben-Gurion’s house in Tel Aviv there is a library with 20,000 books. Presidents John F Kennedy and Theodore Roosevelt were voracious readers. “Study makes the difference between the statesman and the politician, between a transformative leader and a manager,” writes the Jerusalem Post.
Kelsey Meyers in an article in Forbes, says, “Leaders must be learners. But reading really is important. Read the opinions of others, and discover the ways in which you agree or disagree.”
When I taught English in high school a millennia ago, I told my students that, if they learned only one thing in my class, I hoped it will be an appreciation for reading. By reading we increase our understanding of the world around us, and learn skills we need to live a more productive and fulfilling life; we find ways to cope with the life’s challenges and develop a greater insight of others.
Let us hope that those who wish to lead our country feel and think the same way.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.