What’s in your book?

Posted on March 11, 2014

I’m not talking about novels. I’m talking about a life book. We all have one.
Growing up, I learned very quickly that credibility and legitimacy were earned only by having letters after one’s name: PhD, MD, JD. D’s count for more than M’s: MA, MS, MEd, MSW, MBA. I have two master’s degrees, and half of two more, but you can’t trade them in and level up.
And so, after re-releasing Destined to Choose last year, after winning my company’s sixth award for books I’ve published, it was odd when someone from my past congratulated me on my second master’s. It’s been 13 years since I was in school.
At the time I didn’t know what to think about it, so thanked them and went on. But I started thinking about it again, in a general sense, and thought, “My personal and work accomplishments count for more than a handful of letters after my name, in my book.”

Image: Flickr/Mike Licht

Then I realized: What book is this? What is in my book?
So here are a few entries:
  1. Nobody gets to bully me. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. No more.
  2. I have a right to be acknowledged.
  3. I have a right to my own opinion.
  4. My experience is my experience and doesn’t need supporting documentation.
  5. I have a right to be angry, disappointed, or otherwise upset when I am snubbed by someone else.
  6. I have a right to state my anger, disappointment, or upset, in an appropriate manner and venue.
  7. I have a right to expect others to respect me, my opinions, my experience, and my knowledge.
  8. Nobody gets to make me feel “small” or “less than” or “unqualified” because I have years of experience rather than a university degree in my specialty.
  9. Nobody gets to snub me, insult me, degrade me, or disrespect me just because they have letters after their name.
  10. I have a right to my own boundaries, and I have the right to set those boundaries where I wish.

I’ve been nice. I’ve been diplomatic. I’ve given respect to teachers and rabbis and community leaders because I believe people deserve 1) respect for what they’ve accomplished, and 2) respect for simply being human. Have they returned that respect? No. Not all.

Recently a rabbi told me that if my kids weren’t in his class, it would be a shame because then they would “forget so much of the skill learning that [they] worked to get over the years.”

Excuse me?! 
Why does not being in this one class mean that my kids will no longer learn Torah or speak Hebrew? Does he think that his class is the only Jewish learning my kids get? (He shouldn’t. He’s known me for nearly two decades.) See Entry Numbers 2, 5, 7, 8, and 9 above.
I taught my oldest both Torah and Haftarah trope for his bar mitzvah, even though the shul offers a tutor. My son didn’t work well with the tutor, and I had the skills, so I taught him. It was a lot of fun. He knew most of the prayers from being in shul, and I taught him some of the fun, non-standard tunes for the prayers he’d be leading. He met with a different tutor occasionally to show that he did, in fact, know the prayers.
The day of his bar mitzvah, after services (in which he was, of course, awesome and mistake-free), the tutor with whom he didn’t work came up to me and said, “He did really great. Now everyone will think that we taught him, but that’s okay. We’ll take whatever credit we can get.”
Excuse me?!

It is a Jewish value to give credit where credit is due. The Talmud goes to great lengths to specify who learned what from whom, which is why you read things like “Said Rabbi Elazar in the name of Rabbi Chanina” in the Talmud. (Because everyone reads the Talmud, right? Of course right.) So, we have Jewish teachers, preparing kids for their bar or bat mitzvah, doing the exact opposite?

The Jewish school to which I sent my kids for eight years, and to which we paid many, many tens of thousands of dollars (even going into debt to do so), to which I donated hundreds of hours of time, drove dozens of field trip carpools, worked in the office, brought snacks, wrote marketing material, helped with fundraising, and even designed a custom science/Jewish image, has done a spectacular job of pissing me off. Again and again. I’ve been ignored, snubbed, insulted, and had my contributions gone unrecognized (and I’m not asking for a plaque; a thank you would have been quite sufficient—something beyond an email saying, “Oh, and thank you for that thing you did last month.”). 
I’ve noticed that in our community, having volunteered in nearly every Jewish organization locally at one time or another, that they are very good at tapping volunteers until the volunteers are tapped out, then spitting them out and moving on. Those plaques I mentioned? They’re only for those who give a lot of money. Bonus points if they have letters after their name (though one could argue that many of those D acroyms—MD, JD—also usually come with plenty of donatable income, at least once they pay off their student loans).
The funds are necessary; that’s common sense. But so are hours of effort, expertise, passion, time given to do the things that the generous checks don’t pay for. 
Those who give of themselves are at least as important as those who give of their money. 
In my book.


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