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Who Will You Learn From Next?

Posted on 01/11/2013 @ 07:11 PM

Just the other day, I was describing staff conference to a newer colleague as a mix of a family reunion, learning conference, and work meeting. When you work a summer or other immersive program with someone, you become much more than just colleagues. We live together, eat together, learn from each other and help one another through easy and hard times alike. We rely on each other.

As we approach BBYO’s annual staff conference, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite pieces of Jewish text. In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (“the wisdom of our forefathers”), verse 6 includes this line: “Provide for yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend; and judge everyone charitably.” One of the things I love about this text is the connection made between friends and teachers. We learn best when we are in a comfortable and supported environment. We are most open to personal and professional development when we trust that those around us want us to succeed.

But I also appreciate that this text doesn’t assume that teachers – or friends – come passively. Provide, get – these are active, intentional words which underscore personal responsibility toward our own development. We must be proactive by seeking out the learning opportunities, and teachers (formal and otherwise!) who surround us – and discover what knowledge is available.

Many have looked quizzically at third portion of this passage – judge everyone charitably. Though a seemingly incongruous part of the maxim, it’s this last piece that seals the deal on this text’s special place for me. If we are going to be good teachers, students, friends, human beings, we have to approach everyone assuming the best of intentions, as painfully difficult as that might be. We have to assume that the person who comes late to a session at staff conference was involved in a very important phone call. The person who lingers in the door with their lunch is not snubbing you; they’re waiting to be invited to sit down. And that quiet, new staff member you’ve never met before – just wait until you see what they can teach you.

So as we go into Staff Conference 2013, keep this quote in mind and be challenged by it. And always ask yourself – what new friend can I learn from next?

Prepared by Rachel Meytin, Director of Panim & Jewish Enrichment

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