“You and I Will Change the World”

Monday, November 13, 2023

These remarks were delivered by Allison Cook, co-founder and co-director of Hadar’s Pedagogy partnership, at the Covenant Awards dinner on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.

Thank you to the Crown Family and the Covenant Foundation for this wonderful honor. And Mazal Tov to Tamara and Nicole; I am honored to be counted in your company. 

Ani v’atah neshaneh et haolam
Ani v’atah, az yavo’u kvar kulam
Amru et zeh kodem lifanai, zeh lo mishaneh
Ani v’atah neshaneh et haolam …  

You and I will change the world…

This song, by beloved Israeli singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, expresses the conviction that people, together in relationship, have the power to change the world. I grew up singing this song in Young Judaea, arms linked and swaying with several of you sitting here today. From a young age I was taught that Jewish education is about no less than this: changing the world. 

There is a tension in the field of education about whether we should be focused on preparing students for the real world–the world that is, or whether we should be preparing students for the world that ought to be. All of us sitting here today in the world-that-is know deeply that the distance between these worlds remains vast. 

Yet, I believe that Jewish learning gives us tools–skills, knowledge and the imagination to map our way and travel along that distance. 

In Pedagogy of Partnership we study a story from the Talmud with our educators. It is a story about teaching and learning Torah that culminates with the Heavenly Voice offering a teacher a reward: The reward of meriting the World to Come–or perhaps for our purposes, the world-that-ought-to- be. 

What did this teacher do to draw this Divine recognition? 

The Gemara states that the teacher, Rav Perida, had a student to whom he would repeat each lesson four hundred times until the student understood it. One would think that Rav Perida is being rewarded for this extraordinary patience. But we do not hear from the Heavenly Voice until one day, when the student was not able to learn. 

It is on this day when Rav Perida asks his student “why, what is different now?” Knowing that his teacher was needed elsewhere, the student feared that his teacher would get up and leave him and so he could not concentrate. Rav Perida reassured his student. He stayed with him. And taught him again 400 times. 

The Heavenly Voice seems to be responding to something beyond the quantity of the repetitions. Rather there is a new quality of presence that draws God’s blessing. Perhaps this is the Torah taught and learned:

When teachers and students are truly committed to being fully present for one another, opening themselves to Torah, –this true havruta that we form, creates in this world-that-is just a little bit of the world-that-ought-to-be.

I am here today because of the sacred presence I experienced in my own Jewish education–from that of my family, my teachers, my friends and colleagues, and my students. I am deeply appreciative. 

Me and you can change the world. Az yavo’u kvar kulam…  by then everyone will follow. As Orit and I like to say, “one havruta at a time.”