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Ayeka: Presence and Presents

June 27, 2017

By: Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer,  School Rabbi at Milken Community Schools and Ayeka Mentor 

What does a year of Ayeka bring? For the student, countless gifts: focused learning, spiritual reflection, exploration of the soul. And for the teacher? After a school year of teaching Torah with the help of Ayeka, educators on our faculty found that the most significant gifts emerged directly from the greatest challenges. What started as the least comfortable part of Ayeka to the teachers invariably grew to be the most valuable.

 

For one teacher, the struggle was Soul Stories. At first, he thought he understood the concept: just tell a story. But his tales were falling flat. Students were politely listening to the stories, but there was no noticeable impact. The teacher was frustrated: What am I not doing? Over time — and with encouragement from Ayeka staff — something began to shift. His stories — originally carefully crafted, designed to entertain and impress — transitioned into something else. They became real. And unrehearsed. And powerful. They felt different — stories that demonstrated the teacher’s own authentic spiritual struggles. A gift — truly earned — from Ayeka.

Another teacher — who embraced and loved all parts of Ayeka from day one — faced a different challenge: how to know what the student is experiencing? After all, the journaling is designed to be an individual experience; even the spiritual-chevruta exercise can have limited revelations. In its essence, this part of Ayeka is utterly private. The teacher wondered: are my students engaged? Is the exercise touching their souls? How can we possibly know that, without being intrusive? One day, after class, the teacher received his answer: a student approached him in tears. The learning — the four questions about the now, the ideal, the obstacle and the advice — had opened her heart and touched its depths. The teacher, who had struggled to measure impact, learned that spiritual impact is immeasurable. A gift — powerfully gained — from Ayeka.

 

For another teacher, the ongoing struggle was this: how to make this a personal process, as opposed to just a professional strategy? Ayeka provides a powerful philosophy for text learning. But how do we keep it from becoming just another teaching protocol? How do we make sure it’s a whole approach instead of one of many classroom strategies? Over the year, the teacher internalized Ayeka as her own Torah guide. She challenged herself to re-study her own (very familiar) curriculum, not for the sake of academic clarity, but for its spiritual power. And throughout the year, the fourth of Ayeka’s four questions continually sang out to her: “after learning this text, what’s one small piece of advice you have for yourself?” As the year progressed, the wisdom flowed; wisdom from the learning, wisdom from the process, wisdom from deep within. For the veteran teacher, the familiar became new and the text evoked fresh and very personal lessons. Another gift — alive with possibility — from Ayeka.