Y'hi Zichra barukh
My third grade teacher, G'veret Cohn died this weekend. G'veret/Mrs. Cohn was one of those teachers we used to categorize as "strict but good". G'veret Cohn was in her early 50's when she was my teacher. I was seven. She spoke both Hebrew and English with a strong Polish/Yiddish accent.
She was a teacher with a mission. She expected us to become serious spiritual Jews.While G'veret Cohn taught us meany things well, she really excelled at teaching us Bible. We had begun our study of the book of Genesis the year before with large lettered textbooks that contained just the biblical text. In G'veret Cohn's class we moved on to the more grown up text with Rashi's commentary at the bottom of the page printed in regular Hebrew print. ( by fourth grade we had moved on to volumes with Rashi printed in the more usual "Rashi" typeface)
I believe that we began the year's work in bible at some point during the Abraham story. We learned in the traditional way, verse by verse, reading the verse first in Hebrew and then translating into English. G'veret Cohn would then teach us the issues raised by the verse by the traditional commentators. When we began studying Rashi's commentary a bit into the school year. The fact that Rashi was in fact preserving old oral traditions of commentary was something that we understood in our bones. We had experienced the oral transmission of commentary through G'veret Cohn, and now we could begin reading those collected teachings.
G'veret Cohn loved our forefathers and mothers. She helped us to see them as individuals to admire. I remember times when she would wrap up her lesson in bible for the day and we would beg her for just one more verse, followed by promises to be good for the rest of the day if she fulfilled our requests.
Sometimes she did agree to teach just one more verse.
I first encountered Aesop's fables in her class. We learned them in Hebrew. G'veret Cohn used to leave off the moral of the story and have the class come up with suggestions for the moral. I do remember that I always guessed wrong.
Yesterday, my sister sent me the text of a talk G'veret Cohn had given about how she had become a teacher.
A word of clarification about Beis Yaakov schools. In this country they tend to be more than slightly regressive religious girls schools that tend to promote a narrow vision of the world and a very narrow role for women within that world.Clearly the school that G'veret Cohn founded was in many ways revolutionary while it instilled young women with the love of Judaism and Jewish texts.
Despite G'veret Cohn's old word accent and straight laced appearance she was in many ways an innovative dynamic teacher. My own facility with Jewish texts has it's roots in her classroom.
Y'hi zichra barukh, May her memory be a blessing.