Photo of Sara Smith
Dr. Sara Smith

Dr. Sara Smith is the Assistant Dean of the Graduate Center for Jewish Education. She earned her PhD from New York University and M.A. and B.A. degrees from Brandeis University.

Over the summer, AJU renovated the third floor academic wing. This process included painting the walls and doors, which necessitated removing the mezuzot from the doorposts. Last week, Rabbi Elliot Dorph led the university staff and students in reaffixing mezuzot along that hallway. This brief ceremony symbolized a rededication of the hallway--a hallway of learning. It was quite a site to see staff and students spread out along the long hallway, individually reciting the blessing for putting up a mezuza.

Participating in this process reminded me of Channuka in two ways. First, when we light the channukia, we often do so in a group and yet each recite our own blessing over our own candles. Second, the holiday itself is about the rededication of the Temple after it had been desecrated by the Greeks. The story of the miracle of the oil occurred in the rededicated Temple, which is why it was so hard to find pure, untouched oil. Just as the Temple was rededicated for holy work, so too, the hallways of AJU were rededicated for the sacred work of learning.

It is no coincidence, then, that in Hebrew, the roots of the words dedication and education are the same. Using the lens of dedication to think about education helps us to understand the significance of the work we do as educators. And thinking about how we light Channuka candles encourages us to truly think about our learners. While education often happens in group or communal settings, each individual learner experiences their own process and journey. It is amazing to watch a classroom of learners all engaged in their learning yet working at various paces, levels of understanding, and coming from different backgrounds. Learning is both a communal experience and an individual experience, and it is our job as educators to facilitate those parallel experiences.