This month the world of Jewish Education lost a giant. A female force for good in the modern world. Maureen Kendler was a gifted teacher and informal educator and in Jewish circles, she was both loved and respected by those that knew her and were privileged to learn from and with her.
I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by her about the portrayal of the 4 sons in the Passover Hagaddah at a Limmud Event in the UK. With Passover approaching at the end of this week it seemed like a good time to think about the session and how much I enjoyed it.
The session was called “Why are these 4 sons different to those other 4 sons?”.
Maureen took us on a journey through a thousand years of the sons (and in more modern versions, daughters too of course) and how these were represented through illustrations and how this had changed over time.
It wasn’t something I had ever thought of. As a family, we had just a few versions that we usually looked at and I had never really considered the illustrations as anything other than an accompanying nicety. Maureen blew that lazy idea right out of the water for me!
Maureen was a humble educator. She didn’t care if you knew nothing or a lot. She never assumed knowledge but never made you feel bad for not knowing the basics. She enjoyed imparting her knowledge in an interesting and somewhat different way. Somehow when she taught the audience just got drawn in. It was like being inside the process rather than on the outside looking in. It was joyful. It was enlightening. It was wonderful.
Every year, since I attended her session about the 4 sons, when I sit at the seder with friends I tell them about the sons and the pictures. I encourage everyone to share the pictures that they have in their versions of the book and we have a chat about what we see and how the pictures differ. I tell them about the session I went to and how interesting it was. It was just an hour or so but what an impression Maureen left on me and on the other attendees.
To have such a gift is something only a true educator has. Maureen was, in my opinion, an educator extraordinaire. She will be missed by those that knew her well and by those whom she just touched the edges of their education, like me.
Maureen was the epitome of an ‘Ima Kadima’, a forward-thinking career-minded mother who was passionate about women’s voices in education and the Jewish world, being heard and celebrated. If you would like to hear and see her in action please do click on the link to the video of her talk 52%: At the Crossroads.
This year, like every year, I will enjoy looking at all the sons and the children in our haggadot on seder night. Perhaps, in tribute to Maureen, you would also like to do this, this year, next year, any year. I think that she would like it.