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Malkie Herson's Blog

Thoughts from Malkie Herson


Imagine life three thousand years ago... Compare it to how we live today... How different it is, at least in the concrete, day-to-day aspects. Yet, at our core, we are still so much the same as the people who have lived before us. Specifically, the passage of knowledge and values from one generation to the next.

Although, the process of transmission is vastly different, the idea that knowledge builds upon prior reservoirs of knowledge remains the same. And, it remains consistent that it is our responsibility to connect our present to the past, and pass that on to our children, the future.

This Sunday, September 28th, 2007, our Chabad Center will begin the process of writing our own Torah scroll. The Torah has been the primary document in which Jewish tradition and moral codes have been passed down for millennia. Yet, even the process of writing the Torah is still the same today as it always has been. Today, we still employ the identical process as when the first Torah was written, transcribed by Moses, 3,320 years ago! Just as it has always been, a highly-trained scribe puts quill to parchment and painstakingly handwrites each letter on an animal skin that has been prepped to become parchment. He etches markings into the parchment to form the lines and margins, so that the columns are straight. He uses ink that is made from an assortment of berries, and his writing instrument is a hand-hewn quill. An ancient art in our relevant present.

Even from an anthropological perspective, the process of transcribing a Torah scroll fascinates me. The past and present coalesce; I feel the continuum of humanity and the comfort that it brings to be part that.

Typically, when a synagogue commissions the writing of a new Torah scroll, the celebration is at its completion. When the Kissel family volunteered to sponsor the writing of our new Torah scroll, we saw the opportunity to create an educational event from this experience. We wanted to give our children and our community the gift of context, the gift of continuity. At this event, participants will have the opportunity to see this age-old art at work. We will hold our own quill and handwrite our own letters. And, amidst good friends, food and lively music, we will celebrate our part in the link of eternity! 



I was just 3-years old when my teacher, Morah Debbie, read a very special story to me. It was about a boy who planted a seed.

The characterization was multi-dimensional and detailed. There were full-bodied descriptions even of the secondary characters...the boy’s father, his mother, his brother. Their voices, their clothing, their smells were distinct and well-described. The props – such as the pipe his father smoked – were almost tangible to my three-year-old mind.

I remember where the little boy lived, what his room looked like – especially the room that was the primary setting of the story. I remember the weather in the story, where he got the seeds to plant, the way the earth felt when he planted those seeds.

It was a very profound, complex story. I remember feeling like this book was a hundred pages long. The plot built up to a crescendo with a fabulous sense of irony. I rooted for the protagonist, the little boy.

Fast forward twenty three years. I was now twenty six, with a three-year-old child of my own. Standing in Barnes and Nobel one day, I saw that book. It was as if a magnetic energy pulled me to the bookshelf: The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss. It had the same cover, the same colors. I opened the book with almost a reverence...What?! I was shocked. The book was only twelve pages. And on each page was but a single sentence. A rather simple story: There was a little boy who planted a carrot seed. He was surrounded by nay-sayers. The little boy persisted. And the carrot seed grew...just as the little boy knew it would.

The disparity between how I remembered the book and how I read it as an adult was imbalanced. But upon reflection, I realized that the author, Ruth Krauss gave me a great, great gift, the gift of Space. In her story, Ruth Krauss provided me with a framework so that I had the impetus to imagine. And, then she left it wide open, a mile-long radius that I was able to fill with my own sense of self. Three-year-old Malkie Mangel taught 26-year-old Malkie Herson a very important lesson: Children are competent. Children have their own thoughts, their own contributions. If only we believe in them. If only we leave enough space for exploration and discovery.

It is in this (conceptual) space that we all – not just children – have the capacity to meet our own highest potential. When we are granted freedom from preconceived notions and already-formulated opinions, we are given the sweet, sweet gift of exploration on our own terms. It is a gift that bestows upon the receiver the subliminal message, “You are competent.” And, almost without fail, when we feel that people believe in us, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And, amazingly, we BECOME competent!
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