The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 8 December 2007 / 28 Kislev 5768

"What Would Mama Have Said?"

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
(The following story was sent to us by Ohr Somayach alumnus Rabbi Yitzchak Freeman, a respected London educator now serving as Principal of the Kisharon School.)

This story was told to me by David Goodman, Executive Director of Kisharon and my boss. David is a cousin of Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, the renowned psychologist and originator of the Dynamic Assessment and Instrumental Enrichment approaches to helping people with special educational needs.

Prof. Feuerstein developed his theories and methods out of his post-war work with traumatized and educationally arrested young Holocaust survivors. His successes came to the notice of a wide audience, and in the early '60s the U.S. government commissioned him to roll out his system among the educationally low-achieving and highly segregated Native American Indian population.

In due course, in 1962 Prof. Feuerstein found himself, together with his sister who worked with him, sitting on a buffalo hide in the tribal Big Chief's wigwam on a major reservation. He and his sister sported elaborate Indian headdresses, as the rituals of a traditional welcome ceremony unfolded before them. Struck by the bizarre, almost surreal absurdity of the occasion for two traditional Orthodox Jews, Prof. Feuerstein turned to his sister, and in their childhood home tongue, Yiddish, said to her, "What would Mama have said if she could see us now?!"

The tribal Big Chief, in full ceremonial dress, leaned across to him. "And what," he asked in equally fluent Yiddish, "would she say if she knew I understood what you just said?!" Big Chief was none other than a heimishe Yid who, after the horrors of the war, decided to flee the Jewish world for the most outlandish, different and separated culture he could find, and there assimilate and build a new life…

Sadly, the sequel to this story, if there is one, is not known.

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