What did I learn from Rachel Brodie? What didn’t I learn? That might be an easier question to answer…but here are just a couple of gems I learned from Rachel.
Rachel had a unique and ingenious way of teaching. She was a master of big Jewish ideas. Her uncanny ability to make uncommon connections and find clever ways to see things in a new way were sources of endless delight for me. I was always in awe of Rachel’s brilliant creativity. During the 2017-2018 school year, Rachel worked with us at Brandeis Marin to revamp our Jewish Studies curriculum across the school. Where did Rachel turn for inspiration in thinking about how to organize the major concepts, big ideas and essential skills for our Jewish Studies curriculum? The Next Generation Science Standards. Of course. I recall sitting in 10H (my apologies if that reference is unknown to you) and listening to her walk me through the powerpoint presentation she made that meticulously adapted the way science curriculum is scoped and applied it to Jewish content. I wish I could describe it in detail here but suffice it to say it is a brilliant Jewish Studies curricular framework with specific learning benchmarks and affective outcomes, anchored in biblical text and commentary, linked to middot, and integrated with grade level themes. Rachel helped us expand the traditional framework of holidays and chumash to focus on what she called “weekday Judaism” as a way to engage students in meaningful and compelling Jewish learning. It is wide angle Judaism in a day school.
Rachel’s creative brilliance also left a lasting mark on how I read and make sense of Jewish texts. I will never read the Book of Jonah the same way again after hearing Rachel describe it as “a trippy fairy tale about a depressive saved from attempted suicide with the support of a really big fish!” I will never think about mourner’s kaddish the same way again after hearing Rachel posit that “yehay shmay rabbah mevorach” (“may the ‘big name’ be blessed”) can be read as an affirmation that when we remember those we have lost, we add that person’s name to the grand collection of all the names of those who have passed on (“shmay rabbah”). In fact, I will never think about a lot of things the same way after hearing Rachel talk about them.
I don’t like living in a world without Rachel Brodie but I know for sure that the world is a better place because she was in it. Her memory is a blessing and may it always be.
Dr. Peg Sandel is the proud head of school at Brandeis Marin, a K-8 Jewish day school located in San Rafael.