Yesterday was a busy day for Eeees and myself. In the morning, we had an opportunity to sit in our Walter's shiur (Gemara class). We got to meet the Rebbe and I got to see some of the kids who are in his Masmidim (Honors) class.
Firstly, I like the rebbe very much. He's a young clean-shaven guy (can't be much older than I am) who really connects with the kids and makes the learning enjoyable for them. He involves them in the class and, instead of just teaching them the Gemara, is instead teaching them *how* to learn the Gemara on their own. Of course, at the ninth grade level, they're not ready to sit and make a laining (preparation of the text of the Gemara) just yet, but he has clearly got them started on the right path. He talks to the kids, instead of talking down at them and involves them in the discussion at all times. Of course, the fact that Walter likes him as a rebbe is also very encouraging. (He even makes reference to topics the kids can relate to -- at one point, he mentioned the Riddler and the fact that he is OCD.)
However, what also impressed me was the diversity in the student body and in the class. Here was a class of boys that didn't all look like clones of each other. The boys all wore button-down shirts (as required by the dress code), but of all different colors. The yarmulkes ranged from knitted, to leather, to suede to velvet and in different sizes. Some were all black, others had designs and logos. There were kids from all different extractions -- Ashkenazim, Sefardim, (some who looked) Yemenite and probably from different levels of observance as well. It was quite a difference from the school where he came from, where all the kids were Ashkenazim (there may have been the occassional Sefardi in the school, but they were few and far between -- I think there was one in Walter's class), all wore white shirts/dark slacks, all wore the same yarmulkes and all, for the most part, had the same backgrounds and behaviors (or so we thought, anyway). This, I feel is a good thing. I would like Walter to understand that there are different types of people in the world and that not everyone has to be "just like him" to be a good person and that he shouldn't turn up his nose at someone just because they dress differently, have a different hashkafah or different ethnic background. I'm hoping that over the next four years, he learns the valuable lesson of accepting people despite their differences, rather than attacking them for being different from yourself (as we've seen in the news lately).
Later on in the day, Eeees and I went to a reunion. When we were both in college, we both served on the Emergency Medical Squad in the college. Yesterday, there was a reunion of the members of the squad, going back to its founding 30 years ago. We got to meet with old friends, reminisce and swap stories with the old members, catch up on what was happening with their lives (Mike married Mary Kay??!!) and have a wonderful time. Since many members of the squad over the years were Orthodox, all the food was kosher.
In many ways, I consider the time I spent in the squad the most valuable time that I spent in college -- in many cases, even more valuable than my class time. Having come from a high school much like Walter's elementary school (only much more so, if you can truly believe it), I never had much exposure to non-Orthodox Jews (except for family members) and non-Jews. As such, while I certainly a lot more tolerant of other people than my classmates in high school, it was here, in the squad, that I learned to form friendships with people from other backgrounds. It was here that I had the first opportunity to socialize with people who weren't strictly from "my own type." And it was here that I learned, for the first time, to accept people for who they are -- not for what minhagim they observe, or which religion they practice, how they dress or what they think about evolution or the origin of the world. When you're working with a team to save lives, you don't really care what religion the EMT next to you is. When you ask the dispatcher for the status of local hospitals, you don't really care whether or not she's dressed in a completely tznius fashion. You focus on one goal -- saving lives. And even when you're not actively involved in the saving of lives -- even if you're just hanging around in the office waiting for a call to come in -- you realize that you can work together and get along with and even be friends with people with whom you have no religious connection -- people who may be Jewish and non-Orthodox, people who may be devout Christians, Muslims or Hindus, or even those that are completely non-religious. *This* was what I learned in my time in the Emergency Medical Squad (along with lifesaving skills, teamwork skills, etc.) and, in many respects, that was far more valuable than the coursework that I took.