I am a graduate of the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. My school taught us about our culture, religion, and all the general studies. In grade ten, I had a teacher who was supposed to be teaching Tanach (the written torah). I was having much difficulty in that class. I couldn't grasp the material, couldn't understand what the teacher was trying to say, and I was afraid that I was unteachable in the subject. It was an absolutely miserable time. I went to the guidance department to try and figure out some way to salvage the remainder of the year. The advice I got from my counsellor was not what I expected. I was told that I could go into enriched Tanach. I was perplexed by this advice. If I couldn't understand what was happening in the normal stream, how could I survive enriched? I was told that the teacher of the enriched class was a special man. He could get anyone to learn. I decided to try it out.
Walking into that class that first day, I was beyond nervous. I was afraid that I would fail. I feared being laughed at. I thought I would be so far behind all of the other students that I would never be able to catch up. However, right from the start, Rav Don accepted me into the fold. He had a way of making anyone understand what he was teaching. He had a smile that was infectious. He would light up a room the moment he walked in. He knew how to reach people. His enthusiasm for the material made it all accessible.
That year, I remember that we were learning the story of Exodus. It was the year that The Prince of Egypt came out in the theatres. Rav Don planned a field trip for us. We all went to the movies, clipboards and pens in hand. We sat in that theatre and took notes on every little detail the movie got wrong. It was the ultimate the book is better experience.
That year was filled with shabbatons, holidays, special school days, and at all of them, our teacher was always front and centre in my memories. He encouraged our interests, and fostered our love of learning. His sense of ruach and love of the school made that classroom a place of lively discussion and a safe place for disagreements on the text.
My final exam that year, Rav Don, knowing my unique position in the class, told me that I could have extra time. He understood that I wasn't as fluent in Hebrew as the other students, and that I might need the time translating the text and composing my answers. I don't think I ever studied harder then I did for that exam. All I wanted was to make him proud. On exam return day, I got my exam back. I passed with flying colours. Turning to the back of the exam booklet, I saw this note: "Thank you Ali for making me the nicest surprise. I knew that you could do it." I still have that test in my filing drawer.
After that year, I was giving the option of dropping back down to the normal stream. However, this would mean giving up being in his class again. I stayed in Rav Don's enriched Tanach class until my graduation.
Rav Don was what our school called a shaliach. This meant that he came to Toronto from Israel to teach for a couple of years and then he would be going home. I remember him joking that our graduation was his as well. He went back after we were done. I stayed in touch with him via snail mail. I loved getting the odd letters from him. He knew what I was up to, and encouraged my writing. He was a special man, an incredible educator, a father, husband, and friend.
It pains me to be writing about him in past tense. But today I received the news that he was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in an attack not far from his home. I don't want to think about the way he died. I will not give his attacker power by wasting words on what he did. I will remember Rav Don always with a smile on his face, encouraging a nervous young girl to do her best, and learn to love an ancient text. He taught me that it was okay to question, that this was the best way to learn. He taught me to believe in myself and in my abilities. He is a big part of the reason that Hadariah exists, and to think of a world without him teaching, learning, and smiling that smile is a blow to the heart.
My heart and prayers go to his wife and children. May they find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
** It pains me to say this, but hate and nasty comments are not welcome here.