Skip To Content

Prepent Day 2: You Had Me at Nice

Monday 9/5/16

Elul 2 5776

Dear Ms. Mayefsky,

One of the online security questions that sometimes pops up asks me for the ‘name of a favorite teacher.’ I usually name you but I don’t think I’ve ever really thanked you for your gift of reverence for words. Back in 10th grade, at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, you taught me English. You were stern and scary, a big old woman ruling over a room of unruly teenagers, mostly uninterested, but you had me at ‘nice’.

It was our second class, returning first one-page essay assignments with a frown: “I will teach you how to write,” you barked, “starting with what not to write. I don’t want to see you using the adjective ‘nice,’ ever. You take that word ‘nice,’ wrap it up in pink ribbons and throw it into the East River!”

30 years later I remember it verbatim.

A word of praise scribbled or spoken from you was hard earned and so proud. You taught me how to read Emerson and Whitman, Virginia Woolf.

You weren’t nice. You were a great teacher.

Your legacy lives on in the literary journal of the school, now bearing your name: pearls of wisdom and in a recent scholarship at Brooklyn Tech, endowed by another grateful student urging us to “now take the time to give back by honoring a teacher who nurtured and inspired you.”

My deep thanks to you on the second day of this 40 day journey towards more focus and love, with gratitude to you and all the teachers and their gifts that keep on giving. Let all our teachings be gifts that keep on giving.

I’m sorry for not thanking you enough back then. How often we neglect to honor those who gift us with wisdom. Not nice.

Thank you, my teacher.


PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”

Subscribe to Lab/Shul’s mailing list to receive this free daily blog in your inbox by checking “Prepent” as a special interest, share them on Facebook or Twitter, or read it online at the Forward.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.