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.”
This story "Prepent Day 2: You Had Me at Nice" was written by Amichai Lau-Lavie.