I Feel the Need to Read

This article originally appeared in the May issue of The Scroll.

I don’t know about you, but I love to read. I got that from my mom, of blessed memory. She was a veritable bookworm and I inherited her love of the written word. My fondest memories are of times when I went into our attic, which was big and filled with boxes many of which contained dozens of books. I would gribbleve (that’s a term my mom used to say whenever we rifled through something… don’t ask me where it comes from or what its literal definition is) through dusty boxes and come up with literary gems that would occupy my mind for hours. Mom used to start wondering where I was and she would call my name at the top of her lungs to try and find me. 

I discovered many great works in those solitary hours. I met James Bond there for the first time, in the form of Ian Fleming’s books. I also met James’ colleague from Israel, agent Oy Oy 7, Israel Bond. I found books of all types there and I devoured them one by one. As I grew up, I discovered that I have quite eclectic tastes in literature and read books from many different genres. On any given day I might be reading fiction, science fiction, history, biographies, etc.

I am very proud of my youngest son, Yitzchak (who now prefers to be referred to as “Ike.”) He too has acquired a taste for reading and does so incessantly. It wasn’t always that way. When he was about 5, he couldn’t read. He couldn’t put the letters together. His vocabulary, though, was stellar. I remember one time on a Friday night, he was about 5½, and he pointed to something on the Shabbos table and called it an “inanimate object.” I looked at him, dumbfounded, and asked in complete disbelief, “Whoa, do you even know what that word means?” He replied, “Yes, it’s not moving, not alive.” I shook my head in bewilderment and asked him where he learned that word. He said, “Nowhere” and I said that he had to have learned it somewhere. He responded that he had heard it in a TV show and “figured it out from the context.” That’s when he was 5½.

But he couldn’t read. So, we had him evaluated and he was determined to have some difficulties in decoding for reading. We got him some extra help. I always told Chana that he would figure out the whole reading thing and, when he did, nothing would stop him.

One day that summer, he asked me if I would buy him Spider-Man comics. I said I would if, in turn, he would promise to read each one. He said he would. I went online and researched comics to find something appropriate (comics are nothing like they were when I was a kid… they were much more suggestively written and drawn and I wanted something rated G). I found two comic series that I ordered.

When a comic came in, we would hide it until Friday night. That became his Shabbos treat. After we ate, we would give him his prized comic and he would sit on the floor in our living room “reading” the comic by looking at the pictures. When Chana and I were done eating, I would sit on the couch, he would climb up on my shoulders, and I would proceed to read the comic to him with dramatic voices. This became a treasured time for me, and a Friday night custom for years. Even after he figured out the “whole reading thing,” we continued to do this. He would read them on the living room floor and then I would perform the comic on the couch with him on my shoulders.

Today, my little 5½ year old is a grown man with his own tastes who reads books by the carload. His predilection for the written word has paid dividends. He is studying Industrial-Organizational Psychology and has been accepted to the top IO Psych program in the United States that is accepting students this coming fall. Both Chana and I are beyond thrilled and, of course, we wish him success in his endeavors. Of course, we hate the fact that he will be off in Minnesota (I hope he doesn’t get lost in a snowdrift) and not in the house with us, but we couldn’t be prouder.

We Jews are known in some circles as the “people of the book.” This month of May has the Chag of Shavuos when we received that “book.” Learning Torah is one of the highest endeavors. Reading the books, so to speak, is the source of our survival. They contain deep and yet practical thoughts on ethics, history, law, morality, and so much more. And, they are fun.

I am lucky. My tastes in learning mirror my tastes in secular reading; they are very eclectic. I enjoy learning Chumash, Navi, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Halacha (Jewish Law),  Mussar (Ethics), and much more. The authors can be of strict Yeshivish or even Chassidic nature. Each appeals to me in different ways. 

If you ever visit us at our home (either Passaic or Montebello) you will note a large selection of books, both secular and religious. Reading is always educational and the more you do the more rounded a person you can be.

I will always be thankful to Hashem for his great “bookend” gifts. Both my mom, of blessed memory, and my Yitzchak share a love of books. Oh, I almost forgot… My eldest grandson, Ely, also loves to read. That is four generations. 

Hashem gave us the Torah, as the verse says, as a legacy for the Jewish people. Because of our heritage in Torah, we have learned the greatest of all lessons: the value of learning and being educated. That’s why the Jewish people have always been leaders in the professions and have won awards way out of proportion to our population. (I recently read that 22.5% of all Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Jews, while we amount to less than .5% of the population.) Our tradition calls upon us to learn, to be curious, to ask, to argue, and, finally, to READ.

As the Chassidic Shavuos greeting goes, “May you merit to accept the Torah… with love.”

P.S. In rereading this article, I realize that it did not come out exactly as I wanted. When I write, the words tend to go straight from my brain into the computer and an article can take on a life of its own. I had intended to write about the beauty of reading and learning, and it seems to me that it came out more like a love letter to my son. I won’t apologize for being a proud dad, so I will leave this as it is. 

Chana and I would like to wish our youngest son, Yitzchak, a proud Mazal Tov on his acceptance to the University of Minnesota’s IO Psychology doctoral program and wish him well in his continuing journey of growth and learning.

We also wish you a Chag Sameach!

Posted in: The Cantor's Cloud

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