Among the chief priorities of Judaism is education. So as a child of a Jewish family, I was raised to be well educated. When I became of age, I was immediately sent to school. Up until high school I attended a Jewish day school, so half my time was split between Judaic and secular studies. I was expected to do well and as such I did my best to succeed. Given the familial push and system to excel, these expectations would eventually grow into a personal desire to do well for my own sake. I know there are many reasons why I read and some are more subtle than others, but I attribute my education and personal desire with having the greatest on how read.
Jews are often referred to as “the people of the book” because of their adherence to the Torah (the Old Testament). Within the text, there are many laws and strictures that instruct Jews on how to act. Among the most important responsibilities of parents are the education of their children. It is an obligation that children learn about the commandments and are taught at all times of the day. Although my family wasn’t among the most religious of Jews, they took my Jewish and secular education very seriously.
I originally learned to read from my very patient mother. She would calmly read children’s books aloud and have me follow along with her. Some of my favorite childhood books were, Goodnight Moon, Curious George, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. If I were to liken the process of learning to read to anything I experience today, the best way to put it would be learning a new language. Trying to burn into my mind the meaning of letters and their corresponding sounds from what my thoughts and speech consisted of was a long process. Eventually my reading developed, or rather my ability to read, however I wasn’t a veracious childhood reader.
I often felt reading at home was a chore because I associated with school. School days were very long and were spent studying the typical secular education alongside a Judaic one as well as Judaic. Aside from the typical, I had to learn the fundamentals of Hebrew in order to read and write passages of the Torah. Looking back on this, I feel this may be why I looked negatively on personal reading. I was often too anxious to play outside when I went back home to sit down longer. Thankfully this would not remain the case.
The first serious book I tried reading was The Hobbit. I don’t know whether it was the first book on my timeline but it is probably one of the most telling. I had seen The Lord of the Rings movies on tv and decided to read the books. After a quick Google Search, knew I had to start with The Hobbit. I bought the book, but didn’t begin reading immediately; I mostly admired the cover and just read the synopsis. Later on a trip to New York with my grandfather, I decided to start reading the book while on the bus. I was ironically nervous about reading an “adult” book because I hadn’t read personally for a long time; even though I spent a large portion of my weekdays with the Torah. Feeling this I read with the same concentration taught in my classes at school. Uncharacteristically though, I took the time to imagine all of the scenes in my mind. Unfortunately by the time we arrived in New York, I had only finished the first chapter. This disappointed me because I though to be smart was to read fast, but I had unintentionally memorized the entire chapter in my head; just like prayers. After the trip, it would be a year or two before I picked the book back up again.
However, during that gap I started reading for enjoyment. When I picked up the Percy Jacksonseries by Rick Riordan, the “older-kid” genre allowed me to relax and captivated my imagination. My joy for the story and unexpected pace of finishing these books made me feel a sense of pride and growth from when I originally tried to read The Hobbit. With this new found ability, I truly read the hobbit for the first time. From then on I had the confidence to read any book I desired.
By reflecting on these experiences I feel I have gained new insights about my past. On one hand I recognize certain flaws in my earlier behavior, but at the same time see the merits in that type of study. I believe that rote memorization was very helpful to me in my early academic career. The ability to sit down and just draw upon memory has always helped me. I also understand this may be why I wasn’t able to appreciate the subjective qualities of reading while I was younger. At this moment in my life, I appreciate how fortunate I am to have had the support and experiences that have shaped me into the man I am today. Without them, I certainly would not have a personal passion for reading nor a sense for emotions.