Noodle Expert Lisa Friedman tells our readers about how she wound up in Jewish education, why nervous student travelers should make a trip to Epcot, and how she learned to let go and leave some work for tomorrow.
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
Wow, we are just diving right in, aren’t we? This is an amazing question. My brain automatically divided this into two thoughts.
First, when I read “dead or alive,” I immediately thought of my mom, who passed away in 1997. I would love the opportunity to have her here now that I am an adult and a parent. I think it would be so significant to be able to learn from her about parenting, marriage, and friendship. Then, when I got to “What would you want to learn?” I immediately thought of Hebrew. When I went to college and graduate school, I didn’t know that I would make my way into Jewish education, so I focused entirely on secular education, special education, and psychology. If I had it to do all over again, I would have studied biblical Hebrew at the college level. This would have afforded me the ability to study modern, spoken Hebrew now.
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
“It will still be there tomorrow.”
I have always been a workaholic. Always. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t working hard, actually. I check email first thing in the morning, I frequently work 10–12 hour days, and I carry extraordinarily long to-do lists in my head.
But early on in my current position a colleague remarked, “It will still be there tomorrow.” This helped me to realize more fully that work can and should be prioritized. And that the work I don't finish will still be there the next day. This advice has helped me to find balance, take time for family and personal growth, and recognize that walking away from projects and tasks is both healthy and more productive.
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
My first thought is that there is such a wide-open world and so many amazing possibilities — how can I one just choose? But then I began to think about a student who has never traveled before: she is likely to be nervous, unsure of her surroundings, and maybe even somewhat reticent. For this reason, instead of some faraway, glamorous “must-see,” I would recommend visiting Disney World, and particularly Epcot. Disney can be magical, and it certainly is a place where someone can have many new experiences in one trip. And at Epcot, one can explore “the world” without leaving our country. There is tremendous opportunity to learn, grow, and play.
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
I have actually always been an overachiever. I guess since I already admitted to being a workaholic, this shouldn’t be too surprising. But I do recall the “D” I received one marking period in freshman-year English. I was struggling to acclimate to high school socially — after a challenging time in middle school — and I had begun to spend time with kids who were really not right for me. But I couldn’t see that at the time, so I made some really poor choices. That “D” woke me up enough to make me take a closer look at my relationships and to realize that I needed to make some changes.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
I went into special education and teaching children with diverse needs as a direct result of an experience I had one summer in high school. I attended a program that enabled us to select volunteer job sites, and I worked at a day camp for children with developmental disabilities. I was instantly hooked, and carved a path for myself that took me to teaching in a self-contained, special education setting in a public school district after college. It was harder than I expected, and while rewarding, I was already anticipating burning out within the first few years. Just six years later, my first child was born and I left the public schools, finding my way into Jewish education. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to use my skills to build a special education program within a synagogue-affiliated religious school and to have my role grow steadily over the next few years. I am currently the education director for pre-K through 12th grade, and I oversee the school's and the synagogue’s inclusive practices. I never expected to gain national recognition in this field and be called upon to speak to audiences about making their schools and faith organizations more inclusive.