With students all over North America returning to classrooms this month, “What I Did Over
Summer Vacation” will likely be a hot topic. It is the classic essay that kids write when they
return to school. It has become something of a point of humor that teachers will ask students
to write about their summer experiences when students sit down to start their learning for the
year. Students are expected to provide a compelling history of weeks of adventures in
anywhere from a page to a paragraph. Not an easy task.
B’nei Yisrael (the Israelites) receive a similar assignment at the beginning of Parashat Ki Tavo
(this week’s Torah portion). They are told that, when they go to Jerusalem to deliver their first
fruits at the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), each individual should tell a story. Except that
Moshe provides the script they should use when they tell their story. Just eight verses provide
a compelling and concise history of God taking B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt, leading them to the
Promised Land, and causing them to thrive there.
Of course, while we all have the same Jewish origin story (see Parashat Ki Tavo), our
continuing stories are not all the same. Taking the individual stories to form a shared narrative
is the challenge faced by communal leaders. For the educator, that means helping learners of
varying backgrounds and interests to bring their stories to their learning. It means melding
those stories into a coherent narrative in which each voice contributes to the community’s
There is not one prompt that will draw out each story. Summer adventures can certainly
provide a good starting point as the season tends to give learners greater opportunity to
pursue their avocations. Finding the prompts to draw out the other compelling storylines
holds the key to building a lasting learning community.
Rabbi Eric Zaff