The Teva Story

Hi Teva Fans,

Can you believe it? Teva Learning Alliance is finally alive. We are going to do amazing work together. We created this blog to start off on the right foot with some conversation. I think I’ll start by telling a great inspirational Teva story that happened to me recently. I have told it a few times now, but it really exemplifies what I think is the real essence and magic of what Teva does through experiential education. It hit me personally right square in the face recently and I’d like to share it with you. Here goes…

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to participate in a prayer walk with the queen mother of Teva, my partner and Co-Director, Nili Simhai. If you have ever had the chance to take one of Nili’s classes, you know how good she is. She’s a rock star. If anyone captures the essence of Teva it is my friend Nili. Anyway, so we took a great walk into the woods with a bunch of other wandering Jews (go figure) and we davened (went through the prayer service) Shacharit. With each small prayer, Nili carefully explained about the physical and literal relationship it has with our every day life – such as waking up, getting dressed, and even using the facilities. Each milennia-old gem was presented in a way that was new and relevant. It was not just a rote bunch of words in an age-old book that seemed lifeless and intangible. It was real. It made sense.

We then proceeded to walk deeper into the forest. We looked at strange giant fungi growing on fallen dead trees and learned that in life there is death – but man, in death there sure was a lot of life! Bugs, fungi, plants, birds, squirrels, you name it. That old fallen tree was arguably more full of life now than it had been before it fell and died. We continued and  found wild grapes to munch on – though not in season – oy were they sour! As we crunched over the trail of bark and twigs and continued our walk, the smell of the damp soil wafted into our noses reminding us of the cycle of life all managed by our Creator.

Then a few steep steps down a water-eroded rocky trail we found our “synagogue.” But this was a place to sit in and pray like no other. We found ourselves precariously seated on huge cracked basalt boulders looking over the edge of a fifty foot sheer drop into a bucolic green paradise of sunny trees and a mirror-like lake below. The breeze blew tiny leaves and and what my kids call “helicopters” into our hair and soon the stress of the week melted into the scenery.

The next thing that happend was the main deal – the “mind-blower.” We started to do some visualization with our eyes closed. We focused on our inner core neshama (soul) – the spark of life deep within the confines of our bodies. Nili’s voice was soothing and warm and all of us listened carefully to her language and the familiar prayers. It was beginning to feel serious. I began to actually connect with something greater than myself. It was spiritual. But while she walked us through this visualization of inner light there was a small part of me – the cynic – the satan if you will, who started to make me feel silly. I just had to open my eyes to see what the other folks were doing. Were they all really serious about this? So as I chuckled to myself I opened my eyes…and then it happened. I looked down at my legs and then slowly over to my left arm and there – right there – were three dragonflies perched on me and basking as if my head was a light bulb attracting moths and mosquitoes on a hot summer night. But they just sat there – quietly – like they too were listening to Nili. I was shocked. This had never happened to me before. These ancient insects who pre-date the dinosaurs seemed to be looking me straight in the eye and with their chipmunk-like voices saying, “Did you feel that? The light of God is pretty cool, huh?” And then, simultaneously, all three took off and disappeared into the hot summer breeze.

It was at that moment I knew what Teva was about. Talk about an epiphany! Nili and I had been struggling with figuring out a way to relate the experiential learning that Teva does so well into some language we could easily repeat and have put on paper – and there it was. The story. Teva – in this case Nili Simhai – had been able to do something no other shul, rabbi, or day school teacher had ever done for me during davening. She helped me connect my innermost self with God and nature all at once. I had been trying to make that connection with my own faith for years and it just hit me on the head that day. I got it. I just…got it!

So I want to thank Nili for that day and that moment. I also want to thank God for putting me on this planet for a reason and connecting me with Teva. I am so thrilled to be working side-by-side with Nili and the whole Teva family on this fantastically important journey to achieve Tikkun Olam for all people and life on Earth. We have our work cut out, don’t we? But we are going to do it. Starting today and right at the beginning of a new year. It is not an option to fail. We, the Teva Learning Alliance, don’t have any other choice but to succeed in our mission – to fundamentally transform Jewish education though experiential learning that fosters Jewish and ecological sustainability – not for us  – but for our children and the future generations. It is our legacy we must protect. And if we can just get everyone to experience what I did that day, we will.

Wishing all a shana tova and a g’mar chatima tova!

David L. Marks

P.S. If you have a super Teva story to tell, please put it here on Teva Times. I dare you to one up me. Go ahead, I dare you. (laughs)