A Legacy of Learning

If you want to be a teacher, you’ve got to have patience. “An impatient person cannot teach,” observed the sage Hillel in Pirkei Avot (2:5), but a person who can guide a student through the often-painstaking process of acquiring knowledge or a skill, that teacher is worthy of praise!

This quality is just one of the things that makes Wendy Beckerman a master-teacher and a master-tutor. Recently, a parent described being amazed at seeing an example of this virtue on display in their child’s tutoring session with Wendy. The student was having trouble sounding out a particular Hebrew word, and despite stumbling attempt after stumbling attempt, Wendy resisted the impulse to simply give the student the answer. Instead, slowly and methodically, she administered just the right nudges and taps until the student figured it out on their own. Through her patience, combined with her insight into how the student’s mind organizes information, she achieved more than simply getting past the word. She effectively brightened the cognitive pathway for the student so they can find their way better on their own. That’s the kind of impressive result a teacher can get from bringing patience to their craft.

And if Wendy Beckerman is anything, she is an impressive teacher. Impressive not just for the skill and patience and knowledge she brings to her students, but also for the breadth and depth of impact and influence she has had on this community. I can’t even count the number of people who have told me things like “everything I know about Judaism came from Wendy.” She has genuinely shaped the Jewish lives and identity of generations of Jews in Des Moines. 

For my part, I can’t imagine how I would have made it through my first year and a half at TBJ without her insight and knowledge of this community, not to mention her beautiful Torah and Haftarah chanting on Shabbat mornings and holidays.

And it’s not just tutoring and Torah that makes Wendy such a treasure. It’s clear how much people feel deeply connected to her as someone they can turn to for support and encouragement. Quite often, she is the first person people reach out to about an illness, a struggle, or a simcha – like a birth or engagement. When I make a hospital visit or extend congratulations, it’s often because Wendy told me about it.

People sometimes use the expression that a person is “a force in the community.” Wendy is not a force. I’m tempted to say she’s a rock, but I think she’s more like a fabulous bean-bag chair – always there, a dependable comfort, and supportive in all the places that need support. Whatever the right metaphor is, this much is clear: Wendy is a treasure to this community, and we are fortunate for the way she has touched our lives.

Which makes her coming retirement particularly momentous, and perhaps a bit scary. It’s also incredibly well-deserved.

Fortunately, Wendy’s retirement will not leave us with cold-turkey Wendy withdrawal. It will be a bit more gradual, and, when all is said and done, she’s not going anywhere. As of January 31st, Wendy will be retiring from her full-time position at TBJ, but she will continue to work with the B’nai Mitzvah students who are already in the pipeline – so to speak. After that, as we move from an in-house tutor model to an independent-tutor approach (more on that to come), Wendy intends to continue to offer her services to families who want to engage them. She’ll be kind of retired with a side-gig.

Wendy is deeply dedicated to our community and our congregation, and we are deeply dedicated to her. But respecting her new free-wheeling retired lifestyle will take some getting used to. Some of those phone calls that people are accustomed to making to her will need to start coming directly to me or to the Temple. And, as much as Wendy plans to stay involved, we may need to call on volunteers to help organize some of the things she has taken care of in the past ( – like organizing High Holy Day Torah and Haftara readers and aliyot).

While Wendy’s job in our congregation may be changing, what will not change is the immeasurable place she has in our hearts, and her profound significance to our community. Maimonides insisted that there is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater reverence than that due a teacher. (Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:1). We hold Wendy in honor and reverence, and it is worth expressing that. Down the road a bit, we will be celebrating Wendy and her retirement with a special Shabbat that will include an opportunity for people to share some of their thoughts and memories in a variety of forms. And, if you want to make an additional lasting impact in her name, a contribution to the Temple fund her family has established in her honor (see page 8 of this bulletin) will enable her powerful legacy to carry on in her name for generations to come.

Rabbi Neal Schuster