Tale of Bashert

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Part Two Tikkum Olam

Marti’s Jewish background and identity often served as important teaching moments. She listens with intent, courage, and conviction and never shirks an opportunity to explain her Jewish heritage and practices. One student was stunned to hear that Marti would miss class because of a Jewish holiday. Being from a small town, never having met a Jew, and hearing only negative stereotypes, the student gradually learned about another world outside her sphere of experience. Marti said, “It opened up a beautiful dialogue, and we developed a great relationship. It was a growth experience for both of us” (Interview Dec. 2012).

Although tikkum olam usually refers to large-scale social issues, it becomes a personal and continual quest in Marti’s view of life. Being a teacher and counselor for Marti implies friendship and what Nel Noddings calls an “ethic of caring.” Marti speaks ardently about her connections with students: “I love being part of students’ growth and metamorphosis. I send notes when they graduate.” And, she works alongside, not above, them. “I am so struck by what our students experience and how they persevere, especially first generation and non-traditional students and those who work long hours. I find it humbling when I look around me and see what our students do” (Interview Dec. 2012). She helps clients overcome feelings of great trepidation when they seek her counseling services, and they are greatly appreciative. It’s a two-way street. Having such profound respect for people and feeling as if she is receiving a gift brings a new meaning to the idea of “repair” (Interview Dec. 2012).

I too felt helped and healed many times as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). Marti has saved my skin, so to speak, many times, most dramatically from a few verbally vengeful attacks. I rang Marti’s office phone one very early Tuesday morning, having received an email from a student labeling me an ineffective instructor and other harsher unmentionables. Not surprisingly, Marti was already in her office, speaking with a calm demeanor while offering effective strategies and empathy. It was not the first or even the second time that I frantically dialed her number, literally ran to the Counseling Center, and, after an hour of consultation, breathed a sigh of relief. On reflection, I realized that Marti was always careful to also consider the students’ rights and feelings. Her sense of justice often included learning experiences for the students, rather than a focus on discipline. She pursed justice for everyone. Each word of advice to me, from challenging students to difficult colleagues to the death of my daughter-in-law, has been spot-on and consoling. The thread of profound and binding friendship through an ethics of caring is bone deep with Marti. It is no wonder that so many people from all walks of life love her—and feel inspired by her optimism, appreciation, and zest for life. A visionary future looms large in her imagination.

 

 

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Part Three March of the Living

Odd as it may seem, these traits relate to a life-changing trip in 2005 that Marti embarked on called “The March of the Living.” I say “embark” because a commitment touring Jewish concentration camps is a somber and painful undertaking. This was a propitious time of particular significance, as it memorialized the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I myself, for some reason I have never quite fathomed, believe that I died and was reborn during or slightly after the Holocaust. Perhaps it is a cultural memory because I cannot explain why I wrote this stanza, honoring poet Carolyn Forche:

I would shed six years

of my life to join your cause

but my past is stuck in Auschwitz

with my own grandmother

whose fine linen kerchief

withered in the gas.

Neither my grandmother, nor any other relative, perished in a concentration camp. But I, like