For over 50 years Rabbi Brovender has taught thousands of students from all around the world. This week we introduce you to Ilana Goldstein Saks. She has taught Tanach for many years and is also a professional baker. Ilana is currently a coordinator of the special-needs bakery at Sadnat Shiluv. She lives in Efrat with her husband, Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, and their four children.
How did you meet Rabbi Brovender?
I feel like I have met Rabbi Brovender many times in different ways. I first met him when a cousin and then my older sisters attended Bruria, now known as Midrashet Lindenbaum, and my father discovered that Rabbi Brovender was the same Brovender that he had taught to read the Torah for his bar mitzvah many years before.
Later, I was his student at Midreshet Lindenbaum – first as a post high-school student and later on the Bruria Scholars program. Since marrying my husband Jeff, who was also Rabbi Brovender’s student, and at this point has worked with Rabbi Brovender for over 25 years, I have had the opportunity to learn from him second hand.
Not incidentally, Rabbi Brovender was our mesader kiddushin.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” -his unique way of teaching?
The classes I learned with Rabbi Brovender were almost exclusively Tanach based. He taught me an appreciation of Parshanut, and the need to read the commentaries carefully and thoughtfully.
His classes demonstrated that superficial reading would be neither sufficient nor satisfying.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
Much of my learning and almost all of my teaching has been of Tanach and related texts such as parshanut and midrash. My personal inclination was always to confront the text of the Tanach on its own – without the distraction of commentaries who seemed to add layers of meaning that were not really there.
I learned by example in Rabbi Brovender’s classes how to study and appreciate parshanut, and that parshanut can really open our eyes to interpretations of the text that we would otherwise miss.
What lesson or specific Torah that you learned from Rabbi Brovender, do you keep coming back to or carry with you wherever you go?
So often he would begin a class with a familiar commentary, which I hadn’t found to be so interesting, and by the end of the class he had shown just how interesting it was. This repeated experience of learning texts with him taught me a new level of respect for the text.
When I learn and teach, I approach the texts with the assumption that it has something meaningful to teach me, and that it is simply up to me to uncover that meaning.
This has influenced both my attitude toward the texts as well as my efforts in analyzing them. I have come to appreciate the hidden depth of texts that is often missed by a superficial glance – something which I have often thought can be said of Rabbi Brovender himself, as well as the way he views his students.