Babylon: Myth and Reality (Nov 13, 2008-Mar 15, 2009) is an exhibition that changed my life – even though I had never seen it.
It was my father who visited this British Museum exhibition and brought home the catalogue (“the Babylon book”). Shortly after this, in 2010, I volunteered to teach the Book of Daniel to a class of thirty-seven 8th graders in Jerusalem, and where I was teaching as an undergraduate student-teacher. Using the resources I learned about through this book, I inspired these adolescents who were previously intimidated by the mostly-Aramaic book. This experience had made the book approachable to them, and the importance of archaeology for me – tangible.
At the end of the year, we celebrated with Nebuchadnezzar’s Ishtar Gates of Babylon – on a cake designed by yours truly.
End-of-year celebration, after learning the Book of Daniel. Jerusalem, 2010
The next part of this story was completely unexpected. Since those student-teacher days, I’ve been teaching professionally in the US for six years, and often guiding tours near the two real Ishtar Gate lions on display at the Met. Academically I’ve gone back to school, completing an M.Ed in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently studying for an MA in Ancient Jewish History at Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University). It is in this context that I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Dr. Michael Seymour, co-author of the Babylon book.
Dr. Seymour moderated a symposium for The World Between Empires Met exhibition (Mar 18-Jun 23, 2019). This spectacular exhibition shows the complexities of life, religion, commerce and identity in the region between Roman and Parthian Empires; the two superpowers of the late Second Temple period to the 3rd century CE.
This was only possible thanks to my professor at Revel, Steven Fine, inviting students to the symposium.
During that symposium, I was reminded of how my journey began 9 years ago. But it was only later, as I was guiding a private tour in the World Between Empires, that I recognized Dr. Seymour as he spoke to a group, and introduced myself. We kept in touch, met again when I was guiding students, and finally sat down for an early Friday morning coffee at the museum.
We sat and told lots of stories about shared interests. It was a fascinating conversation, and hopefully just the first of many.
Dr. Seymour is an assistant curator in the Met since 2011, when he began work on the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (Sep 22, 2014-Jan 4, 2015). This was the very first exhibition I saw, on my very first Met visit.
I had brought along my copies of the Babylon and World Between Empires books, which are now autographed in a place of honor on my bookshelf.
We never know who we will touch and how we will make an impact. Whether it’s something we say, an act of kindness that we do, or a book that we write.
The impact that Dr. Seymour had on my life in turn had an impact on my students’ learning, on my career path, and down the line – on countless other lives which were inspired and invigorated because of some old rocks someone dug out of the dirt in Ancient Babylon!
I love Capoeira – a Brazilian Martial art that combines self-defense with music, acrobatics and dance.
I started training in martial arts at 13, at age 17 I joined Capoeira, and by September 2006 I was teaching it. I taught for seven years, have hosted radio shows, national championships organized international trips and have taught thousands of students.
And I hated my job.
I loved my students, I loved doing capoeira, but I hated working in capoeira. Why?
Skipping over my ups and downs of my 8 years (and counting) in formal education – which I still do and still love but thankfully am not invested in full-time. Perhaps in another post for time.
Today I have the job of my dreams. I never knew I would be entertaining hundreds of people in the museum, connecting jewish history and archaeology, pop culture and talmud. And yet, everything I did until now has prepared me for it.
I would like to share with you the treasure that helped me start turning things around: From being a creative, enthusiastic, engaging – and frustrated school teacher, to someone who is passionate about what he does.
I follow a podcast called Art of Manliness by Brett McKay. I listened to an episode called The Myth of Following Your Passion, which is an interview with Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The title, by the way, is a piece of advice by Steve Martin.
What happened after that?
I was still teaching full-time, but I was in a different head space. I became a Jedi. I was going to knock the ball out of the park. I wasn’t just doing my job (with care, love and commitment, as a teacher should), but I was stretching myself, building my skill and becoming more versatile. I became noticed in the whole school, not just locking myself up in the teachers’ lounge with piles of work to get through, the daily grind, trying to get through the material and prepare the students for this and that.
While hitherto I was working in the middle school, I volunteered to give special workshops to 1-6th graders. I engaged with other department, and became an asset to the school.
I told myself every day: ‘Be so good, that they can’t ignore you’.
And so it happened that I lost my job, and found my dream.
Below: Living my dream job!