Naomi Brenner is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class XIII and an Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Israeli Culture at the Ohio State University.  She can be reached at

Recently I was in the process of grading a large stack of midterms, slogging my way through students’ handwriting and trying to assess whether they had mastered fundamental aspects of Jewish Studies.  My four-year old daughter walked over and watched me intently for a minute, as I scribbled yet another set of comments on yet another exam response.  “Ima,” said a little girl newly fascinated by letters, “how do you write so quickly?”  “I’ve had a lot of practice,” I responded, as I moved on to the next page, covered in a student’s sprawl.  “Wow!  Did someone write all of that?  How, Ima, how did they write so many letters?  What are they saying?” 

Several times a week, I stand in front of a large class of students and do my best to convey a variety of information in ways that resonate with my students.  But my daughter’s wonder at the magic of letters, of what seems like such a simple act of writing on a page, makes me think about the magical encounters that so often come at the beginning – of literacy, of a relationship, of study.  As a parent, as a teacher, as a leader, how do I find the wonder in experiences that are new and not-so new?  And how can I spark those feelings of discovery, excitement and passion in the people around me?  Perhaps a first step is to take a step back, away from the piles of papers, and try to look at things through different eyes.  More and more, I am asking myself not only “what am I saying?” but “why?” and “how?” and then finding new answers to accompany the familiar ones.