Point of View
My beloved wife, Suzanne Blaine, died on December 21st. Wherever people gather they speak her praise but I wish to dwell on one particular area of her life. She taught High School English to teenagers for thirty-six years and was a gifted, committed and caring teacher in an age when society does not sufficiently appreciate the effects of a teacher on the life of its children. Young people are subject to so many unimportant influences and so many fast ways of making a fortune that the gifted educator’s work and the value of that career is shunted aside. Yet for society to function it must realize that a good teacher elevates, inspires and improves a whole generation. We give too little attention, too little respect and too little admiration to the effects of inspired teachers on our own lives.
On the morning of the funeral the family was asked by the principals of her high school if we could bring the hearse to the school before the funeral for a brief ceremony. When we arrived the busy bustling streets of Avenue J between East 16th and East 17th from Avenue J to I were closed by the police. More than one thousand people, students, teenagers, parents and alumni mourning, crying and filled with sadness filled the streets and began to follow the casket as it surrounded the school block for a four block radius with the mournful sounds of memorial prayers. Those in attendance were not only students, but parents, leaders of the school and former students, some dating back thirty-five years. Many had received E-Mails sent to all the graduates of the past thirty-six years informing them of the death of their popular and beloved teacher and Chairman of the English Department. A teacher had died – a beloved inspired teacher and teacher of teachers. The grief of the children and adults as they marched following the casket was palpable. Do we really ever realize in this time of vast technological advances the value of an inspired teacher and what it means in our lives and the lives of our children? During our week of Shiva (mourning) one student among hundreds wrote the following to us:
“It is extremely difficult for me to write this letter. The words I am writing cannot do justice in describing the way I am feeling inside. I feel pain and sorrow and wish all who are close to Mrs. Blaine that God send them comfort. Mrs. Blaine was like no teacher I have ever had. One of my main ambitions in life is to become an educator. Education is so important to me. When I think today that people have a huge misconception of our teachers which is that the teacher just teaches the material. However, I believe that teachers should not simply teach material or a curriculum, rather they teach students. I was able to feel this sitting in Mrs. Blaine’s classroom.
I attended the funeral at Rabbi Blaine’s Synagogue last week and I was blown away. I found myself in the midst of five to six hundred people and as we were leaving and the door of our van was closing her husband came up to us and thanked us for coming, and being her loving students we couldn’t believe it. He was thanking us. We were all shocked and just said thank you. We didn’t know how to respond, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank him because that means so much to us kids. Mrs. Blaine was a phenomenal teacher. English is my favorite secular subject and it is extremely important to me that I have a good English teacher. I got more than I wanted with having Mrs. Blaine as a teacher. I remember when we were learning Macbeth. I did not want to miss one class. I couldn’t wait to attend English class. That was one of the very few classes that I would consistently take notes in. I hope that if I become a teacher my students will be eager to go to class because I want to make every student want to enjoy learning just as I did. Mrs. Blaine’s class is one where I truly enjoyed learning. I could go on and on and just keep talking about her. My school will surely not be the same without her. I feel bad for the rest of the students who didn’t get to have her, but I appreciate that I did. May we all have bright things in the future.”
Deena and Ari, my children, and I would like to express our appreciation to our Temple friends and its leadership and to the general community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, for their overwhelming support and love during this trying time in our lives. I never realized how much Suzanne impacted on the lives of so many of our members during our forty-three years together in the Rockaways. May her memory, a life of meritorious deeds, great achievements and devoted service remain incandescent in our lives. She is irreplaceable.
This monthly column continues with thanks to an anonymous donor.