“I’m always afraid that leaving so early would deter some students from attending,” said Rhinelander High School Comparative Religions teacher Linda Goldsworthy.

Luckily, the early departure didn’t keep 21 students in her class from making the 240 mile trek to the Madison area to visit Deer Park Buddhist Temple and Temple Beth el, home of a Reform Jewish congregation on May 20.

“I was expecting to walk in the Buddhist Temple and feel this whoosh of spirituality,” said senior Samantha Lueck, reflecting on the day’s events. “But it felt more like a place of learning.”

And learn they did. But the learning took place only because of a grant Goldsworthy and 2008 RHS graduate Zach Baron put together more than 16 months ago.

“We wouldn’t have had this learning opportunity if it weren’t for the sponsorship of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” noted Goldsworthy. “This $2,000 grant enabled my two classes to not only look at and interact with various artifacts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but also to see the buildings in which these religions worship.”

A young maroon-clad monk greeted the RHS visitors with instructions that they would need to remove their shoes before entering the temple. After doing so, the group entered the temple.

“I was awestruck at the beauty and the colors," said sophomore Bailey Lieck of her initial response to the temple. "You go into a church in Rhinelander and you don’t see bright colors – the bright blues and shiny golds. So when you walk into something so different, it just struck me as something so pretty.”

Within minutes, an older monk appeared, followed closely by a young man dressed in Western clothing and sporting a pony-tail. The monk, Geshe Tenzin Dorje, a Tibentan monk serving as a teacher at Deer Park for the past year, proceeded to speak with the students through his young interpreter.

His message was simple – ook carefully at those who surround you, evaluate the choices you make with care, as no good has ever come from the use of alcohol and other drugs, and heed the advice of your parents and teachers.

“I found it pretty clear that if we consider our responsibilities in life, we will earn our place in the next life based upon the actions we do now," commented senior Dylan Myers on the Geshe’s presentation. "Doing well now will only benefit you in the future. I thought he was a pretty happy person. I felt welcomed there. He was willing to teach and I was willing to learn.”

After touring Deer Park’s grounds, which include a stupa that the Dalai Lama dedicated in 1991, students traveled to Madison’s Temple Beth el, where docent Linda Bergman greeted them with a short lecture on the history of Judaism and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.

“I could see that our textbook was correct in highlighting the importance of history to the Jewish people,” said Goldsworthy. “Linda’s initial presentation really focused on this aspect of her faith and highlighted the reasons behind so many Jewish traditions. She helped me to see the complexity of the relationship Jews had with the Romans.”

Bergman, a former teacher, then took the class into the sanctuary where she explained that Jewish symbolism, tradition and artifacts – including a yarmulke, a tallit and tellifin – with the help of senior Dylan Myers and junior Rachel Finney.

“I felt like I was part of what the religion had to offer and teaches,” said Myers of wearing the prayer shawl and yarmulke. “I felt like I belonged in a sense. By walking in their shoes, I felt I understood them better – their connection with God and their self assurance.”

Perhaps the highlight of the trip came when Bergman asked three volunteers to assist her with the "undressing" of the Torah, Temple Beth el’s 125-year-old scroll of the Pentateuch, on three 8-foot tables in the entrance hall.

“The students were so curious about the Torah,” said Goldsworthy. “I couldn’t believe how many students were pulling out their cell phones and taking pictures of the ancient Hebrew script. They were amazed to learn that this document had been completely hand-written on parchment in the 1880s and that the students and members of the congregation used it weekly.”

After "redressing" the Torah, the group enjoyed some traditional challah bread and apple juice while Bergman provided some more insights into Jewish artifacts displayed in the hall.

“I admit to being somewhat skeptical when Beth el said that a rabbi would not be available to show us around,” said Goldsworthy. “But after talking with Linda on the phone to make the arrangements and after spending nearly two hours with her, I can’t imagine someone else teaching us more in such a short time.

“All of us learned a great deal on the trip," Goldsworthy added. "When we discussed it as a full class then next day, we decided that we couldn’t even compare the two experiences as Temple Beth el and Deer Park are so very different in their approaches to religion.”

So was it worth getting up at crack of dawn to make the 240-mile trip down and back?

“Yes! We didn’t get back to RHS until after 6:15 – so yes, it was a long day. But educationally, every minute was worth it,” said Goldsworthy.

From News of the North

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