Remembering a “Teacher” of Teachers
I will always remember my first meeting with Dan Tannenbaum. We had been introduced by Haia Mazuz, whom I knew as a result of my part-time job teaching riding lessons at a local stable during my college years. When Haia found out that I was teaching about the Holocaust at Fleetwood and majoring in it at West Chester, she assured me that I needed to meet her friend, Dan. Little did I know at the time, but soon I would come to count Dan as a friend and a very important part of my life for the past six years.
I arranged an appointment to meet Dan in Albright’s Holocaust Library & Resource Center. It would be my first time there, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. When I entered, I found Dan listening to some Benny Goodman, and typing an e-mail – something I would never have expected to someone in my grandmother’s peer group doing! Dan’s willingness to use technology, in spite of his occasional frustrations, became a joke between us over the years, especially after he signed up for a Facebook account.
During our first meeting, Dan showed me a few of the features of the Center and asked me about my interest in the field of Holocaust studies. As was Dan’s way, he often listened more than he spoke and I found myself quickly comfortable in his friendly presence. I left that day with a stack of books and several films, which I assured him I would return on time.
Over the course of time, our interactions became more frequent. A professional relationship built upon shared interests and mutual collaboration blossomed into a friendship punctuated by frequent conversation. Dan opened the door for me to establish relationships within the Jewish community of Reading and I helped him out by conducting several workshops for teachers in Berks County. He frequently checked out books from Albright to assist me in my coursework at West Chester and I kept him updated on the daily experience of being a high school teacher in the twenty-first century. I came to value both Dan and Shoshanna as close friends, visiting both their home and Albright on a regular basis. One of my fondest memories includes a trip that Dan and I took together, with Sean Gaston, to a Holocaust conference in Western Pennsylvania. Sean & I educated Dan about rap and alternative music while he shared his love of swing and music from the 30s and 40s. I think Sean & I probably took more away from that conversation but Dan was a good sport.
After Shoshanna’s passing in March, I, like many others in this community, wanted to make sure that Dan had support and friendship during his difficult time. My schedule began to include near weekly dinners with Dan at various establishments in the Reading area. Although Dan characterized himself as a fussy eater, I never saw him afraid to sample a steak or hamburger
As the year progressed, Dan made it clear of his intentions to retire from the Holocaust Resource Center. He approached me about taking his place and I applied for the position. After my interview in December, Dan and I went out for our final dinner at the Pike Café, despite my efforts to convince him that we needed to go out for sushi. We had a lovely evening, with a conversation led mainly by Dan. He spoke extensively of his childhood in New York, including a funny story about the Christmas Eve when he and his brother tried to bring a tree home and were rebuffed by his mother. He talked of Shoshanna and his kids and of his years serving others in the Reading area. It was one of our best conversations and we lingered well beyond the time it took us to eat. I learned so much that night from this teacher of teachers, as I had on many other occasions. When we parted ways in the parking lot, I did not know that it would be our last conversation. Looking back, I don’t think it could have been a better one.
Dan will be missed sorely by many of us, as he touched the lives of so many. Several weeks after his passing, Dan Gassert, a teacher from Governor Mifflin sent in an eloquent letter to the editor of the Reading Eagle. Mr. Gassert perfectly embodied the essence of Dan’s contribution to local schools, and showed the impact that he had on Governor Mifflin. He said, “He was a man who was instrumental in educating many of our youth and at least one very thankful teacher.” I know that Mr.Gassert was not alone in his sentiment and I am thankful that I too had the opportunity to learn from Dan and consider him my friend. I will miss him dearly.
Source: February Shalom (Official Newsletter of the Jewish Federation of Reading)