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Sunday, February 4, 2007

Why learnetarium.com?

My name is Harold Goodman. For as long as I can recall I have been addicted to learning. I just love learning about everything. I find life and people to be endlessly fascinating.

As a child I spent much time alone. Even though I am the eldest of five kids I really was a loner. Reading and observing the world were the ways I structured my universe. Later on I went through public school which ,in retrospect, seemed uneventful. I used to bring my own books to read. I found school boring, uninspiring. The teachers were good people doing their jobs. However, I was essentially on my own path.

Foreign things fascinated me. It was so refreshing to realize that not only was my take on the world somewhat different from those around me but that untold millions of other people all over the world shared my differentness in so many ways. I like being me. For most of my life that has taken me in a very different direction than most of the people I encountered.

I was born in New York City. My family was Jewish and very identified with Jewish tradition. We were not orthodox. We were semi-secular New York Jews of the 1950's. My memories of my early years are somewhat vague but I recall some relative, maybe an aunt, telling me, "Your name is not Harold, it's Hershl." My father to this day writes me letters that start, in Yiddish, with the phrase "Dear Hershl". He is 90. He is also my hero and best friend.

I recall watching Jewish programs on television. Only in New York! Around Christmas time there were programs for Jews such as an English version of the famous Yiddish story "Bontshe Schvayge" ( Bontshe the Silent). To this day I remember being drawn into those images on the black and white little screen. I cried as Bontshe was brutalized and destroyed. I cried as he came to heaven and his story was retold. I cried when, offered anything he wanted by God Himself, he cringed, fearful that he was being led into yet another trap, another disaster. Then he replied, "If what you say is really true, that I may have anything I wish, then.....if it's really true, if this is not some cruel joke, then what I really want....is to receive a warm roll with some butter every morning." I identified with Bontshe.

Until we moved to Livingston, New Jersey when I was nine I didn't know any non-Jewish people except at public school where I had no friends. I never thought much about being Jewish. I lived in my own little world.

When we moved to New Jersey I realized that not everyone was like us. There was our home with its own flavors, filled with books, learning, The New York Times, bagels and Eastern European Jewish foods, and lots of talking. About everything. Later, when I began to meet other kids and visit their homes I realized that most people were very different from us. Their food, their attitudes toward life and learning, their politics, their spirituality, their language all seemed different. I also realized, quite soon, that there were a lot more of them than us. A lot more.

I found my grandparents fascinating. They had come from far away, from foreign countries. They had lived in Russia, Poland, Latvia. They could speak other languages. Their homes were very different from ours. Especially my father's parents, Bobe and Zeyde ( grandmother and grandfather in Yiddish). For the longest time I thought that those were their names. That's the only way we referred to them and addressed them. Bobe and Zeyde.

When I visited them I entered another world. I would sleep in a bed in their attic. The bed smelled different than our beds. Everything in their house smelled different. The radio was on in their home but unlike our radio which was tuned to WOR ( every morning I would hear John Gambling in Rambling with Gambling and the theme song, "Pack up your troubles in your old kip bag and smile, smile, smile.....") their radio spoke Yiddish. It was tuned to WEVD.

Later I was to learn that EVD stood for Eugene Victor Debs, the great Socialist hero. The station was started by the Socialist Party. Then it was run by the Jewish Daily Forverts, the largest Yiddish paper in the world. My grandparents read the Forverts and the New York Times daily. I loved to listen to them speak Yiddish. I liked being Jewish. It was fun and the food was pretty good, too!

When I was not at school or participating in the many sports activities in which my parents enrolled me ( to this day I detest sports) I read books and walked around in the wooded areas surrounding our house. In the woods I found all types of incredible creatures: salamanders, newts, red efts, turtles ( I especially loved painted turtles and do to this day), rabbits ( I used to hop on all fours like a rabbit - I love rabbits), and, of course, snakes.

Snakes were my favorite. I received a book on snakes for a present . It was by Herbert Zim. When I was asked by indulgent adults what I wanted to be when I grew up I would excitedly answer, " A herpetologist!"

The best parts of the woods were the bogs,marshes and swamps. They were a treasure trove of all types of wild life. I would quietly sit by the water for hours observing the many creatures that lived there. I loved this world. I loved it much more than the world of the adults and school.

The Livingston library was located in an old house. I would ride my bike there, leave it under the large oak tree in front of the library and enter my house of worship. An elderly lady sat behind a dark, wooden desk. She was the librarian. She looked like someone's grandmother; maybe she was. You could take out books for two weeks. If they were returned late the fine was two cents a day! I was very careful about getting those books back on time.

The Livingston library had strict rules on who could borrow books. Books were segregated by age levels. For the longest time I was not allowed to borrow books from the adult section. Finally, they relented after I asked over and over again. From then on I never bothered the librarian again. All I wanted was to be able to read those books.

I went over to the left side of the room, I recall, and picked the first book off of the shelf. The shelves were wonderful, old wooden ones; few of them matched. I had a plan. I was going to read every book in the library. I would learn what I wanted and, I believed, needed to learn. I soon realized that my plan was impractical. Some other patrons, apparently, were also using the library. They were unaware of my plan. They were rudely removing books from these shelves and upsetting my master plan to read the entire collection. Isn't it interesting how other people seem to often not follow my rules? What a disappointment. Eventually, I recovered from this shock. From then on I just read whatever struck my fancy, whatever turned me on.

In our home books were everywhere. When we sat down for supper my father would be reading the New York Times and the five kids each had a book in front of them. My mother hovered in the background serving food. One day my father announced that reading was forbidden at the dinner table. We all love reading to this day. When my family gives gifts books are always welcome!

This site is a place where I and others who are autodidacts, who love learning, can share our experiences. I will be writing about my experiences, what I have learned about learning, what works for me. I would love to hear what excites you about learning. I have much to share. I plan to link to other sites of a similar nature. If you have any suggestions please share them with me. I would like learnetarium.com to be a safe-zone for like minded people.










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