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8 Questions for Aaron Becker, global learner, life lover, the teacher you wish you had

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03/31/2009

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Aaron Becker has a “mad crush” on the world, the mountains of Norway included

Aaron Becker digs the music, savors the wine, and makes new friends wherever he goes, whether it’s the Chabad house in Florence or the bathhouse in Konya. His resume crisscrosses the planet: ten languages studied, a 2007 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching, two Fulbright scholarships (Turkey and Morocco), educational programs in Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Russia, Egypt, and around the world we go. Growing up, Aaron’s commute to class was never far – Solomon Schechter, Niles North, Glenbrook South, University of Illinois. But he has since traveled the distance and continued to learn.

The classroom where Aaron teaches history and global studies at Evanston Township High School looks different from the rest. For one thing, there are no desks. Kick off your shoes, grab some tea, pull up a pillow and get ready to learn. Mr. Becker is the kind of teacher who simultaneously brings out your best and blows your mind.

So if you’re at home on the road with a thirst for knowledge, tea, truth, or Madeira, Aaron Becker is a Jew You Should Know.

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Aaron Becker, making new friends in Saudi Arabia

1. What is your favorite blog or website?
Mostly I enjoy blogs created by cool people doing good things in places I’d like to visit. A couple examples are Burkina by Matt, which is based on this guy’s Peace Corps experience in Burkina Faso, and also photographer Alison Wright’s National Geographic-esque blog. When I want to better understand the uglier side of world events, I visit the International Crisis Group website.

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel?
You mean to tell me that money and time aren’t limitless? Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet – one month each. Cape Town for six months. Maybe a year wandering through Southeast Asia.

3. If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
It’s been done. Being John Malkovich was a total rip-off of the film based on the biographical novel Being Aaron Becker. Also, I should tell you that John Ritter played me in Three’s Company.

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve?
I would have a picnic and hear a concert in Millennium Park with Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King. I would bring a few bottles of Madeira, and make a huge salad, a hearty stew and pecan pie for dessert. My two guests should be disguised somehow, so as not to attract too much attention. Depending on their omniscience, I’d try to bring them up to speed on world events – I’d give Dr. King a report on the Chicago Public School system and I’d give Jefferson an iPhone to fiddle around with. It’s funny – I’m more interested in their responses to the changes that have transpired since they’ve left this world than any of their stories or wisdom.

5. What's your idea of the perfect day?
Coffee on my hotel balcony overlooking the water, a short walk to language class, a stroll through the colorful crowded market and lunch in the local botanical garden. An afternoon field trip with a new friend from my adopted neighborhood – maybe to a castle or a concert or a place special only to my new friend. Late afternoon nap. Meet friends for drinks and appetizers. Then back to one of their houses to cook dinner together as we talk and listen to music. Watch the waves come in beneath the moon from the roof of my hotel.

Meeting a friendly stranger who challenges my preconceptions.

Seeing a student channel the divine.

6. What do you love about what you do?
My students are goddamn brilliant. I have a more up-to date iPod than most of my friends. I work with smart, cool people. I feel appreciated by everyone around me.

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now?
Foreign service, flipping houses, confidence man, cheese counter employee.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? In other words, how do you Jew?
Random walk-ins at synagogues in my shtetly neighborhood (otherwise known as Rogers Park), and Shabbat dinners with old friends. A big shout-out to the heimish crowd at Kehilat Shalom – I used to read Torah there from time to time and I miss them.

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