July 9, 1936 – May 31, 2021
By “Happy” Iscove
“Establish for Yourself a Teacher and You Will Acquire a Friend.” (Pirke Avot 1:6)
Many times, as I neared her tiny office adjacent to the steps of the tower entrance, I heard Pearlie’s delicate, musical voice demonstrating a trope to a student or correcting the Hebrew pronunciation. As I passed by the door, she’d smile at me from behind her desk and wave. Then, she’d continue the lesson.
Pearlie was a passionate student of Judaism…all aspects of it. She loved to study Jewish texts and was active in a Tanach group, a Talmud group and a book club. Pearlie was a teacher because she cared about imparting Jewish knowledge, skills and culture to peers as well as to the next generations. It was what she did best.
It’s been said that great teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together. That describes my dear friend, Pearl Hermant, z”l, both a life-long learner and a life-long teacher of Judaism.
For more than four decades (through the end of 2007), Pearlie taught hundreds of Holy Blossom Temple bnei mitzvah their Torah and haftarah portions. She did more than teach them the mechanics of singing the tropes and merely chanting their portions. Pearlie combined her solid foundation of Jewish knowledge with her passion for sharing her insights. She was well organized and intelligent, making every moment of the lesson a teaching moment. For example, she often explained how a particular trope emphasized a word, and why that word was important in understanding the meaning of the text.
Teaching adolescents was not always easy, particularly when they showed up unprepared for their lessons. Pearlie was a no-nonsense person. She didn’t pull any punches and accepted few excuses. She was thorough and honest, fair and kind. She was determined that her students did well. Pearlie understood that chanting Torah on behalf of the congregation is a privilege that must be done accurately. She made sure that her students were “bima ready” and in so doing, she helped to foster their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Pearlie was also a teacher of teachers. She taught Dori Levine and me to recognize and chant the tropes so that we, too, could become bnei mitzvah tutors. I fondly remember my summer sessions in 2007 with Pearlie. I would leave her apartment with my study materials in hand, and head for my car with so much more than just trope signs and melodies in my head. I had new perceptions and ideas to consider.
I met Pearlie soon after arriving in Toronto fifty years ago, but it was during the past 25 years that we became particularly close friends. We spoke every week over the phone. I loved her sparkle when she entered a room, her warm “Hi” when we greeted each other, her curiosity about so many things from recipes to specific words in sacred texts, the stories of her family history that she was eager to tell, the lessons we learned from each other, her sense of humour and laughter, and her honesty whether critical or complimentary.
I will miss our friendship and the conversations left unfinished.
May Pearl Hermant’s memory always be for a blessing.