The power of a good book to educate, enrich or transport its reader to another time and place is an essential lesson for any young student, and it’s one that Scott Simon—Bernard Zell alumnus, author and host of NPR’s Weekend Edition—knows better than almost anyone.
“Typically, I read two books a week for my job,” said Scott. “And sometimes I can't even remember the titles. But I vividly remember the books I read as an adolescent and a teen—those books stay with you for the rest of your life.”
In fact, Scott, now 67, vividly recalls reading “The Old Man and the Sea” in Mr. Morton Reisman’s classroom at Anshe Emet Day School, along with Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” “Robinson Crusoe” and of course, “Lord of the Flies.”
“Dr. Reisman was such an astonishing educational leader and teacher. He was magnificent in terms of opening up those works of literature for us and getting us engaged, seeing how they had relevance to our lives. I mean, I still think about it, and not only are those novels that he taught us still vivid in my life but the way in which he taught, I think is still vivid in my life,” said Scott.
But despite a prolific career in journalism and having won every major award in broadcasting including Peabodys, Emmys, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Scott did have a bit of a mischievous streak while at student at Anshe Emet.
“In Mr. Jack Weinman’s eighth-grade class we had to read a book and write a book report about it,” said Scott. “And Mr. Weinman would call on some of us to read our reports. And for a couple of weeks, three or four of us decided we would skip the reading part and just make up a book. We figured if we all made up the same book we'd never be discovered. Right?”
“We spent far more time making up those books that didn't exist than we would have if we'd actually read the book and written the report about it. And, you know, we had a lot of fun doing it, but we actually used the name of one of our classmate’s parents as the author of the book. Oh, such idiots, we were,” Scott recalls.
“In any event, Mr. Weinman called me up to read the book report,” said Scott. “And I'm reading the book report, and my three other coconspirators in crime are absolutely cracking up. They're fighting back laughter and tears and turning red. When I finished reading the book report on the book that didn't exist, Mr. Weinman said knowingly, ‘Scott, sounds like a great book! Why don’t you bring it in on Monday so we can all enjoy it?!"
Of course, Mr. Weinman knew all along what was happening, but beyond the joy that these hijinks still bring to Scott, the other lesson he hangs on to is how his teacher ultimately handled the situation.
“I think that's one of the distinctive things about Anshe Emet teachers,” said Scott. “They knew us as people. They knew our families, they knew our backgrounds. They knew our interests, they knew who we were. And, you know, it wasn't rote teaching. They had a real gift for unlocking each of us. They really did.”
These concepts carry forward today in Bernard Zell’s current teaching faculty who continue to get to know students intimately and honestly. And for Scott, what he got as a student at Anshe Emet stays with him today. That same teacher, Mr. Weiman, suggested that Scott read "In Search of Light the Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow." Following that suggestion, Scott’s mom ran out to the public library to get it for him.
“I read that book and I thought it was the most magnificent thing that I'd ever read,” Scott said. “That's when I really did begin to see a future for myself in journalism. It's not as if I read Murrow and said, ‘I can do that’ but I did read Murrow and say, ‘I'd like to try.’"
That trying turned into succeeding. Over the last 45 years, Scott has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars. He has also authored nine best-selling books, the most recent of which—“Sunnyside Plaza” was just released last week and was inspired by a Chicago location less than ten minutes away from Bernard Zell.
What is today known as the Jewish United Fund’s EZRA Multi-Service Center and Uptown Cafe, was the “The Approved Home” in the early 1970s, a group home where Scott volunteered while in college.
Narrated by a 19-year-old with a developmental disability, Scott hopes this book becomes something today’s students read, a novel that will stick with them, a book that offers them hope and inspires them to find power in the written word.
Scott’s advice for today’s students?
“Keep your eyes and ears open. Decide who and what you admire, find the kind of work that means something in your life—then try and do something just like it.”