The girl sat in the back of the Hebrew-school classroom. Her teacher, a wise elder who wore a black kipah on his balding head, asked his students to take turns reading from the Chumash. They were reading from Chapter 19 of Leviticus. Mar Kaz, the teacher, asked who would like to read. Three students eagerly raised their hands. One blurted out: “I do! I do!”

He was chosen first, dazzling his teacher and his classmates with his competent She prayed her teacher wouldn’t see her pronunciation of the words. Mar Kaz then chose the other two students. Like the first boy, they read smoothly and evenly, as if they understood exactly what they were reading.

The girl sitting in the back of the room stared at the bottom of her desktop. She bent her head down. Her stomach lurched; her mouth was dry. She prayed that her teacher wouldn’t see her. She wanted to be invisible so she wouldn’t be called upon to read. Her wise teacher understood the meaning of the bent head, and called on her anyway. She swallowed and began to read, quietly and slowly, pointing at each word, sounding them out. She finished the sentence and took a shallow breath of relief. The dreaded moment was over. When Mar Kaz told her what a fine job she did—“Yofi! Tov me’od!”—his words barely registered with her. Embarrassment and shame always followed the dreaded reading, so that no amount of praise could break through the cloud of anxiety she always experienced.

I was the girl in the back of the room. Despite my love of Torah and Judaism, learning to read Hebrew was so difficult. I learned the alef-bet without difficulty, but when it came to putting those letters and vowels together—and then reading them—I was surprised by how much I struggled. Maybe I expected that reading Hebrew would come as easily and naturally as reading English. Maybe I compared myself to my peers, who intuitively read seamlessly. I had convinced myself that I would never measure up. After a while, I felt anxious every time I went to Hebrew school, four days a week after school and on Sunday. That’s a lot of anxiety!

Did I have a learning disability, a brain wired in a way that made the process of reading difficult? Or did I develop debilitating anxiety because of my own expectations and perceived failure? I imagine that the reasons are less important for me now. The outcomes I experienced—anxiety, fear, invisibility and diminished self-esteem—could have ended my love for Judaism and Torah, so pervasive were they in my life.

More than 30 years later, after I began working professionally with people with disabilities, the religious-school director of my synagogue asked me if I would be interested in tutoring children with disabilities. My gut reaction was to say “No, thanks,” but I had a nagging feeling that this was an opportunity I would regret not embracing. Perhaps my own struggles, as well as my work with people with disabilities, had taught me that every Jewish child deserved a chance to be taught al pi darko, in his or her own way.

Maybe I was taking on more than I could chew. Indeed, as I started working with my first students, I struggled preparing for their weekly lessons. I recall wondering if I could handle it. But I I struggled preparing for their weekly lessonslearned, and became the best tutor I could be. The mechanics of Hebrew reading were important. But more than that, I learned the meaning of al pi darko in the most meaningful way. I learned that each child, regardless of his or her diagnosis, comes to Torah with reverence, love and an eagerness to learn the ancient words. My job is to find that key to each child’s learning style and abilities, and to teach that child in ways that complement that.

I will be eternally grateful to Mar Kaz, who ignited in me a lifelong love of Torah. I think he would be proud to know that I have been a Hebrew tutor for 15 years, teaching students who struggle with reading in the same way that I did. I realized after many years that success can be measured in different ways. When I see my students succeed, I echo the words of my wise teacher. Yofi! Tov me’od!

In those moments I think of Mar Kaz, and thank G‑d that he wisely chose to ignore my bent head and my prayer for invisibility.