Cigar Box Guitar Torah

The title of this post sounds like something from a Wheel of Fortune puzzle gone wrong. I can picture Vana (sp?) flipping the letters… But I promise, there’s a point. ┬áIt starts with the cigar box guitar…

For the uninitiated here are some examples of cigar box guitars:

Taken from Wikipedia


A cigar box guitar is what it sounds like: a guitar made out a cigar box (and some other random stuff). They typically have three strings, are set to open tunings, and played with a slide.


Having purchased a cigar box guitar and fallen in love with the DIY simplicity and down home sound (they’re typically electric as well), I decided that, lacking any and all craftsman like expertise, I needed to build my own. Naturally, I enlisted a close friend with a complimentary skill set and work bench to boot. Several weeks later we completed our first cigar box guitar:


My First Cigar Box Guitar

Rather “geeked” by the whole process I quickly brought my new axe to school to 1) plug in to one of the huge amps in our music room and 2) impress some of our middle school guitarists (and assure them that I do not smoke cigars or condone smoking of any kind). My plan worked, because one ambitious 7th grader immediately informed me that he too would be building a cigar box guitar.

ONE WEEK LATER I received an email from him with a picture of his cigar box guitar that he and his father had built together:

The second kosher cigar box guitar ever?

So why “Cigar Box Guitar Torah”? Because to me, Torah means teaching. It means modeling, leading by example, sharing our passions and interests, and inspiring others. From my perspective there are a couple of takeaways, that have little to do with me, and everything to do with education.

1) Educators can make the biggest difference when we share some aspect of ourselves. I’m fairly certain I surprised at least a few people by showing up to school with a cigar box guitar, plugging it in, and jamming out. The whole process seemed totally natural to me, but it reminded me how much and also how little our students know about us. By sharing a part of myself I inspired a student. He and I now have a unique bond– we’re both cigar box guitar luthiers! This is summed up for me in the words that I’ve heard attributed to the poet William Wordsworth, “What we love, others will love, and we will show them how.”

2)When students are excited about something, there’s no limit to what they can do. How can we generate similar energy around others types of projects?

3) We never know when the lightbulb is going to go off. The more fully we bring our humanity to our work, the more likely we’re going to flip a switch in a student that will allow their light to shine even more fully.

I never thought I’d use the phrase “Cigar Box Guitar Torah”.

Even though music has, for most of my adult life, been an important part of my rabbinic/Jewish/spiritual/professional life (see “Music” tab) I couldn’t have imagined that my own desire to build a cigar box guitar would ever make me a more caring educator. But there you have it!



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