We can label this as a community problem. We can see this an issue for day schools to solve. But I believe we can only grow Jewish education and nurture Jewish educators when each and every one of us considers whether and how we can be part of the solution. Consider your Shabbat table discussions. Are Jewish educators discussed with respect? Are they thanked for the work they do for our children and grandchildren? Are parents and boards of Jewish schools prepared to recognize that credentialed, well-prepared Jewish educators deserve respectable salaries? Will we swell with just as much pride when we introduce our sons/daughters as Jewish educators as when we use the proverbial “my son/daughter the doctor”?
At the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education I meet those who, despite the roadblocks, despite the lack of financial promise, despite the long hours and parents and students who kvetch and demand, are devoting their lives to Jewish education. They are remarkable in their uniqueness, each bringing their particular style and philosophy of teaching to enrich their students’ learning. They are equally remarkable in their unity of purpose. Virtually every future educator voices a passion for igniting the souls of students, for giving modern youngsters the gift of an ancient mesorah, for touching lives with the warmth and wonder of Torah. I am so inspired by these educators and future educators and am confident these unique and remarkable professionals will infuse Jewish education in wonderful ways.
Imagine what we could do with dozens more just like them. They are out there. They are high school and college students inspired by their own learning, noting the impact great educators have had on them. They are youth leaders and camp counselors experiencing the satisfaction that comes from being a role-model and influencer in the lives of others. They are adults working in careers that are financial lucrative but spiritually limiting. This next generation of inspired and inspiring teachers is watching and listening. Will we, through our actions and words, send the message that Jewish education is no job for a nice Jewish man or woman? Or will we communicate, in our treatment of Jewish schools and educators, that Jewish educators are a treasured resource? Will we support, financially and otherwise, those who will grow the next generation of committed, passionate Jewish learners? We cannot afford to send the wrong message or cut corners. We cannot afford to lose to other careers anyone whose passion, knowledge, skill, and commitment belong in our classrooms, nurturing the next generation.
I understand that the issues are complex and the needs considerable. I realize that finding all the resources we need to support Jewish education will be difficult. I am, however, arguing for clarity on one simple fact. Without the right people in our schools and classrooms, no amount of funds will create inspired Jewish education and inspired Jews. Let us invest in Jewish education as if our lives depended on it. Because, in fact, our lives, and our children’s and children’s children’s lives do.
This article is cross-posted from The Layers Project Magazine.