Saturday Evening, September 17, 2016 / 15 Elul, 5776
by Sherry Gutes
I have been a Jewish educator for many years. I didn’t start out in Jewish Education though; it was a career change that I initiated while in my 40’s. So while many of my colleagues contemplate retirement, I actually think of myself as being mid-career - with many years left to serve.
That approach certainly has its advantages. I still get excited about my work – even with the ever-present challenges we all face in Jewish Education. I relish collaborating with colleagues as we kick around new ideas or work together in taking something ‘standard’ and designing it for a new generation of kids. I love trying new technologies for Jewish learning or adapting something that is taught in the public schools for a Jewish setting. I have my Top Ten ‘go to’ websites for Jewish education, and each day I scramble to keep up with the various blogs and journals and articles and op-ed pieces that come into my inbox. I belong to several professional networks and participate in ongoing Professional Development opportunities. Oh, and I still buy books. Go figure.
But the best – the absolute BEST part of my work? The children and their families.
I am privileged to be a Jewish teacher, and often that role leads to many other roles -advisor, confidante, arbitrator, shoulder and assumed ‘expert’ on all things Jewish.
I get to learn with the youngest toddlers and see them through elementary and middle school, through Bar/Bat Mitzvah and into the teen years. Some of the great pleasures in my life occur when I run into former students, now grown and sometimes with their own children, and they recount something specific about their time in my classroom, or something that made a lasting impact on them. Or when I spend a considerable amount time with a student on one specific skill – and they finally get it! Or when a parent says something like “I never thought he could do this. And he did it. Thank you.”
There is no doubt that this is holy and beautiful work. I take it all very seriously. (Of course, those who know me well know that I don’t take myself so seriously...) We Jewish educators have a sacred responsibility to our children and their families to give them the tools, the skills, the enthusiasm and the confidence to lead meaningful and productive Jewish lives. Whether they realize it or not, they look to us for inspiration. We each need to be a dugma, a role model, for them.
We began our 2nd year of Moadon this past week. (Moadon, meaning ‘lounge’, is Makom’s model for Religious School.) Last year we opened school with 23 students and ended the year with 55. This year we are opening with 80 students, and with more expected to enroll shortly. We welcomed adorable kids and smiling parents into our new rental space in Bethpage, with a first day consisting of Jewish music playing in every room, Hebrew games as ice breakers, a communal T’fillah (prayer) minyan, shofar blasts by Rabbi Bravo and a celebratory Kiddush to mark our first day. It was truly fun to be there. What a sweet beginning!
For me, it is so much about collegiality and commitment, about love of Jewish learning and respect for my students. And most of all, it is about the joy. I take great joy in my work and in my students’ accomplishments. As we begin a new year of Moadon, may it be a sweet beginning to a year of great learning and great joy.