Each year presents new challenges requiring innovative solutions. This year, the conversation has focused on a national shortage of qualified and aspiring Jewish educators. Where are they and why aren’t they entering the profession?
In speaking with colleagues around the field, this problem is felt everywhere. Most cities experience the difficulty of finding, training and retaining great Judaic studies professionals. The challenge is more pronounced the farther away a school is located from the two or three focal points of Orthodox Jewish living.
This is not a temporary problem that impacts the students of day schools today alone. This is a widespread challenge that if left unchecked, will impact all future generations of day school children in an ever-growing number. When an under-serviced and under-inspired student body chooses career paths, fewer young adults imagine a fulfilling career in Jewish education. When our schools are staffed with fewer talented and uplifting role models that can bring the spice of Jewish life and make texts dance off the page, they return fewer and fewer of their own students to enter the field of chinuch. That is a dark and gloomy vicious cycle that we all feel the need to combat.
So what is being done? Some institutions have begun to see the opportunity this crisis creates. Among other schools trying similar ventures, Maimonides School is kicking off its inaugural cohort of Maimonides Fellows. This small group of men and women, aspiring Jewish leaders, will work towards a very clear vision and purpose:
Let’s create more Jewish inspiration in our schools right now, and in doing so we will inspire people to want to create more Jewish inspiration for others in the future.
This enterprise aims to address each of the various factors that contribute to the crisis with both short-term goals and long-term gains baked in.
In the short term, our cohort of educators are asked to spend six weekends, Thursday evening through Sunday, within our school community. They will enhance and run school programming: a mishmar learning for parents and children, classrooms and beit midrash learning during the school day, Shabbatonim, etc. In this way, our students are exposed to a wider variety of vibrant and energized role models who exude pride and enjoyment in their heritage in as contagious a way as possible. Let’s bring more of the very best of camp and informal Jewish education deeper into the very fabric of formal Jewish education.
In the long term, we are aiming to provide a pathway for aspiring professional educators. We envision this program as a practicum for Jewish educators. A significant road to professional excellence leading through the hallowed halls of Maimonides School, hallways steeped in the proud legacy of a flagship modern Orthodox institution and in the legacy of the school’s founder, Rav Soloveitchik.
Maimonides Fellows will be paid a generous stipend for their participation and will be paired with master-teachers within our school, to observe and to receive feedback. Additionally, our cohort will spend a portion of each visit to Boston with some of the world’s most renowned educators, Jewish and non-Jewish, from the greater Boston community and educational institutions. The fellows will learn through workshops targeted to the very heart of education and expose aspiring Jewish professionals to the best practices and practitioners in our field.
Our aim is to inspire and train some of the best leaders our people have to offer, so that they can help us ensure we have a wider talent pool ready to answer the call and join us in this most holy work - raising the next generation of proud, engaged and educated Jewish children.
We are taking a swing at this mounting crisis. We are inspired by this idea that has a chance to inspire others.