From the CEO: A Time to Act, Again

It’s all about the who. Mort Mandel

The article in this issue by Sharon Freundel and Marc Wolf describes a working group that Prizmah and the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) convened to assess, explore and plan for addressing the emerging crisis in recruiting, training and retaining talented educators. We knew that the crisis was not new; the seminal 1990 publication, “A Time to Act,” had at its core a plan “to infuse Jewish education with a new vitality by recruiting large numbers of talented and dedicated educators.” Then, as now, the educator pipeline was a top priority for Jewish day schools.

More than 30 years ago, “A Time to Act” galvanized school leaders and philanthropists alike. The report created momentum that grew new day schools (especially community schools), elevated the value of Jewish education, stimulated community-level support, funded research and data to reliably measure the needs and accomplishments of the field, and prompted new ways of developing the profession of Jewish education. We stand today on the shoulders of giants like Mort Mandel, who chaired the Commission on Jewish Education for North America, which published “A Time to Act.” 

Mort was known for his vision and leadership as well as his direct language. “It’s all about the who,” he said, meaning who will lead the field of Jewish education, who will teach our future generations, who will make sure our schools are the best they can possibly be. Mort’s five words remain more relevant than ever.

We echo Mort’s statement and take up the baton to catalyze a new era for educators. Just as we look back on the lofty goals of “A Time to Act” as the harbinger of what Jonathan Krasner has called a “new zeitgeist” for Jewish education, so too today do we ambitiously envision building a new reality for the educator pipeline that will have a pervasive and long-lasting impact.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the members of our working group, we have the ideas that will in fact move the frustratingly sticky needle, especially if both funders and practitioners sign on and maintain focus for more than a year or two. Our mission is now to make those ideas take root in schools, communities and across North America.  Some of this will be specific to Jewish day schools; some reflects common issues with other areas of Jewish education and Jewish professional life. For those, we seek to partner with our peers and colleagues across the Jewish ecosystem. This can be another seminal moment if we appreciate the depth and breadth of what will be needed to make transformational change.

Take, for example, one of the working group’s priority initiatives: an Office for Jewish Day School Educator Recruitment. We informally refer to this as “writing the Jewish education scouting playbook,” developing a system for identifying and nurturing the talents of promising future educators. We can expand current recruitment and provide pathways to teaching, we can ensure that future teachers understand the avenues of training and support, we can make the idea of pursuing a career as a Jewish day school educator more accessible—and desirable. What happens to the kindergartener who says he wants to be a teacher, but by the time he is in high school has gotten the message that careers in teaching are poorly paid and not respected? 

Our schools themselves can nurture future teachers more explicitly. At school graduations, a few heads of school are bold enough to invite seniors to consider education as their career. What if that was the norm at all graduations and when careers are discussed?

In a world post-Covid, post–October 7, the challenges to the professional pipeline for Jewish education continue to grow. Exciting opportunities for day schools, such as growing enrollment and schools’ commitment to excellence, risk being thwarted by a lack of enough great educators. Thanks to the bold work set in motion after “A Time to Act,” day schools in the 2020s have substantially higher enrollment, and they are much more professionalized and financially stable than in the 1980s. Now is the critical time to address the ubiquitous “who” question and secure that our schools have an ample supply of professional educators who can deliver the unique Jewish day school mission for future generations.

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HaYidion Jewish Educator Pipeline cover image
Jewish Educator Pipeline
Spring 2024
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