Like most educators I know (and my mom), I tend to spend a disproportionate amount of my time talking about Jewish values. I teach my learners about concepts like derekh eretz and shem tov, remind them about treating others with respect and dignity, and have spearheaded the drafting of more ‘class covenants’ than I care to admit. And I’m not just paying lip service – I genuinely believe that by living lives that are guided by Jewish values, we become better people, and are able to contribute to our communities and societies in positively impactful ways.
Most of the time, this is implicit for me, and I assume for those who I spend time with. Past childhood, we hopefully presume that we don’t need to remind one another to treat others with kindness, or to respect each other, or to operate honestly.
Over the last few days, there have been no less than three specific instances where I’ve heard of a friend or colleague in the Jewish professional world losing their job in a manner that’s not in keeping with the Jewish values that our organizations espouse and champion. Some of these are already literally front-page news within Jewish professional circles. Others will likely never be told publicly, and will remain the private tribulations of the victims and their families. All are awful situations, with wonderful, amazing people left scrambling to find new roles, new paths, and new opportunities.
A caveat: I fundamentally believe and understand that Jewish education and non-profit organizations are businesses. And that sometimes businesses don’t do well, or even fail, and that it’s not personal, and unforeseen circumstances are real, and every other platitude you can imagine. I know all of this. And so do my colleagues.
There is a way to conduct the business of the Jewish people while walking the talk of the Jewish values we claim to champion.
It’s easy to be cold. To be cut and dry. To postpone awkward conversations and emotional breakdowns in the hopes of being able to avoid them altogether. To literally be at a loss for words, and not want to hurt anyone or be hurt in the crossfire of tough, crushing decisions.
But easy isn’t who we are. No one chooses Jewish education because it’s an easy career path. We choose it because we thrive on the challenge, on the ambiguity, on the chaos of embracing our passion. We bring those gifts to our learners and to our pedagogy, and we also need to bring them to our personnel.
There are ways to make hard choices, painful choices, even hurtful choices, while still maintaining the dignity of those impacted, and aligning our actions with our values. We may be in the business of Jewish education – but honoring one another should be our business as usual.