by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –
There are certain things that, no matter what setting you work in, or age group you serve, or denomination you affiliate with, virtually all Jewish educators have in common. Things like the constant struggle of leftover bagels that proliferate throughout the year [we call it the Federation 15 in my office], the understanding that you didn’t sign up for a 9-to-5, and the insider humor that no one else quite gets. And more serious, meaningful things, like the love we have for our learners, the commitment we have to our missions, and the honor that we feel as we carry out our work.
I’ve been blessed to meet many Jewish educators who have been my teachers, my friends, my students, and my role models, and I know of no other group that’s as consistently dedicated, passionate, and all in for the team. So while I’m probably preaching to the choir, I’m excited to follow up on my 10 Commandments for Jewish Educators with these 10 Commitments of Jewish Educators.
- We commit to the journey – We know that each learner that we encounter is on a lifelong journey, and we’re meeting them at one point on it. We don’t need to be the beginning, or the end, but rather a pivot point on the journey, a step along the path. We’re on the journey ourselves, and we commit to remembering that every trajectory looks different, that there are loops and pitfalls along the way, and that there’s always another step to take.
- We commit to tzimtzum – Just like the divine presence needed to contract in order to make room for the world to flourish, we need to provide space for our learners, colleagues, and communities to grow. It can be tempting to want to be at the center, sharing our knowledge, insights, and skills – and there’s plenty of time for us to do that. But sometimes we need to step back, and to empower others to fill that space.
- We commit to being present – As educators, we know better than most how obvious it is when someone isn’t really ‘there’ in the space that they physically occupy. We know all of the tricks to hide phones, and can spot wandering [or closing] eyes in a second. So when we’re in a space, we commit to being physically, mentally, and emotionally present, to the best of our abilities.
- We commit to embracing awkward moments – The times when you ask a question and there’s dead silence, and all you want to do is fill it. The times when a student asks their own question, and you have no idea how to meaningfully respond, or how to respond at all. Literally any encounter on a high school Shabbaton. We’ve all been there for the awkwardness of Jewish education. So we commit to embracing it, to sitting in discomfort, and letting the encounters play themselves out.
- We commit to Torah Lishma – We can’t neglect our own learning, and not just because it helps us as professionals. But rather because we love it, because it drives us, and because it’s a part of who we are.
- We commit to creativity – We aren’t complacent educators. We’re constantly searching for the next thing, a new text, a different approach, or an innovative way to reach our learners anew.
- We commit to being guardians of tradition – We know that we are the latest link in a golden chain of texts, stories, tastes, and collective memories. While we embrace the new, we can’t forget our obligations to the old, the ancient, and the infinite.
- We commit to questioning – Questioning our students. Questioning authority and the status quo within our communities and the world. Questioning ourselves, just as rigorously, if not more so.
- We commit to punctuality – We ask that others respect our time, so we do the same for them. We start on time, end on time, and use our time well.
- We commit to love – Loving our students, loving our content, and at the end of the day, loving the work that we give so much of ourselves to.
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath is a Jewish educator passionate about connecting with Jewish teens and emerging adults, talking about Israel, history, philanthropy, and food, and sharing meaningful icebreakers. Samantha works in the Washington DC Jewish community and is pursuing an EdD in Jewish Educational Leadership. Learn more about Samantha and read past articles at: https://samanthavinokormeinrath.com/