Over the years, there have been many instances when I was asked what I do for a living. After the initial shock when I say I am a lifelong Jewish educator, the reaction has been a shake of the head and the usual response, “I guess you couldn’t get a real job!” I often think I was born to try to make Jewish learning better for children. The truth is, I love what I do. What I do is what I am. I am an R.J.E.; a Reform Jewish Educator. There are many reasons why a person like me becomes a Jewish educator. Most usually have to do with finding a purpose that brings passion and purpose to their life.
One of our beloved long time teachers, Cecile Gruer, reluctantly had to retire mid-year. Most don’t realize that Cecile was a child during the Holocaust. Along with her family, Cecile survived brutal winters in Siberia. Because she is a Survivor, Cecile committed her life to teaching Jewish children to love Hebrew and being Jewish. In dedicating herself to this purpose, she helped ensure the survival of the Jewish people. Cecile needed to teach. I believe she lived to teach! She became energized every time she walked through her classroom door. Her students thrived under her nurturing instruction. We will always be grateful for her many years as a master Hebrew teacher. Although she will be missed her students will always remember her Hebrew lessons as they read from the prayer book.
Several of our teachers told me why they chose Jewish education as their career path. After her children got older, our second grade teacher, Robin Faiguenbaum, found herself thinking that she needed a change. “I found myself wondering what could I do that combines my love of Judaism with my love of children? I did not have any formal Jewish education. I felt it was the best midlife crisis I could have ever had.” After attending the Morasha Teacher Training Program and getting her first teaching position, she was hooked. “I love what I do! I hope to find ways to continue sharing knowledge to all willing to learn. Being able to pass on our culture,Torah, and history has become life’s greatest blessings.”
Our seventh grade Adventures in Judaism teacher, Ilene Davis, responded, “There is nothing better than having one of my students realize they’re stronger and more resilient than they ever thought possible.”
Jamie Moses, one of our Hebrew team teachers, recounts, “When I was a kid, everyone hated Hebrew School. I wanted to go. I asked my mom to sign me up and I think I liked it but the teachers were so old and mean.” She also attended the Morasha Teacher Training program. It transformed her. “I made it my life’s mission to make it fun and entertaining. It has been a great journey. Being back at a synagogue after many years brings me joy. I love that there are still passionate Jewish families. I love teaching Hebrew and I love when the kids are successful.”
Martin Flaster, one of our fourth and sixth grade Judaic teachers, remembers his “best recollection of Hebrew School was being sent to the Cantor’s office; he was a retired Army Chaplain. I had to sit on the radiator and listen to him yell at me. This was the highlight of my education. I have come full circle now. I teach at a wonderful temple. I want to make what I teach useful, fun, vibrant, and relevant. I want to involve all of my students in what is being taught. I find teaching Judaic subjects challenging for my students but I find them very receptive to new and old ideas. I believe they can see the necessity and relevance of a Jewish education. When I inspire students and see and hear their positive responses, I am inspired to give more.”
The right teachers can make all the difference in how a child views Judaism. Our teachers share their passion and love for Jewish learning with our students. Their being at Temple Beth El is the greatest gift they could give us.