We are not prohibited from criticizing educators – yet this criticism must be tempered, or even overwhelmed, by the respect and reverence for the men and women who commit themselves to avodat hakodesh (holy work). Successful and passionate educators must be praised and cherished. The principles they work for must be informed of significant achievements. The educators themselves must be lauded for their commitment. Most important, we must convey to our children the value of their teachers.
Our concern over our children entering the world of Jewish education develops as well from the affluence of our community. Modern Orthodox living demands salaries that can support homes on Long Island, yeshiva tuition, and much more. Teachers are simply not paid enough. Many parents rightfully worry that a career in Jewish education will not provide sufficient economic stability for their children’s families.
Here our responsibility is twofold.
First, we must lobby our institutions to pay better salaries to yeshiva teachers. They must be offered benefits and incentives that will allow them to live comfortably. I believe strongly that an institution’s money is ultimately best invested in human capital, which will undoubtedly yield the greatest returns.
Second, we need to shift our attitude. We as a society are too materialistic. Happiness arises not from the attainment of material “things” but from emotional and spiritual fulfillment. The opportunities to live an ideal and to open young minds offer a wholeness and satisfaction that supersede monetary and material gains.
Many challenges and deficiencies currently afflict our educational institutions, but it is the shortage of quality teachers that stands at the forefront. We have a responsibility as a community to produce the men and women who will go on to educate the children of our immediate future.
If confronted with a child, a young friend, or a relative who is choosing the path of Jewish education, do not respond negatively, discouraging them by listing the dangers, the difficulties and the poor salaries and security.
Instead, respond: “What a bold and idealistic decision. I wish you much luck. I cannot tell you how important quality educators are to our community. It is a difficult path that you are choosing, but ultimately I have no doubt that the fulfillment and accomplishment will make it all worthwhile. Educating our children is truly holy work.”
I have numerous friends who, yielding to very real external pressures, left education. They now function as highly qualified and successful, lawyers, doctors, and accountants. Yet they often remain unfulfilled, while our community lost out on superior educators and valuable role models. A weekly or even daily shiur falls short of satisfying their potential and the promise of hundreds of inspired students.
When in college, I had a constant internal debate over my future career; while education enticed me, I was overwhelmed by more worldly concerns impressed upon me by Modern Orthodoxy. Support and encouragement from family and friends, however, ultimately solidified my decision.
I have no regrets, and I look forward to the many opportunities that lie before me to positively affect the Jewish people. So many potential future educators wait to be formed and fostered. So much of our destiny as a people depends on our attitude and actions. By supporting and encouraging our own potential educators, we build a bright future for our community.
Ultimately, the answer to the question is: “The indispensable and most honored job for a Jewish boy or girl.”