Being A Jewish Educator Is A Lifestyle Choice
1:23 am on a Saturday night I receive a work text waking me up from my hard earned sleep after a long night hike up a mountain ridge out by Palm Desert. Unzipping the top half of my sleeping bag to uncover my arms, I reach into the top pocket of my tent to grab my glasses and open my phone while a cold breeze immediately reminds me where I am.
A string of rockets have just been launched into Israel by Hamas and a student had just sent me a text asking about the background and ramifications of this recent round of violence.
Without hesitation I fully wake up. While rockets being shot into Israel is (sadly) a common phenomenon, this is a student who has recently been learning more about Israel and perhaps this is the first time they had heard of the constant back and forth between Israel and Hamas controlled Gaza. With the sheer amount of misinformation and blatant lies about Israel throughout the internet and public sphere I want to ensure that I can talk to them before they are misled.
I type up a long response which soon turns into a short conversation. After about 25 minutes of back and forth we decide to grab coffee on Monday to finish the conversation. Content with how the conversation has ended, I take off my glasses and rezip my sleeping bag - quickly falling back asleep.
A good work-life balance. A state that people across all professions and facets of society strive to reach. The idea that a person neatly compartmentalizes their working life from their personal life and attempts to reach some sort of equilibrium or reasonable balance between the two. A mindset where, barring emergencies, emails are ignored during the weekend and work ends for the day at a certain time each evening.
A state that as a Jewish educator I fundamentally reject.
All throughout my life I have been extremely close to a variety of different rabbis and other Jewish educators. I would call and text them on weekends, at night, and even during their vacations with questions, concerns, or even just to talk- and they would always be there - proving to me time and time again that they did not simply view their role as just a job. I cannot even count the number of times that my college rabbi, Aryeh Kaplan, made time for a pressing question or personal dilemma outside of “normal” work hours.
But perhaps it was rude of me to expect my rabbi to be available at all hours of the week, just as perhaps it is rude for my students to expect the same out of me?
I believe, however, that this sentiment which many profess, misses a fundamental point. The reason why I trusted, connected with, and sought out my rabbis and educators were specifically because they were the types of individuals who would want to be available to answer questions midnight on a weekend.
Students are not questioning and seeking to learn more about their Judaism, Israel, themselves or the world on a neat 9-5 weekday schedule. The lives of students are way too busy for that.
Rather, it is the wee hours of the night, the middle of the weekend, or during vacation that students are able to take a step back from their day-to-day lives and focus on life's larger questions. Current events that break out in real time, students considering their connection with Judaism and Israel, and even the pondering and struggling with one’s identity and place in the world can take place at anytime and as an educator I want to always be available.
On an entirely different plane, but an equally relevant one, being a Jewish educator means that you are inserting yourself into a history of work that has required total immersion and commitment. My great grandfather, Moshe Levine, was a rabbi in Russia when the government passed a law outlawing all study of Torah. Unstirred, he continued to teach covert classes in the middle of the night in various underground locations until later discovered by the government and sent off to Siberia.
Now although incredible, this story is by no means unique. For hundreds of years this has been the story of anyone involved in Jewish communal leadership. Endless hours, personal sacrifice, scant resources and funds, along with intense external opposition was involved in any type of Jewish education.
Today the average Jewish educator is lucky enough to not have to deal with the vast majority of these historical pathologies. Most Jewish educators are on payroll, allotted vacation day, and supported (or at least not stymied) by their surroundings. These things are all great and important and they should, of course, be taken advantage of.
But when I am on vacation, after work hours, or even if I ever stop working for a Jewish organization - I will always make myself available. For if I wasn’t, I would have no business being a Jewish educator in the first place.
Moshe Daniel Levine is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
I have conflicting values. I send my children to a Jewish day school because I value the religious education they receive, but I feel guilty for not supporting the public schools beyond my tax dollars.
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