Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

Honoring nurses and teachers

Last April, I wrote a story about a gift to Englewood Health.

Maggie Kaplen of Tenafly, who was a nurse many years ago, but who never forgot either the joys or the frustrations of that vital but often overlooked, underpaid, and under-respected position, gave $10 million to the hospital. It is for the nurses who are there now and the ones who will be hired there; it’s for their training, their professional development, and their sense of self-worth.

When I asked her why she’d decided to give such a large gift, and to aim it as she had, she was direct. She knows what  it feels like to be a  nurse. What do nurses do, I asked her.

“What don’t they do?” Ms. Kaplen answered, as I reported last year. “They do everything, from the most menial little thing to the psychosocial to the total care of a patient. And they do it with a smile, and with love, and with care.”

Why do they do it? “They do it because they care,” she said. “They do it because they care about humans and about the human condition. They do it because they love people.”

This was by no means the first major gift Ms. Kaplen had given locally; the JCC on the Palisades’ name is prefaced by her name, Kaplen, because she and her late husband, Bill, support it so strongly. But this one had a resonance for her that traced back to her early adulthood; the respect for her unglamorous but literally life-saving profession has informed the rest of her life.

I am lucky; my job allows me to talk to a wide range of fascinating, brilliant, kind people. I love it. Some interviews, some subjects, some people echo in my head and heart longer than others,  and this discussion with Maggie Kaplen has remained lodged in the front of my brain.

That’s why, when I interviewed Adam Shapiro and Daniel Och about a huge gift to the Golda Och Academy in West Orange — probably coincidentally, another $10 million donation — and Mr. Shapiro  told me why and how it’s aimed at teachers, the message echoed.

He told me that the Daniel and Jane Och Foundation, which had given the school $15 million about 10 years ago, to support scholarships, just gave it another $10 million, in memory of Dan Och’s mother, Golda, and in honor of his father, Dr. Michael. That second gift is for teachers.

It’s to help find the best new teachers, retain the ones already at the school, offer them training and professional advancement, and in general honor them by acknowledging, out loud and in public, how vital their work is. Teaching is an undervalued, underpaid, overlooked profession, and without the work that teachers do, our society would come to a messy, underinformed, badly behaved, toxically selfish, screaming halt.

“Our teachers have always gone above and beyond to help our children with their academic, social, and emotional needs,” Mr. Shapiro told me, and for “our teachers,” you can substitute “many teachers, in many schools.” “We can help them grown as professionals and help them feel better about themselves as professionals. We know that if we can do that, it creates a virtuous cycle.”

A virtuous cycle, the opposite of a vicious one, is when one good thing creates the impetus for another good thing, and then another, and then yet another.

It is striking that teaching and nursing are alike in many ways. They’re both traditionally fields for women, who do not have as much formal power in their institutions as the top leaders, traditionally men, have, but who have enormous influence over the present and future of their charges, patients or schoolchildren. During the pandemic, the importance of these figures, and the risks they often have to take just to do their jobs, has become clear.

We are thrilled that Maggie Kaplen honored nurses as dramatically as she did, and that the Och family is doing the same for teachers. Those of us who do not have the resources to do what they did still can honor nurses and teachers with our words, our actions, and our gratitude.

I do.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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