David Bryfman
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If you’re a Jewish educator this week…

You prepared your lessons, and then news from Israel changed everything. So you redid your lessons and comforted your students. What about yourselves?
Illustrative. A tired woman touches her nose bridge, with sticky notes on glass. (iStock)
Illustrative. A tired woman touches her nose bridge, with sticky notes on glass. (iStock)

If you’re a Jewish educator, I know what you were doing last week.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s also Jewish American Heritage Month. Shavuot starts on Sunday evening. We’re also entering the last month of the academic year, with many congregational and community schools already immersed in graduation ceremonies. You were busy planning and teaching and preparing for the end of what has been an exhausting and especially challenging year.

If you’re a Jewish educator, I know what you were thinking about and planning for… and then everything changed.

The news coming out of Israel over the last few days is tragic. Over the last few days, those of us outside of the Middle East have been bombarded with images from Tel Aviv, Gaza, Sheik Jarrah, the Kotel, Ashkelon… The devastation of these events as seen on screens is nothing compared to the suffering and the fear being felt by the inhabitants of the region.

If you’re a Jewish educator, I know what you did next.

After checking your social media feeds to ensure that your Israeli friends were all okay, you put on your superhero cape and swooped straight into action. You called your principal and asked if you needed to change tomorrow’s class. You wanted to know if you needed to plan a prayer service, an assembly, a rally. You went online looking for resources because you knew your students, who most likely saw the same images as you, would come to you with questions and concerns.

If you’re a Jewish educator, I know what you did next.

You sat with your children, your chanichim, your campers, in-person and online, and you were there for them. You did your best to explain the situation to them. You expressed real concern, but did your best to ensure that everyone in your midst still felt safe. You continued showing love for a place, while also asking difficult, yet age-appropriate questions. You put on a brave face, but tried hard not to shed a tear, lest one of the Israeli children under your care be triggered.

If you’re a Jewish educator, I know what you did next.

You went home and you put on the news, toggled through your social media feeds again, and over-thought every word that you mentioned to your students that day. You wondered whether you had prepared your students well enough for these events. You might even have had a glass of wine, called a friend, and then collapsed — exhausted because you had just given your all to be there for your students.

If you’re a Jewish educator, I’m not quite sure what you did after that. Or perhaps it’s too soon, and now, as we enter Shabbat and Shavuot, now is the next.

  • Did you go for a walk, go for a jog, take a moment for yourself to decompress from the pressures that every Jewish educator goes through?
  • Did you take a moment to call your Israeli family or friend just to check-in and see if they were okay? I’m not talking about the ones you speak to regularly, but the one you met on your Birthright trip, or at your summer camp – the one who right now just needs to hear a friendly, caring voice.
  • Did you turn off your screen and open your journal? Did you talk to your friends or colleagues, not as a Jewish educator, but as a human being?

If the pandemic has reinforced anything for Jewish educators, it is that you are all heroes — all too often putting the needs of other people (your students) before your own. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that looking after others, at the expense of taking yourself is not sustainable.

If you’re a Jewish educator, what are you going to do now?

Take care of yourself. Reconnect with your own relationship with Israel. Find a chevruta to process your own complex connection to Israel. Pause, reflect and be curious. Learn more and listen even more.

And then, only after you’ve taken care of yourself, you wake up to spend more time with your students. Because that’s what Jewish educators do.

About the Author
David Bryfman, PhD, is CEO of The Jewish Education Project in New York. He hosts the weekly livecast, Adapting: The Future of Jewish Education.
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