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Bonnie K. Goodman
Historian, Librarian, and Journalist

We can’t afford to discourage future Jewish teachers

Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain

My former professor, Gil Troy, used to speak of the private and public selves. Taylor Swift sings on her new album, “They said, “Babe, you gotta fake it ’til you make it,” and I did,” in her song “I Can Do It with a Broken Heart.” My mother referred to it as “having an image.” When my mother died in November 2022, I eulogized her at her funeral, lamenting that I would never be able to be myself again. Only my mother knew everything about my life, and she was the only one I trusted to tell it to. What I said back then still holds true: no one truly knows me; they are aware of my public persona and the information they need to know in order for me to survive, as I have been doing since my mother’s death. I understand Taylor’s faking more than anyone can imagine

Imagine how I felt when a Jewish education program in Israel, to which I had recently applied, refused to accept my application based on my references, implying that I lacked the stamina to complete the program. I was horrified! My mother used to tell me I did not know the meaning of “no.” If there was a challenge, I always tackled it until I succeeded; I am not a quitter about anything, and if there was something I could not do, I found an alternative way to do it. 

They wrote me, “Please know that this decision was not reached lightly, as you clearly have many wonderful qualities and a deep passion for Jewish education. However, *the institute is strongly committed to ensuring that all * fellows are able to fully meet all the expectations and requirements of the program, and, unfortunately, we did not see sufficient evidence that the nature of [the fellowship] was a suitable fit for you.”

They dismissed my twenty years of professional experience and went for stamina because it did not say I did not have the academic or professional qualifications, but I would not “fully meet all the expectations and requirements of the program, and we did not see sufficient evidence that the nature of [the fellowship] was a suitable fit for you.”

The goal of this program is to prepare future teachers, not to serve as a stepping-stone for graduate study. Even recent university graduates are accepted into the program. How could they make such a hypothetical claim?

We cannot discriminate in our world on the basis of health, disability, age, social situation, sexual orientation, gender, race, or religion.

Based on my CV, I can infer that the program rejected me due to the significant weight my references carry. However, none of my references knows the whole of me; they know the snippets I let them, but except for my academic writing, they cannot speak for me.

However, for the admissions to infer that I would not complete the program because of my stamina, they do not know me; they have a shiny public persona. The rabbi who buried both my parents described me as resilient, and I truly embody this trait. My mother said if the world knew our real lives, it would be a tear-jerking best-seller. My mother firmly believed in creating an image and not letting anyone know the miserable truth. My whole life, I have put out a public persona. I know how to play the game and be who people want me to be.

They do not know how much life has been a struggle, and my family has mostly struggled financially.

I told the admissions I attended Jewish Day School for elementary and high school. What they do not know is how we could not afford it and how my parents sacrificed so much for me to attend, including their dignity. I vividly recall attending a qualifying meeting for reduced tuition, where the father of a friend conducted the interview, leaving me feeling deeply embarrassed. I still remember my mother on the phone begging the school to lower the already reduced monthly tuition because she could not afford it after my father died.

The admissions did not see a Jewish summer camp on my CV. Well, my parents could not afford it, and they did not want to ask for a lower price; they wanted to keep some dignity.

They wondered why I never went on the Israel trip; my parents could not afford the grade nine trip, and ten months later, my father died of cancer.

They questioned why I refrained from taking on leadership roles at Hillel University, given that I had to work to cover my tuition. I used my artistic talent to create and sell paintings; it broke my mother’s heart to part with my precious artwork. After my father died, we suffered financially, and my mother had a heart condition from the time I was twelve and could not work. I spent the end of elementary, high school, and university in and out of hospitals because of my mother or my father.

They questioned my commitment to teaching because I said I was accepted into an education program, but after an anti-Semitic attack made the news, I changed my program. I said it was because I was scared, but it was because my mother was sacred for me. I chose not to do it to cause her heart more stress. I spent my life to avoiding any actions that could aggravate my mother’s heart condition.

They put it against me that I could not complete my second graduate degree in Jewish Studies; well, I could not afford it. I spent my later twenties with a cancer scare, but I still had to help my mother make sure we had a roof over our heads; I had to contribute. But even though I did not complete the degree, I had a 3.94 GPA and completed the thesis on my own initiative, 300 pages, which is cited, referenced, and even taught in schools and universities.

They do not realize that I left the degree for a job writing news for a history magazine, and that a year after I left the graduate program, I wrote a two-hundred page history of a western mining town for a private collector, which is one of my most read works.

They held it against me that I did not go back to university for a period of sixteen years. Well, they did not know I couldn’t repay my student loan, and my university had a hold on my transcripts, so I couldn’t apply anywhere without them.

What they call qualities I refer to it as experience, and I have a well-respected body of academic and journalistic writing.

I never gave up on academia, even if I could not afford to go further in university. In my twenties, I was a well-known editor with a profile series that professors competed to feature.

I started an “On This Day in History” feature that I just self-published on Amazon with over 110 historical episodes as chapters.

They are aware that I made a contribution to an election encyclopedia, but they are unaware I was cheated out of receiving the promised contributor credit. However, my contribution of outlines and timelines for each election is more read than the published encyclopedia itself. I shared them on a blog, garnering nearly half a million views and earning citations, including a in a New York Times best-selling book.

In my three years as a journalist at Examiner, I wrote over 1,100 articles, covering American, Israeli, and Canadian politics, Judaism, education, and breaking news. My articles on university ranking and admissions went viral, with thousands of views.

They do not know that in 2015, my mother nearly died; she had a heart incident, and at one point it stopped beating; she had to have heart surgery; and barely a month later, we had to move because our landlord would not stop harassing us. When we moved, I had to pack and unpack the house.

They do not know I went through an employment discrimination case and won.

They do not know that in 2018, I became paralyzed for over two months; I could not walk; I had two blood transfusions; and when I was in the hospital, they told me I was near death and would have died if I had waited longer. I had to have physical therapy and relearn to walk. It took me six months to come back to myself.

Afterward, I rededicated myself to my academic writing. In the remaining year, I wrote an “On This Day in History” story at least once a day and published it, making me a top history writer on Medium. Then, I embarked on a long-form academic writing journey, penning six-book-length histories, revising numerous university academic papers, crafting a doctoral proposal on a theory of Jewish education, and penning numerous additional articles and essays, one of which went viral with 90,000 views and received citations and praise from a prestigious Harvard professor in his book.

I was almost as prolific as Taylor Swift during the pandemic. I did it all on my own initiative, as well as with the constant encouragement of my mother. I believed that by consistently writing and receiving high views on an academic social media site for the past four years, I would earn the respect that such discipline and hard work deserved. I am a self-starter, and I learned more about Jewish studies and education from my personal research than I ever had from any university course or professor. 

They do not know that at the same time, my mother lost most of her eyesight, and I had to take care of the house while still keeping up with my busy writing schedule.

During the pandemic, my mother spent nearly six months in the hospital, and I fought daily with the anti-Semitic French hospital she ended up at to get her home. I even engaged in a legal battle to keep her home, defying the odds and precedents to win.

We kept from telling anyone that my mother was immobile because of her hospitalization. I took care of her, the house, and myself, but I still found time to write, draw, and paint because that was what my mother loved the most.

The admissions department does not know what it was like for me to find out my mother died when I checked on her at night after just an hour, or what it was like to be all alone after the paramedics left waiting for the funeral home to pick her up. They do not know the depths of loneliness I felt with no close family left after my mother died and no money on the precipice of losing the roof over my head.

They do not realize I told my mother not too long before she died. I did not know how I would go on without her alone, and she made me promise her I would keep going for her, and I have, because I am her and my father’s legacy.

However, it has been a game of survival all alone, never knowing if I will have enough to live from one month to the next.

After my mother died, I tried getting a teaching job, but was told despite my degrees I needed a teaching degree, so I went back to school. I started a graduate program in Jewish education at an Israeli university, which I am still pursuing. Simultaneously, I enrolled in a graduate Jewish studies program in Montreal, where my advocacy work and writing have engulfed me in the post-October 7 wave of campus antisemitism. Still, I found time to update that same history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campuses that has swelled to almost 300 pages, and I am working to self-publish in book form. However, while searching for a job, I discovered that my education graduate degree is insufficient and that I require classroom experience. But if you cannot teach without experience and need experience for a program to get in the classroom, I am left in a catch-22, it does not mean I am less dedicated or qualified for a teaching program.        

I dedicate at least twelve hours a day to working; my professors say I overdo assignments, doing more than necessary. Is that not determination?

Despite everything, the admissions tell me I lack the stamina and resilience to finish this teaching fellowship! Finances are the only thing that has ever prevented my academic pursuits. This fellowship had no tuition, a stipend, or a job the next year; there was nothing that could prevent me from completing it. I thought this was my savior. I would do what I consider my calling in Jewish education, finally spend time in Israel that I could never do before, and then I would be a working teacher. I would not have to be scared anymore about having a roof over my head, my utilities, and food—the three things that have never been certain since my father died. However, women consistently have to put in more effort than men for the same positions and opportunities, implying that it is never enough. When is enough enough? When do those double standards end? My CV, degrees, publications, and accomplishments should speak enough. How much more evidence is necessary to prove I could complete the program? 

We should not discourage prospective students, especially from learning and teaching Torah and Talmud, in light of the current teacher shortages and the growing secularism of Jewish youth. We’re now in “the Great Teacher Shortage.” A recent teacher satisfaction survey in Quebec, where I live, found that 76% of new teachers leave that field within five years. In 2022, Rachel Schwartzberg wrote the problem is worst in Jewish day schools, writing: “The Wall Street Journal reported that the rate of people quitting jobs in private educational services rose more than in any other industry in 2021, according to federal data. On the professional networking site LinkedIn, the number of teachers who began a new career increased by 62 percent last year. Within the Orthodox Jewish community, the challenge of teachers leaving the profession is compounded by a notable lack of people entering the field. This reality is affecting all types of Orthodox Jewish schools across North America, and the shortage of teachers is reaching crisis proportions.” [1]

Schwartzberg recounts in her article that the problem is the worst for new limudei kodesh, Torah, and Talmud teachers.” She quotes Rabbi Zvi Grumet, the director of education at The Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University, who notes, “In the past two years, the problem has become more acute” as two trends have intersected: a shrinking pipeline of new teachers and an exodus of seasoned teachers as a result of the pandemic.” There is a “desperation” among Jewish studies teachers, particularly in schools outside of New York. Nina Bruder, the Executive Director of the Jewish New Teacher Project, just wrote an article for HaYidion highlighting “the teacher shortage.” Bruder concurs, saying “while an educator shortage in Jewish day schools has been a topic of conversation for well over a decade, it has reached true crisis levels.” Both new and seasoned teachers are leaving in droves, not replaced by incoming talent, as people choose to enter other professions that offer more flexibility, less stress, and higher pay,” Bruder indicates,”It is safe to say that recruiting, supporting, and retaining excellent teachers are truly among the most urgent challenges facing Jewish day schools today.”[2]

You need to have a mission; it must be a calling to teach in day schools. The disillusions young teachers have are because they are idealistic, and the work and pay never live up to their expectations. The teacher shortages are leading to fast-track programs like those that I applied for to get new teachers in the classroom as fast as possible. Another option is to fill classrooms with unqualified teachers. The irony in my search experience is that schools are holding out for the exact teacher profile they envision, like the program I applied to, but do they not realize that looking outside the mold might garner more dedicated teachers, whose diversity in experience adds to the classroom. 

What I bring to a classroom is over twenty years of experience in diverse fields as an artist, librarian, journalist, editor, and historian. I have dedicated the majority of my career to disseminating information and educating the public through various methods, including conducting research, writing news and history, and editing written works for publication. Additionally, art and its history have played a significant role in my life as a creative individual. I have a package for a creative, informational, and factual outlook on Judaism and Jewish history. We need educators who can look beyond that traditional outlook to capture or keep the hearts and minds of our Jewish youth. The problem is the same trajectory and mold; it is time to consider the different world we know we live in. 

I have been working in Jewish studies and towards teaching my whole career. Despite the challenges I faced and the lack of access to various Jewish extracurricular activities, my dedication remains unwavering; after all, not everyone is flawless. I think all the trials, tribulations, and struggles in my life should be an inspiration to the students I teach, not something held against me. My dedication thus far indicates that I will be one of the new teachers who stick it out; I know I am getting into it. I know all too well that nothing in life is easy. I have no misconceptions or delusions. If they think I do not have the resilience to teach, let them try living a day in my shoes. 

As Taylor sings at the end of her song, “You know you’re good when you can even do it with a broken heart. You know you’re good; I’m good, because I’m miserable, and nobody even knows. Try and come to my job.” They could not live in her shoes for a day, and neither could they in mine. Despite everything I have gone through in my life, my mantra remains closer to the lyrics of another song, the Eli Young Band’s 2011 upbeat country song, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” Despite the hardships and disappointments, I kept on dreaming, preserving, and going throughout my life, and nothing will stop me from succeeding.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist.  She is pursuing an MA in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of the recently released “On This Day in History…: Significant Events in the American Year,” and “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism,” which will be released as an ebook and paperback.” She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years.

 

She is also the author of among others, “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896” (2008), “On This Day in the History… Of American Independence Significant Events in the Revolutionary Era, 1754-1812” (2020), and “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Antisemitism” (2020).  She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu.

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over 15 years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, and her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu where she is a top writer.
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