Several years ago I wrote a Re'eh musing based upon the Haftarah from Isaiah, 54:11-55:5. Having just returned from this year's CAJE conference, I find a most appropriate way to wrap up my week is to offer this musing again, with some added commentary from my recent experiences.
(For those who do not know, CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education is the largest organization of Jewish educators in the world, with an annual conference that is the largest gathering of Jewish educators on an annual basis. I was privileged to serve as chair of last year's conference, and have just completed a term of service on the CAJE Board of Directors.)
Years ago I made the commitment. Several years ago this week I was finally able to keep it. The commitment was to earn my living full-time in the Jewish community. When I started teaching full-time at a day school, that commitment became a reality. I quickly discovered that one part of the reality is that the teaching work, alone, is not enough. Without the additional work as a synagogue music director and the editing I did for Torah Aura, the parnasa, the means of livelihood, would be insufficient. In the intervening years, I have again returned to serving in an administrative capacity for synagogue supplemental schools, most recently in Alexandria, VA and now in Bethesda, MD. Even so, the parnasa is inadequate without continuing to be involved in other activities.
I start anew again this year in my new congregation, with new challenges, eager to sow the seeds of Judaism in new fertile fields.
Having made the decision to go back to school at mid-life, I certainly could have chosen a more lucrative profession, especially having chosen, the first time around, a career in the performing arts, and primarily the backstage arts. Not the quickest way to financial nirvana.
I have surely learned that the value of money is affected by factors other than economic or social. In the years since committing to full-time work in the Jewish community, I have experienced some of the worst it has to offer, along with some of the best. Despite the speed bumps, roadblocks and landmines, my passion and commitment remains as strong as ever. That is why this week's haftarah, from Isaiah, speaks to me so strongly:
Isaiah Chapter 55 1 Ho, all who are thirsty, Come for water, Even if you have no money, Come, buy food and eat: Buy food without money, Wine and milk without cost. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, Your earnings for what does not satisfy? Give heed to Me, And you shall eat choice food And enjoy the richest viands. 3 Incline your ear and come to Me; Hearken, and you shall be revived. (JPS)
I'm not going to offer excuses for the paltry salaries paid to Jewish educators. It is a total shanda, an embarrassment to the entire Jewish community. And we wonder why there is a dire shortage of teachers. The dismal state of compensation, benefits, et al for those in Jewish education was highlighted yet again at this year's CAJE conference. It is a thrill and an honor to find myself amongst all these dedicated, hard-working and passionate Jewish educators. It is a constant pain to know that the financial rewards for their work are so meager and paltry. Yet, like me, they are driven not by desire for financial gain, but for l'shem shamayim, for the sake of Heaven.
It's not easy for the congregations and schools either. They, sadly, aren't exacting flowing with money as if it were milk and honey. So we all dance a fine dance, each trying to do the best that is possible in the circumstances. Sometimes, the congregations and their staff make the dance work, and at other times, there's just too much stepping on of toes and the partnership fades away. I don't blame synagogues themselves for the low pay of educators. I blame all of us, our community, which gives great lip service to the high position of education in Judaism, yet keeps a tight grip on its wallets.
Still, because we are driven, called to work in service to our faith and tradition, most of us (if not all of us) in Jewish Education realize the truth revealed in Isaiah's words:
Lama tishk'lu-kesef b'lo lechem; vigiachem b'lo l'sav'a? Why do you spend money for what is not bread, Your earnings for what does not satisfy?
We could, each of us, choose a different, higher-paying profession. Frankly, after enduring the hardships of being in Jewish education, I'm surprised more don't give up on it. It's no picnic. We get paid low salaries, many work in under-equipped facilities. We have maybe a week or two's worth of hours in an entire year to teach our children as much as we can from this vast treasure-trove of wisdom that we call Judaism.
Yet when I speak to my colleges, although there is consensus that something needs to be done about the paltry compensation in Jewish Education, few of us seem bent on finding a more lucrative way to earn a living. At CAJE, even while we are learning the latest truths about the problems in Jewish education, and about the appallingly low salaries, we also come together to share, to study, to learn, to teach. To re-affirm once again that Jewish education is our priority. That is because we have learned that our sustenance derives as much from other things as it does from money.
Even the minimal salary of a Jewish educator is a king's ransom when it is spent for what is truly bread, and for what truly satisfies. The bread and satisfaction that is available to those who worship Adnai and follow Gd's ways. To those who seek to teach these ways to our children.
By reinvesting what I earn back into the Jewish community, by seeking to live by Gd's commandments, by showing chesed and acting righteously, I get greater value for my money. The commitment of a Jewish educator to the future of Judaism opens the door to riches beyond imagination. And if we do our jobs well, do them right, and with all of our heart and soul, then perhaps this promise of Gd that Isaiah speaks of will come to pass:
3b And I will make with you an everlasting covenant, The enduring loyalty promised to David. 4 As I made him a leader of peoples, A prince and commander of peoples, 5 So you shall summon a nation you did not know, And a nation that did not know you Shall come running to you-- For the sake of the Lord your Gd, The Holy One of Israel who has glorified you. (JPS)
Ken y'hi ratson, May it be Gd's will, and our own, that the nations we do not know, perhaps even including those among our own people who do not know their religion and their Gd, shall come running to us...so that they too can partake of the banquet that is found in ahavat chesed, ahavat Torah, and ahavat Adnai.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester Portions ©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other Musings on this parasha:
5759-Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5759--Open Your Hand
Re'eh 5757/5758--How To Tell Prophet From Profit
Email Me A Comment!