Jewish Community and the Informal Educator: A New Pact for a New Era

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May 1, 2001
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Mark S. Charendoff

I was struck recently, at a gathering of informal Jewish educators, by the passion and commit-ment of those in attendance. Unfortunately, that was not the only thing that struck me. The event, like many others I have seen in the world of informal Jewish education, lacked a certain discipline. People arrived to sessions late and left early. Some were sloppy, inattentive – even rude. What struck me most, though, was in contrast to other professional conferences the lack of professionalism here was even more stark.

No doubt, I will be accused of generalizing. These pages of Sh’ma include essays by informal educators who are models of professionalism, skill, and dignity. But here the exception serves to prove the rule. A historian would have to determine who is to blame, but I note a tacit agreement between the organized Jewish community and informal Jewish educators. The Jewish community does not take informal educators seriously as professionals, and the educators neither expect nor give cause to warrant such respect.

We are ready to negotiate new terms. We, the informal Jewish educators of the world, will become models of excellence and professionalism in the Jewish community. We applaud the recent growth of the day school field and hope that it is only a beginning. At the same time we know the areas that we own. Among them are camping, Israel experiences, youth groups, college programming, and adult education. We occupy an increasingly important space in communities’ efforts to enhance Jewish identity. The great frontiers of Jewish education lay in our path. We are determined to keep the best and brightest among us in this field and are dedicated to attracting the best and brightest in the emerging generation to join us in our quest. We believe that we can persuade them to abandon thoughts of investment banking and Internet start-ups to enter what we know can be a glorious career. To do that we pledge the following:

Literature: A profession needs its own literature. We will create a journal, web and print based, in order to ensure that our ideas are challenged by our peers and refined through open debate.

Certification: A profession needs to define its members, not to have members thrust upon them. To do that we will introduce mandatory certification of all informal Jewish educators. A defined curriculum and period of internship will precede acceptance to the field. An accumulation of in-service credits will be obtained through attendance at seminars, contributions to scholarly journals, and service on national committees. Annual recertification will be necessary.

Standards & Censure: We will develop standards of behavior and conduct for our profession. We will take responsibility for withdrawing certification, or imposing less drastic measures, for those individuals who do not embody the high ethical standards of our field.

Dignity: We will conduct ourselves at all times in a manner that draws others to the field and gives our colleagues and constituents reason to respect this field of education. While we will continue to be comfortable sitting on the floor and playing a guitar, we will also be comfortable sitting at a table engaging in strategic planning.

For their side of the bargain, Jewish communal institutions must give informal educators the means to do all of this and more. They will pay us salaries that are competitive with professionals in the not-for-profit sector when we are their equals in ability and experience. Jewish communal organizations will hire educators who are committed to informal Jewish education as a career, not as a distraction. The Jewish community will fund our programs to a degree that provides for excellence – both in terms of delivery and content – and demand that new efforts be researched and piloted before being delivered and evaluated during and afterwards.

Jewish communal leaders may argue with us and disagree, but they will accept our informed opinion with the respect that we have earned. They will be proud when their children join our ranks.

As for me, I am eager to see which side signs first.

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Mark S. Charendoff is Vice President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. He is proud to be an informal Jewish educator

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