By Mark S. Young
A former student of mine recently posted on Facebook: “Reminding myself today that there is no “timeline,” that I can define what success looks like, that comparing myself to others is incredibly unhelpful, that I am doing good work and the ability to continue to do good work is a blessing.”
I was incredibly touched by the post, especially the last line, posted just days before the recent New York Times Op-Ed, “Rethinking Work” by Barry Schwartz was published. My former student is a Jewish professional. For the sake of this piece, I include in this designation both Jewish educators as well as those who refer to themselves as in the field of Jewish communal service. Reading both her post and Schwartz’s op-ed during this reflective month of Elul got me thinking. It really is such a blessing that we have the opportunity to launch into this unique and soul-fulfilling career that holds primary significance to others and gives our efforts and days meaning and purpose.
Of course, serving and educating the Jewish community in a professional capacity certainly entails challenges. Day to day difficulties can be part of all of our jobs. We also have systemic issues as a field we must address. I’ve challenged the Jewish community to step-it-up in my “$54,000 Strategy” essays, empowering each of our institutions and communities to do better in how we demonstrate value, support and ultimately retain our talented workforce.
Let’s put the challenges aside for the moment. We must realize that what we are able to do and accomplish as Jewish professionals is spectacular. We have this sacred and critical obligation to facilitate learning and engagement with the content of Judaism. As most of us recognize, this most recent generation has further shifted the desired outcome of the educational and community experiences we facilitate to be an inspiration and connection to one’s Jewish identity. Think about it. Our whole enterprise is to inspire a love, connection, create meaning towards, and perform meaningful mitzvot inspired by this substantive, confusing, exciting, and cherished tradition, faith, and construct that we call Judaism. Amazing.
Today, we can choose the mode that we each connect to most to facilitate such engagement. We can pick up a guitar at a summer camp or synagogue, facilitate farm-to-table and environmental sustainability at a retreat center, lead wilderness adventures backpacking in Colorado or the Negev, or engage in debate in physical day-school and online classrooms simulating debate among historical Jewish figures from the last 5775 years (check out the Jewish Court of All Time). In addition, those “behind the scenes” of direct service contribute to and find meaning in these (and related) missions as well. Those who raise and manage the funds, operate the facilities, and market the programs are equally responsible for our success in fulfilling this sacred charge.
We ignite creativity and imagination in our learners and community members, and, if we succeed, instill a sense of meaningful obligation in others to be both good human beings to each other and our world, and continue a tradition that has been part of our people and our souls since Abraham was told to “L’ech l’cha,” “Go on a journey.”
It really is all a blessing. Yes, those who enter the challenge and opportunity that is a career as a Jewish professional in the 21st century likely won’t make a $1,000,000, or attain the “more desirable” and financially comfortable standard of living as our peers. In fact, Schwartz argues that we as workers may have been falsely manipulated into thinking that money, security or other quantitative measures of success is our primacy motivator, even for a not-for-profit professional. Perhaps as Jewish professionals we know better, for we gain the indelible and remarkable feeling that those who we engage are impacted, transformed, and guided towards a better and more meaningful life because of the experiences, reflections, and learning that we designed, facilitated, and otherwise made possible. Judaism sustains who we are as human beings and how wonderful it is that it can sustain us as working people.
To those who have dedicated their lives to serving the Jewish community, todah rabah, thank you, and give yourselves a pat on the back. To those in the midst of the journey, mazal tov on your accomplishments and b’hatzlacha (to your success!) as you continue to create, innovate and inspire. And … to those who enjoyed their summer as a camp counselor, Birthright leader, or Hillel board member … and recall the feeling of, “This was awesome, but I can’t do this as a real job!” – think again. A life of doing meaningful good work that nourishes your soul awaits you… as my student proclaimed: “the ability to continue to do good work is a blessing.”
This post is dedicated in honor of Gerald Bubis Z’L, who helped nurture and grow the field of Jewish communal service, and to Neely Snyder Z’L, a superstar Jewish educator who impacted thousands of lives and whose life was tragically cut short, last month. We are all now charged to work a bit harder in order to attempt to fill the void of Neely’s absence and to carry on Dr. Bubis’s legacy.
Mark S. Young is the Director of Alumni Engagement for the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Mark is also the programming co-chair of the JPRO Network and past board chair of the Advancing Jewish Professionals of New York City.