By Leonard Petlakh and Smadar Bar-Akiva
Imagine a global Jewish world where the challenges of one Jewish community can be addressed by the strengths of the other – a global give and take where all partners recognize the value of collaboration and exchange. The business world has already recognized that a network-centric approach can achieve greater impact and solve problems. It’s time for the Jewish world to move forward in this direction.
Let’s look at Jewish Early Childhood Education. As a core program in JCCs and synagogues, it is often the entry point for young families into the Jewish community and an important building block in developing a healthy and positive Jewish identity.
In recent years, ECE programs all over the United States have struggled to attract high-quality staff who possess any Jewish knowledge. While it is true that we could address this challenge locally by increasing salaries and improving recruitment and training, perhaps we should open our minds to a global approach that could reap enormous benefits for our Jewish ECE programs. After all, let’s be honest with ourselves, how many non-Orthodox Jewish parents dream of having their children WORK as early childhood teachers at Jewish settings? Those who opt to go into teaching will always have better benefits, monetary incentives and other opportunities at public and private schools, competing with Jewish ECE programs. So, what’s the short-term infusion that can enable Jewish ECE providers to serve as a true entry portal for young families? The lack of this human resource ECE teacher pipeline needs to be addressed.
If Jewish ECE educators from around the Jewish world could spend two years working in ECE programs in the US, these educators would bring with them not only their professional expertise but also their culture, values and unique personal histories – assets that would enhance knowledge and appreciation of Jewish life in the educator’s home community of Beer-Sheva, Kishinev or Buenos Aires.
The American Jewish child and their parents will begin to explore questions regarding the larger Jewish world: What does it mean to live in another Jewish community? What are the Jewish rituals in that community? What is the common thread binding these Jews with us? In what way are they similar and different? Can I have a friend in another Jewish community?
For the educators, the opportunity to live in another country, get to know firsthand another Jewish community and gain experience both professionally and personally, would be an enriching experience. The local staff and overseas educators would learn from each other. Building connections among professional peers creates strong alliances that achieve better leverage, performance, and results than any single organization can manage alone. After completing their two-year program, the educators, who will go back to their home communities, will become, in some manner, the emissaries of the host Jewish community and will share their experiences back home.
For non-Orthodox Jewish Early Childhood providers, it is a perfect recruitment opportunity when they are seeking educators who can fill pre-school Assistant Teacher and Nursery Teacher positions. What if we could match these Jewish educators with those schools who care about Jewish passion and experience? What if we could identify, recruit, get work visas and help these teachers get acclimated in their new roles in the United States?
Jewish early childhood schools overseas are struggling with their own local challenges in recruitment, program development and outreach. Perhaps their needs can be answered by US communities. Thus, a vibrant network of educators and professionals can emerge in which Jewish communities around the world are intertwined.
These programs are not easy to develop and implement. They require attention to cultural and geographic differences and an investment in recruitment, training and supervision. They require adopting a new set of skills and seeing our local Jewish community as an integral part of the global one. Despite the challenges, there are huge benefits to bold ideas that can breathe life into the notion of global Jewish responsibility.
ECE programs typically stress ideas like sharing, kindness and getting to know your community. Let’s add a global element that opens the classroom walls farther than the eye can see. Through this partnership, young American children can see the Jewish world that exists beyond their own community – its beauty, its richness, its infinite possibilities. They can learn just how exciting and diverse the notion of Jewish peoplehood really is, and perhaps this will set the stage for a deep, lifelong appreciation for Israel and the Jewish world.
Would you partner with us to make a long-lasting change and begin real Jewish journeys that cross the seas and build communities?
Leonard Petlakh is Executive Director, Kings Bay YM-YWHA and JCC Brooklyn [email protected] | A proud partner of UJA Federation of NY and a member of JCC Association of North America.
Smadar Bar-Akiva is Executive Director, JCC Global [email protected].