What are we supposed to do now? – Electronic Jewish Philanthropy

It’s August 2022. Camp educators are wrapping up a summer filled with COVID-19 tracing and staffing shortages. Hillel educators are trying to prepare for another year with students who have missed out on the crucial opportunities to grow and expand that high school typically provides. Religious school educators try to strike the right balance between the content they want students to learn and the social and emotional support students desperately need. Day schools and early childhood educators try to help children who have missed crucial building blocks to develop their social and motor skills. Organizational educators are trying to find the best way to support all of these other types of educators, through learning and professional development opportunities and perhaps most importantly, by simply being a space to listen and commiseration.

And, we are entering the fourth consecutive school year that will be marked by an unrelenting amount of testing, research, discussion related to COVID, and of course, COVID itself. Much has been written about the burnout of teachers and educators, of the mental bandwidth it takes to continue to assess new situations and adjust programming to run programs with 60-75% of the staff we actually need . But every time I read one of these articles, I find myself shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “OK, well, what are we supposed to do about this?”

Part of what we’re supposed to do is just keep doing what we’ve always done.

We will continue to support our participants emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We will continue to pivot (what we were doing before it was even trendy, then overused and now finally, triggering), constantly modifying to align with the needs of those who participate in our programs. We will continue to go above and beyond to pass on our love of Judaism to the next generation. Our roles have always required resilience, creativity, compassion, and a tireless level of energy, and they require those things now as well.

But to be clear, just because we’re well equipped doesn’t mean things aren’t tough, because they’re still extraordinarily tough. And so the other thing we can do about it is remind others what we’re still going through so they can better support us.

For our non-educational colleagues, please know that we are still making dozens of COVID-related decisions each week based on ever-changing guidance and requirements, we are the ones who are “held accountable” for transmission in the program and we are the ones who are getting calls at 9 o’clock at night about a show. You can support us by giving us the space to continue to be emotionally and physically drained both from decision fatigue and the limitless work that others have been able to withdraw from.

For our friends and families, please know that after discussing scenarios, comforting families, filling in because another teacher was absent (or we couldn’t find one to begin with), we may not have may not have the same ability or desire to be social outside of work (recognizing that having young children makes this much more difficult). You can support us by giving us the space to say no to certain things, without being disappointed.

And for ourselves, remember that despite being told what would be a marathon now has about 27 marathons, we will find a place where COVID will not consume the vast majority of our working lives. When? Who knows! But it will happen and we will need each of us to continue doing this valuable and meaningful work when the time comes. We can support each other by being a space to let off steam, telling humorous (or humorous with some distance) stories, and generously sharing resources.

While we certainly would never have asked for the situation we find ourselves in, like Esther, we may have reached our position for such a crisis, honing our time-tested skills to better serve us in this current time. And yet, even Esther needed a Mordechai in her corner, supporting her when the going was tough and reminding her of her worth and her strengths.

Rabbi Carrie Vogel is a Jewish rabbi and educator, with more than a decade of experience at Kehillat Israel in Los Angeles, serving families from K-12. She has written on a number of topics relating to Judaism and family life, including adoption, infertility, intentional curriculum design, and non-traditional families. She is also chair of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators’ Ethics Task Force.

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