Faced with the crisis in recruiting teachers, Jewish religious schools are planning a job fair – J.

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Last week, the principal of Temple Beth Abraham’s religious school in Oakland received bad news.

One of Susan Simon’s star teachers, whom she described as the “warmest, caring and empathetic human being” you could meet in the classroom, called her to tell her he wouldn’t be teaching. at the Conservative Synagogue this fall. He had to replace someone else at another religious school in the Bay Area who had resigned.

This left Simon with it again another vacant just a few weeks before the start of classes, which start on August 31st. And she was out of ideas.

“You network with everyone you know, you advertise on whatever sources you have. But no one is responding, ”she said of her efforts to find teachers. “You appealed to your community. “

Every summer, religious schools (sometimes referred to as “Hebrew schools,” although most no longer use that term) tinker with staff rosters and recruit a handful to prepare for the coming fall.

But this year, religious schools – a hallmark of nearly all of the region’s largest synagogues and many small ones too – are reporting major challenges as they face staff shortages from a mix of pandemic exhaustion, anxiety about the persistent virus, concerns about commuting. and a host of other causes.

“Every year in June there is a flurry of people saying, ‘I don’t have enough teachers!’ Who wants to come and work for me! said Jenni Mangel, director of educational leadership at Jewish LearningWorks, the SF-based nonprofit active in Jewish community education for over a century. “This year the gust was more like a blizzard.”

Mangel counted 20 job postings on JLW’s mailing list, Edulist, between May and June, more than twice as many as last year. Eighteen others were posted from July to August.

So, for the first time since Mangel and her colleague Debra Sagan Massey started working for the association, JLW organized a job fair. Less than a week later, there was already a waiting list for hiring organizations wishing to participate.

The Virtual Jewish Education Career Fair will be held online Thursday, August 12 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., held in partnership with SF and JVS Jewish Family and Children Services. To RSVP and learn more about teaching opportunities in the Bay Area, click here.

“It’s completely new,” said Massey, senior educator at JLW. She said that within 24 hours of the idea being proposed, she had “15 educators online saying,” Please help us figure this out. “”

One of them was Dorit Hetz-Crane, director of education at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek. After actively recruiting two new teachers from a group of former religious school students, Hetz-Crane said she still has a role and a half to fill.

Among those who chose not to work this fall, she found a feeling of anxiety around Covid-19, especially since children under 12 are not vaccinated.

“Covid scared people to come to work with children,” she said.

Others simply felt exhausted after a difficult year in which religious school was conducted entirely on screens. “Everyone needs a break,” she said.

Religious schools have inherent endowment issues, pandemic or not, Jewish education officials said. Although the pay rate is significantly higher than the average hourly wage in California, the hours are limited, sometimes as little as two to four per week, so that is not enough to make a living. (An educator called it “grocery money”.)

Religious schools are often held after leaving public and private schools for the day, but before the end of the working day, which presents conflict for those with full-time jobs. And the position requires some familiarity with Judaism, unlike, for example, the roles of preschool teachers, which can be filled by newcomers to Jewish traditions.

Teachers at Bay Area religious schools vary in age and level of experience, from college students to professionals in their early 30s to middle-aged Judaic teachers seeking additional income for retirees.

Another problem, Mangel said, is that because of the pandemic, “people are reassessing how they want to spend their time. The teaching work in a further education program is substantial. A lot of people say, “I can do other things with those four to eight hours of my week. “

The traditional perks offered to teachers in religious schools – like synagogue membership and free tuition for teachers’ children – are not enough for many organizations, Mangel said. The issue of increasing wages can be “painful”, even if it is a frequent conversation.

“We know synagogues budgets are tight to begin with,” she said. “The synagogues [already] massively subsidize education programs.

At Temple Beth Abraham, the reasons for teacher attrition are varied, Simon said.

A teacher has retired. Another said they could no longer convince their full-time employer to let them leave work sooner. Another lives in San Francisco and didn’t want to commute; and another “was ready to teach, but only online,” as many were able to do last year.

Rabbi Daniel Freedman, of Temple Sinai in Oakland, said he was faced with “so many” teaching positions that he decided, like Hetz-Crane, to actively recruit, rather than wait for answers to questions. online announcements or to mailing lists.

He scoured the Synagogue’s Salesforce database, a repository of contact information for members’ families, for potential candidates.

“We had to think about it in terms of who is out there in our community that might be a good fit? “

He said he had obtained “positive results” with this method, but still had gaps to fill.

On Thursday evening, principals of religious schools will present their staffing needs to the community and work together to try to resolve the issue. They also hope to get in touch with the candidates.

Among the ideas for discussion: Whether synagogues in the Bay Area can share teachers.

“It’s not just a problem that one of us has,” Freedman said. “It’s important to work as a community to fix this. “

For his part, Asher Litschwartz, the star teacher who told Temple Beth Abraham he would not be available this fall, told J. he had already accepted three part-time positions at other religious schools. of the Bay Area and had rejected the offers of both.

He called his predicament in planning “the Superman problem”.

“Although I would love to be everywhere, many communities are running the school at exactly the same time,” he said. “I can’t be in two places at the same time.”


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