Rachel Stern and her Education Team

Wanted: A Master & A Mensch

As part of my job as the Director of Education at the ISJL,  I, along with my staff members, serve as consultants to all of our partner congregations. We are available to answer any questions they have about Jewish education, as well as help them develop strategies that best serve their schools. It’s truly one of my favorite aspects of my work. Recently, when asked to help craft a job description, I was reminded of just how much our work matters.

I found myself working with a committee, putting our heads together to brainstorm the qualities that they were looking for when hiring a new educator. At first, the qualities we started listing were all very skill-centered – describing what candidates should know, be trained in, be able to do on-the-job. After a while, though, the conversation shifted to a discussion of much more subjective qualities, which would also be on-the-job but in a less “check-list” sort of way. We started talking about things like personality traits, rapport with kids, and even self-care.

I found dissonance in the conversation, because on one hand the field of education is based on measurable objectives, and yet here we were, listing criteria that were impossible to measure. I couldn’t deny, though, that these immeasurable aspects of an educator were crucial.

As the discussion continued, we went on to create two distinct categories for the job description: skill set and vibe.

Under each category, we listed solid descriptions of who this person would need to be. We then went item by item to discuss which characteristics could be learned versus needed to be intact from day one on the job. More and more, the items on the “skill set” list were labeled as skills-that-could-be-learned-or-honed, while the items on the “vibe” list were non-negotiable because they were more embedded, implicit traits.

Would a congregation really hire a Jewish educator with limited Judaic knowledge, as long as he or she had an amazing rapport with kids, teachers and parents? Maybe so — because connection matters. Someone can have a wealth of knowledge and yet be ineffective if they cannot connect with people. Connections have to be made in order for people to want access to someone. People are looking for this now more than ever. But Judaic knowledge still matters in a Jewish educator, too. Even if you’re great at connecting, if you have no information or ideals to convey, what are you offering your students?

The truth is, we want it all. We want skill and soul in our Jewish professionals… and yet sometimes we have to make some choices or have some patience, while we guide our professionals to build both their skill set and their vibe. We can encourage more people with the right vibe to gain the right knowledge, and become the right candidate.

What do you think are the most important qualities of a Jewish professional?

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