The beginning of the journey

By Craig Nudelman

It’s been quite a ride since we arrived in Sydney at the end of March. 

We now have a car, flat, and schools for the kids. One of the first things I did in Sydney was join a Shul choir. My new gig is at the Central Synagogue — where most of the choristers are South African expats, you’ll be surprised to hear!

Life in Sydney is wonderful and, while we do miss Cape Town, our families, and our friends, I’m looking forward to experiencing all this city has to offer. The Sydney Opera House, Botanical Gardens, Taronga Zoo, the many, many playgrounds — there seems to be an impeccably clean playground on every corner! — and the museums have been amazing for all of us to see and explore. 

Gabi and I have both started our respective jobs (hooray for dual-income households!). Gabi is a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales Business School. I am in yet another Jewish communal organisation, continuing my career as a Jewish professional. This time I’m at the Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) — it’s very similar to the United Jewish Campaign in Cape Town. I’m working as a project manager for their education initiative.

My current task is looking at Jewish day schools in Sydney and their respective educational processes.  I’m going to the different campuses of five of the major Jewish day schools in Sydney to gain further understanding of how they operate, what the enrolment process is, and how they consider themselves sustainable in the medium- to long-term in Sydney Jewry’s changing landscape, among other things. 

As an educator and former teacher at Herzlia, this is fascinating. With my different kippot on, as a former teacher and Jewish professional working at the JCA, I’m trying to understand what it means to be a teacher in a Jewish day school. This is something I asked my colleagues about, and it led to discussion and debate about how being Jewish in a Jewish day school can affect the students’ education, both formally and informally. How can a maths or science teacher really input Jewish aspects into their classrooms and incorporate Jewish values? This is something that was asked at Herzlia, too. Do teachers need to be Jewish to teach at a Jewish day school, or should the teacher just be the best in their field to assist students academically?

In an article published in 2021, Dr Arielle Levites, from the Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE), wrote an article called Being a Jewish Educator: Is it a career or a calling? In it she writes about findings from the CASJE’s study about the recruitment, retention, and development of Jewish teachers (of which there seems to be a dearth, globally). Now, as a former Jewish educator, and speaking to many colleagues in the education profession, to be in a profession where it is supposedly a ‘calling’, i.e. nursing, teaching, and other poorly paying jobs where you get paid peanuts for a very difficult yet often rewarding career, the remuneration you get at the end of the day doesn’t account for the time and effort you make to be an excellent professional. However, to have a career where you can form amazing relationships with your ‘clients’ can be highly rewarding. However, as the study shows, there seems to be a disconnect between that reward and the compensation attached. As Levites draws from the study, “Jewish educators are highly mission driven and care about the work and the communities they serve. Yet, as the reports and briefs we will release over the next few weeks show, Jewish educators are also overall dissatisfied with their compensation, supervision, and opportunities for advancement.”

So, to fix this problem, she recommends that we should invest in Jewish educators in multiple ways, though “compensation and benefits, professional learning, constructive supervision, and career advancement opportunities won’t make them care less — it will show that we care.” 

After you read this, take some time thinking about your teacher or your child’s and understand that we need to care about them for them to care about teaching. It’s a give and take relationship, and one which doesn’t take a lot of work. Tell your children to listen to their teachers and show them respect; too often I found that respect in the classroom wasn’t shown – was this because teaching is seen to be a passion, not a career? Would the same children behave like they do in front of a person from a different profession or level of teaching — a lecturer, perhaps? 

In the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking to principals and other stakeholders to see how they are addressing concerns around education, especially in the attraction and retention of teachers. I’m excited to learn what this community, which seems to be much like Cape Town’s Jewish community, has to offer Gabi, Jessica, Livi, and me. 

A former Capetonian, Craig is now based in Sydney, Australia, where he works for the Jewish Communal Appeal. He continues to enjoy singing, and is a member of Sydney’s Central Synagogue choir and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir. The Cape Jewish Chronicle is privileged to receive regular articles written by Craig, who has settled into Australian life with his wife Gabi, and two daughters, Jessica and Livi.

• Published in the June 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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