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A Post-Pandemic Reset for Jewish Educators – Fostering Resilience

Jewish educators, with their unique blend of values-based instruction and centuries of wisdom to source from, stand as beacons of hope in cultivating resilient young minds for the challenges of the post-pandemic world.
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August 9, 2023
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The COVID-19 pandemic thrust our world into an era of uncertainty, challenging every aspect of our lives, from health to education. As we strive to rebuild and move forward, one critical question emerges: How can we equip our children with the resilience needed to thrive in this new reality? Educators, parents, and community leaders alike must take on this challenge. At a time of seemingly endless instability, it’s imperative that educational institutions do not shy away from the challenge. And Jewish educators, with their unique blend of values-based instruction and centuries of wisdom to source from, stand as beacons of hope in cultivating resilient young minds for the challenges of the post-pandemic world.

As the head of a Jewish high school, I don’t want to imply that our task ahead will be easy. Thankfully, the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but our work is just beginning. To fully prepare the next generation of Jewish leaders, in this coming school year, educators must recommit to the following three principles:

1. Chesed

Chesed, or kindness, is mentioned in the Tanakh at least 200 times. As the sages have taught us, no word in our sacred writings is used superfluously; so, when a word is ubiquitous, its importance and power are clear. Today, on the news, on social media, and even within our community, we’re operating from a chesed deficit. From the stress involved in academic achievement and college acceptance, to the social pressures of belonging, the unique challenges of being an American teenager can often be overwhelming. 

To plant the seeds of resilience and stem the tide of the well-documented youth mental health crisis and the potential harms of social media, we must be the leaders our students deserve and embody the three characteristics most important to Jewish character as outlined by the sages – modesty, compassion and kindness. We must not minimize the challenges of our students, but rather meet them where they are, letting them know that they are fully seen and heard. Our sages based the concept of chesed on the acts of God Himself. And Rav Simlai taught in Sotah 14a that God engaged in chesed, as the Torah begins with an act of kindness and ends with an act of kindness. I call upon educators to begin and end their school days with an act of chesed. Prioritizing kindness in school sets the expectation that even in the face of a complicated, often worrisome world, students can show up to school and be greeted with compassion and kindness from their educational mentors.

2. Inculcate an inclusive community

Like many words in our current culture, “inclusivity” has been laced with political undertones. This is unfortunate. Prioritizing inclusivity within education is vital to building a robust, supportive, and connected community. And to empower a culture of resiliency, young adults must feel confident that they are welcome to show up as they are. 

To practice true “inclusivity” requires humility, generosity, and a commitment to listen before speaking. In today’s world, young adults face immense cultural pressure to be “correct” or risk ostracization. To combat this, Jewish educators must remember and remind students that everyone is made B’tzelem Elohim, in G-d’s image. That means young adults can take solace in knowing there’s no one single “correct” way to think, feel, or be. Our culture continues to impart rigidity around political views, personal choices, or individual beliefs – often painting concepts as dangerous or verboten. This has a chilling effect on the younger generations’ willingness to think critically and on their ability to seek social and personal connections without fear. 

Jewish high schools, while religiously homogenous, are diverse melting pots of varying identities. Seeing each other for who we are and treating everyone with dignity and respect, not regardless of, but because of, their unique beliefs, identifications, orientations, diverse backgrounds, opinions, and perspectives, make the Jewish community richer and more enduring. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

3. Don’t solve students’ problems, help them celebrate the “challenge”

Much has been written about “helicopter parents” and “snowplow parents.” The simple truth? Raising children is hard. And parents with the best of intentions can unintentionally instill poor habits and unrealistic expectations in their children. As educators, we have an important role to play. We must empower students, not solve their problems. While problem-solving is undoubtedly a crucial skill, it is one not for us, as mentors, teachers, and educators to undertake. By recognizing and understanding students’ challenges, teachers, principals, and counselors can have transformative effects on individual growth — helping students foster empathy, resilience, and deeper connections with others. 

The pressure to constantly solve problems can create a culture of haste, where the focus on outcomes overshadows the process and emotions involved. In a world with many unknowns, complexity, and turmoil, it’s vital to communicate to students that accepting “gray” can be more liberating than hunting for a “black” or “white.” As educators, when we rush to a solutions-oriented mindset, we risk neglecting the emotional and psychological toll that challenges can have on students. But when students feel heard and understood, they are more likely to develop the emotional tools necessary to cope with difficulties and chart their own individualized paths towards success.

These principles are aspirational; they will take work and individual accountability. But when educators lead the way, students will follow.

These principles are aspirational; they will take work and individual accountability. But when educators lead the way, students will follow. As we head into a new school year, and look toward an increasingly complex and uncertain future, the value of instilling resilience is paramount. Educators possess a unique ability to reach, connect, and mold young adults daily. By cultivating resilience through kindness, inclusivity, and embracing challenges, Jewish educators can help lead a generation of empowered young leaders who will confidently face a complex world, adapt to change, and thrive.


Mark Shpall, MA.Ed, J.D. is Head of School of de Toledo High school.

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