Teaching Religious School Is the Gift That Gives Back

The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford is proud to support our communities’ religious schools by means of our Leadership, Education, and Engagement Department. Read below as Heather Rubin Fiedler, former day school teacher and Federation’s current vice president of Jewish education and leadership, reflects on the intrinsic rewards she experienced as a Jewish educator—and one student who gave back.

What is a teacher’s dream? I can tell you mine: to see the “end product.” I yearn to know what happened to my students after they left our classroom. How did they turn out as adults? What path did they choose? How did the relationship we built and the content we studied together impact their lives?

For 12 years, I taught fifth grade Judaic Studies at Solomon Schechter Day School. In one of my early years teaching, I had a student named Rebecca Lenkiewicz. I remember her as an animated kid—spirited, energetic, and with a love for the Yankees and Harry Potter books. Little did I know that, years later, I would have the privilege of working with Rebecca when she joined our Federation team as emerging leadership director. That bright and spunky girl grew into an intelligent and enthusiastic professional—committed to making the Jewish community open and accessible to everyone. In that spirit, Rebecca is taking what she learned in her eight years at Schechter and beyond and making it relevant for Greater Hartford’s rising Jewish leaders. 

As Rebecca makes an impact on our Jewish community today, I cannot help but reflect on a quote from the Talmud: “Rabbi Chanina declared, 'I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues and most from students'” (Taanit 7a). Traditionally, we think of teachers as the source of knowledge that they then pass on to their students. Yet this quote from the Talmud illustrates that it is those of us who teach who are the true recipients of education. There could be no greater honor than to work with a group of learners in unpacking a text, discovering how Jewish traditions are applicable today, or understanding prayer in new and meaningful ways.

As in most places, Greater Hartford’s Jewish community suffers from a lack of teachers interested in working in our religious schools. Each year, I receive phone calls and emails from religious school directors in the area, asking for help to find dynamic people to work in their classrooms, inspiring the next generation.

How about you? Are you looking to make a lasting impact? Do you want to discover the joys and benefits of learning from your students? Please consider becoming a religious school teacher! Reach out to me at hfiedler@jewishhartford.org; I can connect you with religious schools and programs in our community that would welcome you on Sunday mornings or weekday afternoons.

In Pirkei Avot, Sayings of our Ancestors, we are instructed to “Make for yourself a teacher, and acquire for yourself a friend” (Pirkei Avot 1:6). Work at a religious school and you will realize both as an enriching part of your life.

Photo: Federation Emerging Leadership Director Rebecca Lenkiewicz as a fifth-grade student at Solomon Schechter Day School. (Photo used with permission.)