Have you been tapped?

Michelle Brooks


At the annual meeting for the Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE) earlier this month, the Executive Director remarked that the way she became involved in the Jewish communal profession was that she was “tapped” by others. Her background was in the business world and now, years later, she finds herself in the non-profit world heading an agency. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that “what we need more than anything else is not textbooks but text people, as it’s the personality of the teacher the students remember.” Many of us can think of teachers or mentors we have had that have had great impact on our life, not just from the knowledge they imparted on us, but for the person and kind of teacher they were.

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Each year at this time, education directors at congregational schools are looking at their faculty roster, seeing if and where there are gaps in their staff. There are over 200 congregational teachers in St. Louis, and a number of them teach because someone tapped them. Maybe they are parents of students in the school, maybe they have an expertise in an area that a school would benefit from, maybe they are college students wanting to get more involved in the community, or maybe they are congregants who want to give back to their synagogue by teaching.

Non-profit organizations are always looking for new people for their boards or to become involved as a volunteer. In the last five to ten years, it seems that some of the work that used to be done by volunteers in organizations (i.e. phone calls, solicitations, etc.) is now done by staff. This is a trend we may continue to see, and now more than ever, there is a need for volunteers at Jewish organizations. The needs range from being a board member to participating in a one-day project to developing fundraisers.

Some people might think, oh, I will wait until . . . and then I will have more time to volunteer. But will we really have more time? It seems that we are busier than ever! For me, there is nothing like teaching a class of students (or teachers) knowing that I may have some impact on their lives. There is also nothing like the excitement of helping a needy child pick out a new outfit, coat, shoes, and school supplies for their first day of school (courtesy of the Back to School! Store project of NCJW – St. Louis Section). As a community, we need to think outside our immediate stakeholders and donors, and think, who can we tap?

In a recent article in Moment magazine, various rabbis were asked: What does it mean to be Jewish today, and what do Jews bring to the world? Rabbi Laura Novak Winer of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes the following: “Today we have a different communal understanding of what it means to be Jewish. Previous generations measured Jewishness by activities: How often does one light Shabbat candles? How many Jewish organizations does one belong to? Today, to be Jewish is about understanding one’s place in the world. That process requires self-reflection, learning, experimentation and engaging in dialogue with fellow Jews. Through that process, you may identify your core Jewish values. Offer those values up to the world through the works of your hands and the words of your mouth.” To me, this speaks to the idea that we are all lifelong learners, and it is up to us, if we are not tapped, to take initiative and become involved in our community.

Michelle Brooks is the Director of School Services at the Central Agency for Jewish Education and is the Co-Vice President of Community Service for the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis Section.