A Reflection on Receiving the Helen Diller Award for Excellence in Jewish Education

One of the most common things you hear from teachers is that they feel like an imposter in the classroom. Maybe it’s the personas we take on as teachers, the raw and brutal honesty of students regardless of their age, or the ever-present feeling that you could have spent more time lesson planning or giving feedback on an assignment. Something in the ether of the teaching profession often leaves us feeling unaffirmed or outsiders in the classroom.

Recently, I had the honor of receiving the Helen Diller Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. Yet, between the time I heard the news that I received the award and the ceremony, all I could think about was did I truly deserve the award. I began scanning my memory, thinking about all the times in the past 8 years of classroom teaching when I fell short in my teaching, didn’t prepare enough, or could have been more present.

But when I arrived to the CJM for the award ceremony, all of my worries and self-doubt faded away. This was not the first time I have attended the award ceremony. As a member of the small community of Jewish educators in the Bay Area, I have always seen it as my civic duty to show up for these awards to affirm my fellow colleagues. I always find the speeches by the educators to be incredibly moving. I remember listening to my colleague from Contra Costa Jewish Day School, a winner in 2017, Hadas Rave, say in her speech that she had been crying tears of joy from the moment she heard she won the award until the ceremony. That those were the same tears she felt in her most powerful moments as a teacher.

In the moment of my own ceremony, I truly understood what Hadas had been speaking about. More than the fancy ceremony, or the incredibly generous award that comes with this distinction, the most powerful part of the ceremony is the opportunity for each educator to speak for five minutes. Martin Buber, a famous Jewish philosopher wrote “Man wishes to be affirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other...Secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”

Jewish educators here in the Bay Area are craving for that “Yes” that Buber was speaking about. We are craving that affirmation in a field that constantly feels like it is fighting for it’s own survival. In my own speech, I spoke about the transition I faced as someone who had grown up in a community where it was assumed that if you were Jewish you went to a Jewish Day School, to teaching in a community where Jewish education is constantly having to make the case for itself. To me, this award was a giant affirmation. An affirmation that the work we are doing is valued in our community. It is an affirmation to us that those special moments we feel in the classroom are valued. It is an affirmation to educators who question how successful they are or if they are meant to stay in the field.

I want to thank the Helen Diller Family Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund again for helping us feel like we belong in the field. For helping us feel like the powerful moments we experience as educators are valued by our community and for helping us be affirmed in community with our peers and supporters.

Adam Eilath is the recipient of the 2018 Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Day School category.

Categories: Awards, Endowment


June 11, 2018


Adam Eilath