By Toby Klein Greenwald
I was inspired to write this by a friend and colleague of mine, Raquella Raiz, who wrote on her own page what had changed for her in a year, going from longtime dance instructor to the owner of a video company called Qreative Edge. In her case, the change was made before coronavirus. But many others are talking about reinventing themselves now, as they were suddenly working long distance or not working at all.
Sometimes we get frustrated about jobs that don’t go our way or that we don’t get or have to leave, especially now. Perhaps this will bring a little hope and perspective to someone going through a difficult time.
Perhaps I can pass on some insights I acquired from my personal experience. Twice in my life when I lost something professionally, I also gained something.
My work career spans more than 40 years, but for the purposes of this column I’m going back only 30 years, when I was offered a principal job at a girls’ school. At the time, that would have been my dream job, due to the school’s areas of specialization. It would also have been a nice culmination of all the creative educational work I had done up till then, both with students and as a teacher-trainer.
But I had just given birth. I knew that the job of a principal would be all-consuming, so I declined the offer and chose instead to accept a very part-time teaching position in the school. After three years, for various reasons, I left. I was a bit sorry at the time I had not accepted the job of principal.
A few years after that, I was invited by psychologist Dr. Michael Tobin to join in the creation of WholeFamily.com, something I could not have done had I been the principal of a school. This evolved into a dream job. We created a cutting-edge and wonderful family psychology website that won serious awards and received investment. I was the executive VP and editor-in-chief and I traveled, met amazing people, and had a fabulous staff. But in the summer of 2000, the dot-com bubble burst and we had to close the office.
I was beside myself, even though we stayed online and most of the material is evergreen so it’s still relevant and meaningful to people.
Less than a year after that, some friends and I started Raise Your Spirits Theatre, which has become one of my creative homes for the last 19 years, in addition to other theater companies and projects I began or directed, including Dor L’Dor Theater (which we created from the online dramas in WholeFamily.com), Mikva the Musical, and Playback Na’na (improvisational) Theater Dance Troupe. I did theater work with teens at risk, and other projects which I hope have impacted lives.
I also gave more time to journalism and found myself researching and writing important articles and covering historical events, and I took a small detour back into teaching English part-time, to high school yeshiva boys, with a strong emphasis on creative writing.
I could not have done what I did and do in my theater projects and in journalism were I the principal of a school or the VP and editor-in-chief of a website.
This is the conclusion I reached: Hashem decided that the three years I taught in that girls’ school, my students needed what I gave them, that the four years I helped to create and administer WholeFamily.com, the world needed what we created and it is still there, 3,000 pages, for all the world to learn from.
Then Hashem said, I have another plan for you now. And the rest is history. In Jewish thought, it’s called doing our “hishtadlut,” putting in the effort. But we have a partner.
In these days of uncertainty and reinvention, that thought can help pull us through.
Toby Klein Greenwald is an educator, an award-winning theater director, and a recipient of an American Jewish Press Association award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism.