If You Want to Know the Truth, Examine the Budget

While many EDs and CEOs of Jewish nonprofits earn sixfigure salaries, midlevel program directors and direct service employees, educators and social workers continue to be paid unconscionably low salaries.

By Karen Erlichman, DMin, LCSW

Salaries and budgets reveal a great deal about an organization’s mission, vision and values. Recently I applied for a part time contract job with a national Jewish outreach organization. The job was to direct a national leadership initiative, and included high level responsibilities such as development and oversight of application and selection process for organizations nationwide, hiring, training and mentoring coaches, online facilitation and programming, curriculum development and program review, and program evaluation.

The job announcement was vague about the salary, and upon inquiry, the interviewer was somewhat sheepish about the small budget. The message was, “yeah, we know it’s a small amount of money. Yeah, we wish we could pay more. Oh and by the way, we want the project up and running in 3 months.” I have heard this scenario too many times to count.

The professional world of outreach and inclusion is largely staffed by cisgender, mostly heterosexual women. It is rare to find men or transgender people working in outreach unless the organization is specifically working on LGBTQ inclusion. Nearly every interfaith and LGBTQ Jewish outreach organization is led by women. On one level, it is wonderful to see women in leadership positions doing meaningful work that transforms our community. On another level, it raises the question about why men prefer to work in other areas of the professional Jewish community.

In addition, the salaries offered to women in the Jewish community are still often dramatically inferior to those of men. Despite the groundbreaking leadership of Shifra Bronznick and Advancing Women Professionals, female Jewish professionals are still woefully underpaid as compared with their male counterparts. Moreover, jobs in outreach, education, camp, social services (and other similar relationship-oriented work) are still primarily filled by (underpaid, overworked) women, and many freelance Jewish educators (mostly women) are paid abysmal salaries with no benefits. The scaffolding of our Jewish communal service system has also been fueled by the tireless efforts of volunteers, mostly women, who have filled in the gaps as unpaid workers. Simultaneously, there is a ripple of panic about the rampant turnover among employees working in Jewish organizations, an inability to retain qualified professionals, and an epidemic of disaffiliation.

I have been a Jewish communal professional for thirty years since my very first job in the planning department at the local Jewish Federation. Since then I have worked in outreach and direct services, with an emphasis on creating a welcoming Jewish community for interfaith couples and families, LGBTQ Jews and others. It is unacceptable and morally egregious that the aforementioned job directing a national outreach leadership position is offering a salary for a seasoned professional that amounts to approximately $10/hour.

It is critical to view this example through the larger framework of the moral landscape of our community. This is not simply an issue of gender; it is also an issue of power and status. While many EDs and CEOs of Jewish nonprofits earn six-figure salaries, mid-level program directors and direct service employees, educators and social workers continue to be paid unconscionably low salaries. In addition, the culture and values of our Jewish institutions also reflect gender inequity, white privilege and Ashkenormativity. What does all of this reveal about how our Jewish institutions value gender diversity, interfaith and multiracial outreach, and racial equity?

While we have seen more women in leadership positions in Jewish organizations, there are very few Jews of color or transgender Jews at all, let alone in positions of power and influence. These aspects of identity are not mutually exclusive either. Where are trans Jews of color, multiracial Jews, mixed faith multiracial Jews, to name a few, and how many are in positions of leadership in Jewish institutions? Having worked for several white, Ashkenormative Jewish organizations, too often this outreach is little more than marketing efforts to the few multiracial and interfaith Jewish organizations to promote diverse attendance. Unfortunately, institutional diversity and empowerment at all levels is rarely seen in Jewish communal leadership, programs, membership or funding priorities.

It appears that funders, executives and boards of directors are sanctioning budgetary decisions without raising important questions about tzedek in our hiring practices and programmatic priorities. If you want to know the truth about an organization’s values, don’t simply read the mission, vision and values statements prominently displayed on the website: examine the budget!

I pray for a time when Jewish organizations value and respect their employees in every way, including salaries, health care, hiring practices, family leave, and organizational culture. May our community organizations truly reflect the Jewish values that have been passed down to us for generations. K’eyn yehi ratzon.

Karen Lee Erlichman, D.Min, LCSW provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, supervision and mentoring in San Francisco. Karen is co-director of Practistry, and a faculty member in the Morei Derekh Jewish Spiritual Direction Training Program as well as the Jewish Spirituality D.Min program at the Graduate Theological Foundation.