A Jewish communal workforce renewal

The events of Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israel-Gaza war have forced many Jews to reevaluate their relationship with Israel and with the Jewish people. Media reports in both the Jewish and the secular press have tended to focus on those who have loudly expressed their distance and alienation as a result of Israel’s military response to the attack.  

But there are countervailing trends as well — quieter patterns, perhaps, but no less important. 

At the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, we have seen an increasing number of talented professionals interested in strengthening Jewish life by joining the Jewish professional workforce. Our recent job postings have drawn a surprising and substantial influx of new kinds of applicants: folks who are not currently working or who have never worked in the Jewish communal space. While this sort of candidate was rare before Oct. 7, five of the six new employees who started at Hartman between November and April came from outside the Jewish professional world.


This trend holds across ranks, from entry-level jobs to senior faculty positions. Younger professionals who never before considered working in the Jewish world are finding their way to us. Folks who have been adjacent to the Jewish community in their work or scholarship are also discovering that they are moved by a desire, as one person told us, “to directly serve the Jewish people in this moment.”  Some, including but not limited to tenured professors, have mentioned feeling a “push” as well as a “pull” — they felt isolated and uncomfortable in their non-Jewish work environments. 

The panoply of individual reasons and stories all coalesce into a much wider, richer, stronger and more diverse candidate pool for positions we have sought to fill since October. 

We have heard that several other Jewish organizations, even those that are not explicitly Zionist like ours, have had similar experiences with recent applicants. We are not aware of a systematic study across the field, but we suspect this tracks with what some are calling “the Surge” — stronger levels of affiliation seen in other parts of Jewish life since Oct. 7, including higher rates of synagogue attendance, increased donations to Jewish causes and increased engagement at some Hillels and Chabad Houses. (It is worth noting, of course, that we may also not be seeing candidates who would have applied prior to Oct. 7 but wouldn’t now, i.e. those who no longer feel comfortable working in the Jewish world.)

The transformed candidate field and the resulting new hires have raised a number of questions for us, including:

  • How should we adapt our recruitment practices? 
  • How can and should we rethink our approach to onboarding and supporting employees as they integrate into our organization? 
  • What new approaches to ongoing professional development do we need to consider?
  • Will this trend continue, and will it parallel shifts in engagement in other areas of Jewish life?
  • How have affiliation and belonging changed among existing employees, and what can we do to support them? 

We do not have answers to these questions yet, but the fact that we are asking them is indicative of the changes we are seeing. 

This trend could end up being short-lived, or — a more frustrating prospect — we could fail to embrace, encourage and retain the new interest in Jewish communal life we are experiencing. We would be remiss if we did not take note of this moment and the inspiration we’ve felt from hearing the impassioned stories of so many of our candidates about the ways that this painful period has led them to want to commit their professional lives to the service of the Jewish people. These stories sound like resilience. They sound like rejuvenation. And they sound like hope.    

Ethan Linden is the director of educational operations and design and Becca Linden (no relation) is the vice president of talent development and strategic impact at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.