Portrait of a Jewish Communal Professional

Study highlights disturbing trends including gender pay inequality and a decline in the commitment to the Jewish collective

The comprehensive results of a wide-ranging survey of Jewish communal professionals was released at a seminar concluding the first day of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

Jewish Communal Professionals in North American: A Profile” is an unprecedented study of 2,435 Jewish communal professionals surveyed throughout the United States and Canada, and conducted in 2009 and 2010 by The Jewish Communal Service Association (JCSA).

Our community has a vast array of communal institutions, whose functions and domains are varied and diverse – encompassing religious life, culture, education, health, social services and community relations.

The survey asked the respondents: Who are the communal professionals who staff these organizations? What are their responsibilities, their seniority, training, expertise, compensation and recognition?

While there are many studies of the work of these agencies, little systematic attention has been paid to the professionals themselves – their socio-demographic characteristics, wish background, current Jewish engagement, professional characteristics – and how these and other features may be effected by social differentiation such as age and gender. The report analyzes results of the first social scientific survey of self-selected Jewish communal professionals and begins to advance our understanding of these and related areas.

Abstract: Jewish Communal Professionals in North America
Steven M. Cohen, Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner

The Jewish Communal Service Association of North America (JCSA) commissioned the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner to conduct a survey of self-defined incumbents of the profession. The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation provided financial support, and Steven M. Cohen provided research services pro bono. The number of eligible respondents amounted to 2,435.

We begin with some basic findings. Women make up about two-thirds of all Jewish communal professionals. As a group, the professionals’ age distribution is almost uniformly distributed from the low 20s through age 64, with a significant drop-off after age 65; the median age is 48 years old. More than two-thirds (69%) are married, and most of the others have never been married, another indicator of the youthful segment in the population of communal professionals. Of those who are married, the vast majority (89%) are in-married.

In terms of their educational achievement, almost all have an undergraduate degree, and about two-thirds have earned a graduate degree of some sort, testifying to high levels of formal educational attainment. In addition, general educational attainment and Jewish education are higher among younger professionals as compared with their elders.

The median income for these professionals is about $78,000, and their mean income reaches $89,000. Those in entry-level positions earn $45,000, as compared with about $75,000 for managerial positions, $100,000 for associate executives, and about $125,000 for CEOs.

Women significantly trail men in compensation, with an overall gap of $28,000. Holding constant age, years in the field, level of responsibility, hours worked, and degrees earned, women’s salaries still trail men’s by about $20,000. [emphasis added]

These professionals (97% of whom are Jewish) display numerous signs of stronger than average Jewish upbringing and Jewish educational engagement in their teen years and early adulthood. Hardly any (just 7%) are the offspring of intermarried parents. About a quarter attended Jewish day school at some point (roughly twice the average in the Jewish population at large). Almost two-thirds attended Jewish camp, and even more participated in Jewish youth groups – also more than in the adult Jewish population. Most participated in a Hillel-like experience in college. As many as 62% had taken a college-level Jewish Studies course – more than twice what we may find in a cross-section of the Jewish population. The professionals’ Israel travel frequencies are even more astounding: 93% had been to Israel at least once for a short term, and 37% had spent four months or more studying or working in Israel.

Large majorities feel attached to Jews and the Jewish people. As many as 80% (more or less) feel a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people, would be upset if the number of US Jews were to decline, and feel specially connected to people they meet who are Jewish.

Beyond this basic information, among the more notable findings:

  1. Jewish communal professionals derive disproportionately from stronger-than-average Jewish home and educational environments. More than the population at large, they report in-married parents who were more observant and more traditional than the norm. In addition, the professionals participated in a variety of Jewish educational experiences from childhood through young adulthood. The implication: these findings point to the cumulative effect of a wide variety of socialization and educational experiences. If these experiences are indeed producing Jewish communal professionals, we can presume they are producing Jewish commitment among others as well. Both philanthropic donors and policy makers should note that day schools, youth groups, camps, Hillels, Jewish Studies, and Israel programs are all “implicated” (positively) and all are worthy of ongoing support.
  2. The role of Israel travel and study in shaping these professionals bears special mention. With only a decade of experience, Birthright is already showing its impact, particularly among those with somewhat weaker prior Jewish socialization and educational backgrounds. However, we also ought not overlook the power of programs in Israel lasting a semester or more, the “Masa” opportunities. In fact, short-term programs may be effective in part because they lead to long-term programs. Both Birthright and Masa produce positive long-term effects, seen here in the large number of Jewish communal professionals, but also undoubtedly seen elsewhere in the ranks of other Jewish leaders, both lay and professional.
  3. Notwithstanding the diversity of professional experiences and the fuzzy boundary demarcating, “Jewish communal professional,” these professionals show signs of shared background, interests, and commitment as well as shared interaction. The implication: their professional identities can be shaped, and their professional skills can be augmented. A ready and recruitable audience awaits smart and committed intervention in the form of in-service education and profession-building activities.
  4. Notwithstanding Jewish communal professionals’ high rates of Jewish involvement and commitment, and even their high rates of Jewish collective identity as manifest in their commitment to the Jewish People, Israel, and Jewish continuity, there are several disturbing trends. Commitment to the Jewish collective (people, Israel, communities, family) is in decline generally in the Jewish population, and communal professionals, particularly younger professionals, are no exception to this general tendency. Overall, younger professionals display lower levels of Jewish collective identities than their elders, even though the younger group is just as Jewishly involved in other ways and has experienced more frequent and more diverse Jewish educational experiences than older professionals. The critical, influential and strategic position of the young professionals for the current and future of Jewish life in North America makes their views both potent and critical for the Jewish future. Their diminished enthusiasm for Jewish peoplehood, Israel, and in-marriage demands attention and contention.
  5. The economic downturn has affected younger workers, those who recently entered the job market, more than older professionals.
  6. Although women comprise about two-thirds of the professional workforce, their salaries, on whole, continue to lag significantly below their male counterparts. This pervasive issue remains a concern for attracting and retaining the best talent for the field.

The complete study, Profiling the Professionals: Who’s Serving Our Communities? is available for download.