Reflections on 25 Years as a Communal Professional

by Rabbi Louis Feldstein

I recently had the opportunity to be with several of my rabbinic colleagues in Cincinnati where we received honorary doctorates for having served the Jewish people for 25 years. Over the past several weeks, in thinking about this event and what it meant, I had pause to reflect over a long and – I hope – impactful career in which I have I have been told I touched and hopefully changed for the better thousands of lives. Periodically I hear from former students, young adults and others about how something I said or did changed their lives. It is for them that this honor is truly due.

The honor of this doctorate, however, also caused me to reflect on something else – the role of the Jewish communal professional. Over my career I have met tens of thousands of individuals who have devoted themselves to working in this field. They do it, not because they couldn’t get a job in the for-profit sector, but because they care deeply about the Jewish enterprise. I know I could have been a lawyer or worked in real estate, and I would have been successful. I could have gone into business or perhaps have been a doctor (ok – maybe not a doctor), and lived a more economically comfortable life. I know many colleagues, whether rabbis, educators or communal professionals who could have entered countless fields and been great successes (both professionally and monetarily), but they chose a different path. Last week I was honored for my choice. Every day, we should honor and thank those who work professionally on behalf of the Jewish community.

Being a professional in the Jewish world is not easy. Regrettably, sometimes my colleagues are treated or seen as servants, second-class citizens, or just people who are doing this because they couldn’t make it in the “real world.” My friends, nothing could be further from the truth. The non-profit sector is the real world, and without these dedicated professionals (and yes, they are professionals), our community would be far weaker if not nonexistent.

As an involved member of the Jewish community, please take a moment and think about all the Jewish communal professionals who impact and touch your life right now. Think about them not in the role they play, but as a person who is blessed to have chosen a field that enhances Jewish life and makes the world a far superior place. Each of us should feel honored and blessed to have the opportunity to work with these pros in our volunteer capacities. We achieve so much more because of communal professionals and everything they do.

In the United States we have an Administrative Assistant Day and a Boss’s day, but no communal professionals’ day. Perhaps there is a reason. Could it be that the absence of a dedicated day honoring them informs us that we should thank and appreciate these dedicated and talented professionals (who have forsaken financial and prestige for a greater good), not on one day of the year, but rather every day.

Every one of my colleagues may not be as fortunate as I was to receive an honorary doctorate – but they should at least receive our community’s thanks and appreciation.

Rabbi Louis Feldstein is Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.