Reimagining Jewish Professional Career Paths

© Zach Dalin Photograph

By Marci Mayer Eisen and Amy Bornstein

Conversations at the national level over the past decade have explored whether “Jewish communal service” is seen as the long-term career it once was. In St. Louis, as in many other communities we celebrate the changes as an increasing number of young professionals seek ways to reimagine careers in the Jewish community.

In recent years we have seen the impact when:

  1. A new world of professional opportunities are created both through start-ups and innovation in traditional organizations.
  2. Local communities invest in JPRO groups.
  3. Community leadership recognize the importance of advancement, not only within organizations, but also between organizations.

Most of the successful young professionals we’ve engaged with over the past several years could never have imagined future work in the Jewish community when they were in college. “While I had a strong Jewish identity growing up, it never occurred to me to work in the Jewish community,” shares Amy Bornstein, now director of Literacy and Jewish Arts at the St. Louis JCC. “When I was encouraged to apply for a job in the Jewish Federation of St. Louis Marketing department five years ago, I heard a strong message that my skills could be transferrable.” For Amy, it clicked as the perfect way to combine what she learned in school and briefly in the business world with her personal values. Amy grew her reputation and skills at Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Four years later, when the JCC reimagined the role of director of Literacy and Jewish Arts, overseeing one of the largest Jewish book festivals in the country, it was the right timing and right position for Amy to change organizations and advance her career.

Andrew Goldfeder also started in business right after college. With a strong connection to Jewish life, Andrew’s career took an unexpected turn when he joined the staff of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center (HMLC). Andrew found his work with the Holocaust survivors, docents, and thousands of visitors deeply meaningful. However, after nine years at the Museum and receiving his master’s degree in nonprofit management, Andrew was ready for a new challenge. He explored opportunities, both within and outside the Jewish community, and recognized that his priority was to advance his career within the Jewish community. Last summer, Andrew became executive director of Temple Emanuel, a reform congregation in St. Louis County.

In St. Louis, we clearly see the impact of JProStl, our professional association (affiliated with JPRO Network). Early in their careers, Amy and Andrew were both recognized as JProStl (JPro St. Louis) Emerging Leader honorees and Andrew went on to become JProStl Vice President. “Being honored in front of the entire community elevated my sense of purpose, both professionally and personally,” shares Amy. Similarly, for Andrew, being involved as a leader within JPro added to his wide range of professional relationships and ability to see himself as a professional leader within the Jewish community.

Sarah Z. Levinson is current chair of Young Professionals for JProStl, a position on the JProStl Board. Unlike Amy and Andrew, Sarah briefly thought about a career in the Jewish community, following the path of several close family members. However, Sarah’s first priority was to work with older people. After a short time at the JCC, Sarah advanced her career at a secular-based nonprofit but felt the pull to return. “When the position of NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) director opened, I felt this role was meant to be. Feeling part of such a strongly connected professional community through JProStl was a factor in my eagerness to return.”

For Amy, Andrew, and Sarah, being active in the local JPRO helps them feel appreciated and part of something bigger. “Local JPRO groups recognize the talent and long-term potential of pros in all stages of their careers and gives them a broader community and valued network to build relationships. When they are exposed to various opportunities and feel appreciated, they are more likely to feel excited, enriched, and ultimately retained in the field,” shared Mark S. Young, Managing Director of the Leadership Commons at the William Davidson School of JTS, and the local groups chair on the board of JPRO Network.

To continue this significant shift, professionals and lay leadership need to recognize the talents of young professionals and provide them with professional training and opportunities to reimagine their future careers. These talented young adults can take their skills and passions to lots of different settings. We know that young adults are less willing to remain in the same job, or even the same organization as long-term as their predecessors. It is imperative that our culture allows them to imagine their next career move within the context of the larger Jewish community. Amy, Andrew, and Sarah all felt supported when they moved between organizations. In fact, over the past several years we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of pros who have moved between Jewish organizations and we see this as an outcome of recognizing, supporting and encouraging career advancement within the local community.

What we see in St. Louis is a snapshot of what is happening across the country. Start-ups, as well as innovation within traditional organizations, provide dynamic opportunities for career growth. The JPro model supports professional friendships, strong network and an intrinsic value of appreciation. Amy Bornstein shares, “I feel empowered and confident that I will be successful at this next stage of my career because of the support and recognition I have received from my strong network of colleagues.” None of these three went to college with a Jewish career specifically in mind, yet once they found their place in the community that fit their skills and values, they knew they wanted to stay long-term.

Marci Mayer Eisen is Director of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Millstone Institute and staff for JProStl. Amy Bornstein is director of Literacy and Jewish Arts at the St. Louis JCC.