Rethinking Our ‘Human’ Communal Investment

Waves of cutbacks and layoffs during the past few months by local and national Jewish communal organizations seem prudent in the face of declining philanthropic dollars and reduced budgets. Hundreds of Jewish communal professionals – fundraisers, social workers, rabbis, planners, programmers, communicators and marketers, along with administrators and support staff – with years of expertise and collective wisdom – have hit the pavement. Sure, it’s easy to proclaim to board members and donors: “We’ve trimmed our budget and cut back our expenses.”

Unfortunately, these decisions belie aggressive outreach during the past three decades to recruit and train Jewish communal professionals. The loss of so many dedicated workers translates into a huge waste of communal investment. Where’s the Jewish stimulus package? And, how is Jewish communal leadership protecting its fragile human investment?

Some generous foundations have set up funds to assist organizations hit by the Madoff catastrophe and current economic environment. While certainly an important, thoughtful stopgap, a bigger issue remains: harnessing the talents and skills of hundreds of unemployed Jewish communal professionals.

Admittedly, volunteer leadership, governing boards, and committees, set tone, direction, and policy for Jewish communal organizations. For the most part, however, it’s the Jewish communal professional who prepares the groundwork for the volunteer bodies and implements their decisions. And, it’s the professional, on-the-ground worker, serving in many roles, who enhances the Jewish people in so many ways.

This drain on the Jewish community seems shortsighted – a loss of people clearly dedicated to the interests of the Jewish people. Some thoughts: use this talent pool as the foundation of a highly skilled Jewish Peace Corp; create a virtual ‘space’ to keep these people in an organized supportive network on which communities can draw as the economy improves; offer online education, retraining, and professional guidance to network members; and create a professional databank by incentivizing professional recruiting firms to multi-list employment opportunities, much like real estate firms.

As a community, we need to take aggressive steps to chart a new course for our communal professionals that assigns them the respect, value, and place they’ve earned as the core and backbone of our Jewish communities.

Marcia Neeley, a retired Jewish communal professional, currently assists community-based organizations with communications strategies. Marcia regularly shares her insights and experiences with our eJewish Philanthropy community.