Valuing Our Communal Employees

Why should Jewish communal workers have to ask for handouts from Jewish institutions?

by Rachel Fadlon

There has been a flurry of articles on eJewish Philanthropy recently about salaries in the Jewish nonprofit world, some criticizing the high salaries of executive directors, others suggesting that we raise the salary of entry level positions.

As one half of a married couple who both choose to work in the Jewish community (and are not executive directors), I would like to give my two cents:

The article “Is This A Job for a Nice Jewish Boy or Girl? You Bet It Is!” does make a valid point that paying workers at nonprofits more would incentivize them to stay. I do have a feeling, though, that those of us who have chosen the Jewish communal career path understand that we will not become millionaires. But when someone remarked in the comments section that “a very good point often lost in the search for a career: making money is not nearly as fulfilling and does not bring happiness as making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. It is not even a close call,” I got angry.

I cannot pay for my children’s Jewish day school tuition with happiness. The local JCC does not accept personal fulfillment as a form of payment. And when we think about joining a synagogue or sending our kids to a Jewish summer camp, we cannot sign “making a meaningful difference” on the dotted line.

I guess some of you out there assume that people who work in the Jewish community have a higher income-earning spouse who can pay these bills with actual money. Well, not all of us do.

While it is true that we do what we do because we care, it would also be nice to be able to provide our own families with the same services that we are so passionately giving to our Jewish communities. Sadly, it is often (financially) difficult for Jewish professionals to participate fully in Jewish life with their own families, especially if both spouses work in the Jewish community – or if they are single and trying to support themselves. My family is lucky to be able to send our kids to Jewish day school because of the generosity of the school. And when we were members of a synagogue (and its preschool), they were also extremely generous.

But why should Jewish communal workers have to ask for handouts from Jewish institutions?

Instead, I envision community-wide incentives within the Jewish community for Jewish professionals. I loved the idea in another comment to the article of discounts (and I mean substantial discounts!) or free memberships to JCCs, preschools, Hebrew schools, day schools, day/overnight camps, synagogues, community events, etc. There are typically special rates for young families and retirees, why can’t there be rates for Jewish communal workers?

To be clear: I am NOT bashing where I or my spouse work – we are compensated fairly. However, articles in various sources have alluded to the fact that participating in Jewish life is expensive. Pair this with the fact that by the nature of what we do, we earn less than those in other professions so that we, the Jewish communal workers, must face very difficult decisions regarding our own participation in Jewish life.

It is time for the Jewish community as a whole to recognize and make a commitment to the people who help keep it together. Our community should honor those who have made a conscious decision to sacrifice financial wellbeing for the wellbeing of our Jewish community. That would send a clear message to me – and to those who aspire to follow in my footsteps – that I am an important, valued, integral member of the Jewish community who deserves to be included.