It was February 2010, and like many jobless Americans, Rabbi Avi Greene found himself in a bind. His digital day school startup venture had only half the funding it needed. He had been laid off from an administrative position at a Los Angeles Jewish day school almost two years earlier. So, with America’s unemployment rate at 9.7%, he set out on a job search.
“I was very nervous,” he recalled. “I was worried that I had waited too long.”
That winter, Greene applied to several posts, and ended up as the principal of Epstein Hebrew Academy, the day school he attended while growing up in St. Louis.
Though Greene fretted about the timing of his search, it turned out to work in his favor. Greene and others who scrutinize the day school world noticed a virtual hiring freeze among day school administrators around late 2008, as institutions reeled from the recession’s losses. But by earlier this year, hiring picked up. “Families have not left day schools in droves, and the job market seems to be leveling out,” said Greene, now 37.
There is no big boom, but the moderate growth is better than the forecasted bust. Day school leaders worried that the financial crisis would mean that parents could no longer shoulder high tuitions, but many alternative sources of funding were found, including from philanthropies. “There were cutbacks over the last two years,” said Joel Paul, president of the executive search firm The Joel Paul Group, which specializes in recruiting day school
leaders. “I see for this coming year fewer cutbacks and even a lot of new positions starting to be created. It slowed down, but there really seems to be a comeback.”
This situation is representative of the big picture of hiring in the Jewish employment nationwide. “Hiring has picked up in the last six months,” said David Edell, president of Development Resource Group, an executive search firm that specializes in Jewish organizations. “Particularly in the fall of 2010, there is a definite and very strong upswing. We’re seeing it in many fields: national organizations, health services, education, across the board.”
As the economic recovery remains at the top of voters’ concerns, the Forward is taking a look at where jobs in the Jewish world have been lost — and where they are to be found. The recession took a toll on Jewish employment, and industry experts estimate that about 10% of Jewish jobs were shed. The lion’s share of these job losses stemmed from foundations that shuttered and cut back significantly because investments were lost to Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
While there is no centralized tally of employment among Jewish organizations, signs from different pockets of the hiring world point to a moderate increase in hiring at large. The overall Jewish job market seems to trend with the not-for-profit world: that is, it follows the United States employment map, except it’s more extreme at its peaks and nadirs. The pockets of movement are most pronounced among day school administrators, executives, fundraisers, assistants and advocates. This series will look at this shifting landscape through the eyes of people recently hired to these posts.
Benjamin Brown, who runs www.jewishjobs.com, a centralized job-posting website for the Jewish world, said his site slowed down during the financial crash. “In September 2008 things really stopped instantaneously,” he said. “Since then, things have continued to improve. The number of job postings is back to about half of what came before the crash.”
Postings on Brown’s site show that schools, communal organizations, synagogues and federations are doing the bulk of the new hiring, with advocacy, Israel-oriented organizations, health services and museums forming a second tier. Though many job openings come from the need to fill vacancies, companies are also creating newer posts, primarily ones that involve fundraising and new-media skills.
It’s now early winter, which marks the beginning of the hiring season for day school administrators. Last year, Paul’s firm placed about 15 administrators. Paul anticipates 20 in the coming year.
And whether they’re for the head of school or the assistant principal, recent job postings on jewishjobs.com prove that Paul’s findings are not the only showing of day school administrative hiring. For example, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester is looking for a head of school, Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia seeks a “Hebrew teacher/coordinator” and Alabama’s NE Miles Jewish Day School is searching for a head of school. These jobs typically pay between $100,000 and $250,000, Paul said.
Even as the market thaws, the post-recession world is more crowded and competitive. The bar is rising, and more aspiring day school administrators are expected to have higher credentials.
That standard appears to have helped Greene, whose education journey began in college. As a sophomore at Brandeis University, he took a Hebrew school teaching position as a part-time job. He ended up with a career path. “You saw the kids’ faces light up while applying Judaism to their own lives,” he said.
He then taught middle school Judaic studies at Los Angeles’s Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy. During his second year, the middle school director left, and Greene, then 24, moved into the higher post. After a year on the job, Greene decided he wanted to lead day schools in the long run, so he did what any aspiring day school principal might: He moved to New York. There he got his rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University and began working toward a doctorate in education. While taking classes, Greene taught and worked as technology integrator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School.
Then, California came calling once more. Paul’s firm contacted Greene, saying that Shalhevet School, a co-educational high school in Los Angeles, was searching for a Judaic studies principal. In that position, he engaged the students in participatory democracy, where they would voice at weekly town meetings their opinions on issues ranging from dress code to gang behavior.
But the board of directors decided it was time for a change in leadership, and laid off the top tier of administration going into the 2008–2009 school year. Greene kept his family in California, where he tried to build Atid, a startup online charter school combined with a physical day school. He attracted 10 families — and only half the amount in pledges he needed to get the school off the ground. “I was a little too ahead of the curve,” he said he realized in February.
Now, Greene is a few months into his new job, where he makes a salary in the low six figures. He’s back in St. Louis, where his life began. He’s not the 18-year-old who left for college all those years ago. This time around, he shapes the educational experience of 170 students. And although he still enjoys going to movies and playing basketball, he said, “I spend a lot of time at work because it’s more than a job. It’s really my passion.”
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Next week, we look at a long-time Jewish professional who set out to work in the for-profit world in 2004, only to return to the communal world this summer as executive director of a Jewish Community Center.