Recession Bites as Jewish Educators Downsized

Losing Work But Gaining Perspective on Life

Former Director: Bebe Jacobs worked in Jewish education in England.
Courtesy of Bebe Jacons
Former Director: Bebe Jacobs worked in Jewish education in England.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published February 11, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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It is no secret that Jewish communal organizations have taken a beating in the ongoing economic recession. Educational institutions, including schools and synagogue programs, have had to slash budgets, and bureaus of Jewish education have either scaled back or closed their doors altogether.

Less apparent is the impact on individual lives. In the wake of the downsizing and restructuring, many middle-aged Jewish education professionals in mid-level management positions have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. Having completed their professional training in the 1980s and ’90s and worked steadily and successfully ever since, they never imagined they would find themselves without work at this stage of their lives.

As a recent article in The New York Times put it, “It’s a baby boomer’s nightmare. One moment you’re 40-ish and moving up, the next you’re 50-plus and suddenly, shockingly, moving out — jobless in a tough economy.”

So, what’s a knowledgeable and experienced Jewish educational leader to do when she (because Jewish educational staffers are usually “she’s”) hits a major, debilitating road bump in her career? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. While one person might seek to beef up her technology skills, another might give up entirely on the chance to find new work within the Jewish community. Here are the stories of five women, each moving forward in a different way.

Technology Is the Future

“It’s not fun to lose a job,” said Debby Jacoby. “But to be honest, I think that if I didn’t have as much confidence in my tech skills set, I would really be panicked right now.”

Jacoby, 51, was until last month the director of the Center for Educational Leadership at San Francisco’s Jewish LearningWorks (formerly known as the Bureau of Jewish Education), the central agency supporting all aspects of Jewish education in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2008, she relocated for the job to California from Cleveland, where she had worked for 25 years as an educational leader in synagogues and on Jewish community projects.

In August 2012, Jacoby’s position was cut back from full-time to half-time, but she had begun to see the writing on the wall even earlier than that. The news that she was losing her job “due to changes in funding,” as her layoff letter indicated, came as no surprise.

Knowing what might be coming down the pike, Jacoby made a significant investment in learning about technology and education over the last year and a half. “I really began to appreciate the value of expanding one’s colleague network, and of using social media to help you go to the next level of thinking on something,” she said.

“I am really interested in exploring how to leverage technology when working on the professional development of Jewish educators,” Jacoby continued. She hopes to find a new position in this field, but won’t settle for something small. “I don’t want to just teach or administer a project,” she said. “I want to go bigger.”

Jacoby thinks about starting her own initiative, but in the meantime, she is looking for a position at a university or institute that would allow her to put to use all that she has learned about technology and education. She believes running a technology fellowship program or developing a collective of tech-focused day schools would be right up her alley.


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