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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With existing models of Jewish education proving to be too expensive nowadays, Jacoby is convinced that new ones must be developed, and that baby boomers need to get with the 21st-century program. “We’ve got to be looking at hybrids that blend technology and traditional in-person, brick-and-mortar approaches.”

Piecing it Together

In this economy, especially when your family depends heavily on your income, it’s not always feasible to wait until another full-time job becomes available after you’ve been laid off.

Abra Greenspan, 55, found a part-time job as an administrator at Lehrhaus Judaica, a San Francisco Bay Area Jewish studies adult school, after restructuring last May ended her 12-year tenure as a full-time director of youth education at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El.

Not in a financial position to wait around until a full-time opportunity presented itself, Greenspan was glad to have found the job at Lehrhaus and is supplementing it with a variety of short-term and one-off teaching gigs. She’s also doing some b’nei mitzvah tutoring to help make ends meet.

Greenspan is busy networking, but for right now, while her youngest child is still in high school, she cannot consider any positions outside the Bay Area. She’d prefer to stay in Jewish education, but is not wedded to going back to work at a synagogue. “I’m curious to see what is out there in museums, JCCs and maybe consulting,” she said.

But in no way is she putting all her eggs in the Jewish community basket. “Right now I am applying for full-time positions in educational leadership and project management in non-Jewish educational non-profits,” Greenspan said.

At this point, she’s picking up whatever part-time work she can find and putting out feelers wherever she can. “You’ve got to keep doing it. You don’t know what will take you where.”

On the Other Side of the Pond

It’s not only here in America that middle-aged Jewish educators are finding themselves needing to start over. Bebe Jacobs’s entire career has been in Jewish education in the U.K., save for a few years when she was director of education at a large Reform congregation in Toronto. The 57-year-old, who prides herself on having introduced the concept of whole family education to the British Jewish community, worked in educational leadership in the U.K.’s Reform and Liberal denominations and trained teachers at the U.K.’s Department of Jewish Education. Then, after all her successes, she found herself out of a job.

In 2009, Jacobs was replaced as director of education at North Western Reform Synagogue (known as Alyth) by the synagogue’s youth director. Then, at the end of 2011, the DJE teacher-training program was cut. “The whole department has collapsed in recent months. There are no more jobs left and no more consultant work to be had,” she said.

Fortunately, Jacobs has a coaching practice to fall back on. Over the years, she trained in coaching, and now she’s stepping up her parenting coaching for families (“It’s like [the British TV show] “Supernanny,” but not quite as intense,” she says) and wellness coaching for companies.

“I feel a sense of loss that I’m not going back to Jewish education. I always thought that I’d be a Jewish educator with a coaching business on the side, not a full-time coach,” she said. “But there simply aren’t Jewish education jobs available. I’ve applied for some, but I’m not even getting interviews, even though I am probably the best qualified person in the U.K. for them.”


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