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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She feels “betwixt and between”; young people who can settle for lower salaries are being hired while older people cling to the jobs they have, trying to hang on until retirement. In other words, she’s been squeezed out.

“I basically foresaw what was going to happen,” Jacobs said. “I’m just glad I have my coaching to fall back on, as challenging as it is for me to market myself and break into the corporate world.”

Moving On and Moving Out

Michelle Brooks, 40, recalls having been the youngest person by at least a decade among her colleagues at St. Louis’s Central Agency for Jewish Education, where she had been director of school services for nine years. Before that, she served St. Louis’s Reform community for six years training and supporting youth directors. She has two master’s degrees (including a master of social work) from the Hebrew Union College.

But her Jewish education days are behind her now. In April 2012, she was laid off from CAJE. After a seven-month job search, she started in January as program coordinator and fundraising associate for the St. Louis chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association.

“There’s a whole world outside the Jewish community,” Brooks said. “I realized I’d kind of worked in a bubble for 15 years.” There were only two or three organizations in the local Jewish community Brooks felt she could work for, given her desired salary level, her Reform background, and her ideal commute. She did have some interviews, but there were few positions open on the middle management level. “Most jobs were entry-level,” she said in explaining why she had to look outside the Jewish community.

“In general I am very happy,” Brooks reflected. “I had a great 15 years, made so many contacts and was very active in my Jewish professional community.” There is no question that she will miss interacting with her Jewish colleagues and making an impact on her own religious community. But it’s time to move on.

Keeping the Faith

Longtime Leader: Michal Morris Kamil is on the job hunt.
Courtesy of Michal Morris Kamil
Longtime Leader: Michal Morris Kamil is on the job hunt.

Despite her concerns about the long-term sustainability of Jewish educational funding, Michal Morris Kamil, 49, says she is in it for the long haul. Her position running a multimillion-dollar educational initiative at San Francisco’s Jewish LearningWorks ended in summer 2012 when grant money ran out. Now, Morris Kamil is actively looking for a new leadership position at a Jewish educational agency somewhere in the U.S.

Morris Kamil, who has international professional experience, is ready to geographically relocate for an appropriate job. “I’m not willing to give up on the idea of working in a Jewish educational organization,” she explained. “To really excel and be a visionary Jewish educational leader, you have to be an organic part of an organization and have a stake in its future success.”

While many of her peers are jumping ship and going the consultant route, Morris Kamil is certain that is not the direction she wants to take. “There’s going to be this influx of consultants, and I wonder whether the market can even provide adequately for everyone, and I wonder what kind of additional skills one will need to survive and excel in this new environment,” she said. “Besides, I believe in the power of long-term, visionary Jewish education, and you can’t be invested to that level if you are a contracted consultant working on a project short-term.”

“I have always and continue to see myself as a shlichat tzibur [public servant]. I’m a stalwart, I guess,” Morris Kamil reflected. She admits there can be headaches associated with working within an organization, but maintains she prefers those to the pain of trying to run after consulting gigs. “Organizations need their visionary leaders. You simply can’t outsource Jewish education to such a degree.”

Renee Ghert-Zand is a freelance writer and Jewish educational consultant. She is a regular contributor to the Forward.


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