Friday, September 16, 2016


Four distinguished professionals, each dedicated to both the federation system and the profession they have spent a career building, each having served as President of the Association of Jewish Community Professionals, three of whom had received the profession's highest honor -- the Mandelkorn Distinguished Service Award -- have made a further critical contribution in their recent article in ejewishphilanthropy -- Jewish Communal Service: A Profession or Just a Job? --*&utm_campaign=Mon+Sept+5&utm_medium=email. The article is a brilliant and impassioned cri de coeur for a profession to which these four leaders and so many others have contributed so much.

I am one who has a lifelong respect for Jewish communal professionals -- I have been privileged to have served within the lay-professional partnership and learned so much from the best and brightest of them. That respect even manifested itself in my unrequited attempt so long ago to join the professional ranks. 

Danny Allen, Alan Engel, Lou Solomon and Peter Wells decry the deconstruction of their profession:
"Our “Profession” has declined. There are at least four key reasons: 1) There is very little if any sense of being part of a larger enterprise among senior federation and other agency staff in part due to their increasingly disparate backgrounds. 2) A decline in the effort by JFNA to cultivate such a community, to assist communities in their search processes for senior staff – now completely suspended so we have been told – and to help set the standard and requirements for our American Jewish collectivity. 3) We do not have a professional association/community of practice that is properly funded in order to be a key player and 4) The profound changes and shrill nature of the discourse in Jewish religious and organizational life that are now common and which reflect to our discredit the political/civic culture in both America and Israel and which our leaders and organizations are doing precious little to counter."
We have chronicled this diminution of the professional Movement on these pages time and again. Now we are hearing the pleading from inside the system. As the authors wrote:
"With a collective biblical work experience of “120” years, we are optimists. We believe that among our colleagues, working and “retired,” there is a storehouse of energy, wisdom, ideas, abilities, and good will all of which can be placed in support of creating a community of practice which will serve our collectivity. We call on others to join with us in this quest, to unite with us as we begin the formation of a community of Jewish collective practitioners. This is not a request for funding – though it would not be refused. It is a request to use the vast human resources of our communities to be a link and strengthening agent for our people."

When a system-supported start-up designed to identify, enhance and prepare Jewish professionals for advancement and places the JFNA CEO, whose professional credentials can be summed up in one word: Dockers, on its Advisory Board, one has to question how much our system really cares about the profession it is supposed to support and grow. Not surprising, the article has not been referenced in that JFNA rag FEDWorld -- censorship perhaps; orders from on high? 

One great professional who served our system over 4 decades, commented on the article as follows:
"It deserves further serious analysis. How is it that after FEREP, Mandel, Wexner, Schusterman, Brandeis, HUC, JTS, Spertus, etc., there is such a shortage of good people in this field? How is it
that CEOs and others looking to hire report that “there is no one out there” and leave vacancies on their staffs for months at a time? How is it that several search consultants are in business, commanding substantial fees for finding candidates, calling lists of the usual suspects to see if they “know of anyone”? And how is it that when CEO openings occur, search committees of senior lay leadership decide to “recruit out of the box”?….Do they feel that this is a good incentive for capable and ambitious people to stay in the field?
Thus, the authors left hanging the question -- what duty do those serving at the top of their profession owe to it? Most of them have received their professional organization's highest honor for their professional leadership. What do they owe back to a profession that has become more and more viewed as a vestige of another time? The evidence suggests that this not a matter that they think about very much if at all.

One can only hope that the professional leaders who have raised the question have also lit a spark. Yes, we can only hope.



Dan Brown said...

There are only a handful of organizations/funders who are *serious* about building the field, providing in-service training, resources - including supporting professional organizations (such as JPRO to name just 1) and ongoing unfiltered conversation platforms. The rest pay lip service while proclaiming they do so many great things.

Anonymous said...

The problem now is that the professionals who have moved in- whether from inside or outside the box - enjoy life with themselves at the top and have no desire to invest time and effort in meaningful lay-professional relationships.
For them, lay leaders are a nuisance and the only objective related to them is that they be kept happy and don't rock the boat.
But at the end of the day, we are the ones responsible for the sorry state of things. As lay leaders, it is supposed to be our job to set policy and hire professionals to implement it. We are supposed to be in charge and it is not OK when we allow ourselves to be managed and manipulated this way, especially when the results are so far from where they should be.

Anonymous said...

As lay leaders we should be encouraging professionals with decent salaries and respect. In too many communities, mine included (West Coast), we treat our Jewish communal professionals like serfs and lackeys.

Anonymous said...

But let's be fair here, Richard. If the CEO of JFNA were not on the advisory board you'd complain about that too, right?

RWEX said...

Yes, "let's be fair here" -- you have no basis for your conclusion which appears to be grounded in nothing more than stupidity.

But...thanks for writing; next time, try reading first.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you really know how to make friends and influence people, Richard. Is this how you'd change the system? Good values.

Bob Hyfler said...

I would love to see some longitudinal data on lay versus professional solicitation. In some communities we are not talking about a professional coup but rather lay abdication.

Anonymous said...

Professional Coup vs. Lay Abdication

Bob Hyfler is correct. There has not been a professional coup, there has been a lay abdication.

This assumes that abdication includes being chased away with a virtual shotgun.

Once upon a time, there was an agreement. The professional got the paycheck and the lay person got the kavod. Rarely was a professional willing to switch those roles. But then the professional learned that he could attract the major donors' progeny who had no experience or aspirations. He could figure out how to get both.

This new chairperson did not know any better, when the CEO stood in front of the camera, instead of behind his chair. Fill the details in - in any variation you want, and you will see the emergence of the professional as front man. Slowly but surely, this just makes it less attractive for top lay people. The professional is keeping all the naches (and power) for himself. It becomes harder to attract movers and shakers. The professionals name appears in all press. Instead of writing quotes for his lay leader - he allows his ego to outpace his imagination.

Add to that cocktail - lay people who come to budget meetings etc, are told not to ask questions. If you ask too many questions, you are just not invited back. The professional whispers into the ear of the chair some innuendo to keep the troublemaker off the list of invitees.

The professional has now fully taken charge. He/she has opted out of community building in exchange for his/her control. The cocktail is now creeping poison. If he/she went to a school of Jewish Communal Service, that was the moment he should have returned his diploma.

Fast forward, the best leaders and solicitors find somewhere else to play or give up playing.

Add to that the final straw which is of course the loss of a collective. Collective being defined as a broad consensus agenda. Fragmentation ensues. You are no longer about the big stuff. The big dreams, the big mission, the big vision. You are now only about yourself.

You manipulate designated giving, foundation grants, abandoned undesignated endowments and real estate to prop up what appears to be greatness. You convince your lay leaders that you deserve a salary greater than what they may be earning. You have a national reputation and may be known all over the world.

Nobody knows the name of your lay leader. Once upon a time professionals helped grow great lay leaders. Today that is nothing but an Aesop's Fable. Professionals don't want great lay leaders - they just get in the way.

As you get ready for retirement, you cannot admit that it was you and not the lay leaders who fell down on the job. So you blame the lay leadership for your failures and your lack of discipline. But you now have several million socked away. So who was the dumb one after all?

You took away everything. You are leaving us in disarray.

I hope you can pay their pledges too.

paul jeser said...

Anon 9:29 - Very interesting and sad observation.

The question I would ask... Are any of the pros you describe products of either the Hornstein z'l or Bubis z'l Schools of Jewish Communal Service z'l?

Without any real data, my guess is the answer would be no. As a product of both I can't believe any others who graduated either program would fit that description.

So - if I'm right, then your profile is of Pros who did not have the training and experience we had. Then, the next question is, why did the lay leadership hire them?