Hired today, gone tomorrow

Note to Jewish organizations: Half the people you hire in the near future will leave within their first five years.

Surprising? Not to those who have seen it happen in those organizations. Or to Gary Tobin, president of the S.F.-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research.

In fact, he said, “I would be shocked if anyone was shocked by these findings.”

The dismal data about the difficulty of retaining qualified people in the Jewish community are part of the institute’s latest study, “The Development of Professional Leadership in the Jewish Community,” which Tobin completed with the help of Stephen Mark Dobbs and Zev Hymowitz.

One example emblematic of the Jewish communal world at large: There is still no woman running any of the country’s larger federations, a problem, Tobin said, that been discussed for 10 to 15 years with no change.

The fact that so many young, eager, Jewish professionals begin working in the Jewish community and then leave it so soon is another.

“It’s not hard to attract young people, but it’s hard to keep them,” said Tobin. Although executive salaries in the Jewish community may be high, entry-level salaries are extremely low.

“You’ve managed to recruit people despite the low pay at entry level, but their dedication often gives way to bitterness and unhappiness,” said Tobin.

Tobin pointed to two main causes for the dissatisfaction among Jewish communal workers. The first is that the relationship between employees and lay leaders is often not well defined.

Very often, the layperson believes the professional is working for him, while the professional might not appreciate advice that she perceives as meddling.

Secondly, he said, those new to the organization are often not mentored properly.

“If you’re a young person who comes in and you’ve got some mid-level management person stuck there for 20 years, they’re not very good role models,” said Tobin. “They provide negative mentoring instead of positive mentoring.”

By interviewing well-placed informants in a variety of Jewish organizations around the country, the researchers heard the same things.

After 50 or 60 interviews, it became clear that the scenes kept repeating themselves over and over again,” said Tobin.

Calling Jewish organizations the “glue” of Jewish life, Tobin warned that the Jewish community could really suffer if it did not take steps to change things.

“Organizations are one of the key ways that Jewish communities hold together and so the stakes are high,” he warned.

The authors offer suggestions in addition to their findings. Among them: that the lay people/professional relationship be more strictly defined; that the Jewish community develop mentoring programs; and that the issue of women in the field be addressed head on.

“I don’t know how you’re going to do professional development if you prevent women from moving up the ladder,” he said.

Jewish foundations are beginning to invest in professional development, but it’s only a drop in the bucket, Tobin warned.

“Do we in the Bay Area have a community-wide professional leadership program?” he asked. “What are we doing in the Bay Area to produce good professionals, hold on to them and train them? We’ve got some programs, but professional development is not a big priority and it needs to be.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."