A person in chair by the lake, reading.

‘Summer Slowdown’: Jewish communal professionals need a break

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What a long, strange year it’s been. Facing the hardships and disruption — unprecedented in our lifetimes — that Covid-19 has wrought upon the Bay Area and the world, our local Jewish community has risen to the challenge.

Jewish professionals, lay leaders and community members have put in significant time and effort supporting each other, their neighbors and their communities through sickness, loss, crushing financial hardship and overwhelming isolation. They are living, walking examples of the core Jewish values of kehillah, chesed and tikkun olam — and we are forever grateful for how much of themselves they have given so that others can make it through such hard times.

However, this has come at a high cost.

When we surveyed Bay Area Jewish organizations this spring on how the pandemic has affected them, one of our most significant findings was the degree to which Jewish professionals are exhausted and burned out. Single-handedly they have been balancing work and family demands along with their communal obligations — for well over a year now. Never have they been so connected yet felt so alone. Never have their daily lives been so hectic and stressful, even as the world around them ground to a halt. Never have they been more in need of a break, yet unable to take one.

As is often the case, we gained inspiration from one of our community’s leaders about addressing this challenge. When Rabbi Jessica Oleon Kirschner, the executive director of Hillel at Stanford, spoke recently to the Federation’s board about the challenges facing her team, she shared a vision: Could the Jewish communal system take a breather, in recognition of the need to finally turn inward and take care of themselves after giving so much to care for their community?

Her vision made us think about what we could do for our employees and lay leaders who, for more than a year, have put so much into helping those who have needed it.

They care so much about this work that many have not taken time off in fear of falling behind or of not being responsive enough to our community.

We know it’s important to take a break, but now more than ever, it’s essential. The work that we do is holy and transformative. But it’s also a marathon, not a sprint, and we all need to rest so that we can stay in the race for the long term.

Therefore, at the Federation, we are instituting a period we’re calling “Summer Slowdown.” In a period that started on June 14 and will last until Aug. 13, work will continue but at a reduced pace.

We warmly invite you to join us in saying ‘no’ in the short-term so we can say ‘yes’ to an easier future.

Rest assured that our routine operations will continue during this time — we are still here for you.

But we are adjusting our workflows, delaying some projects until the fall. We are also only scheduling meetings on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and our work hours will end at 3 p.m. on Fridays during this period.

This will help create the time and space for our Federation team to take vacations, go on sabbatical, schedule long weekends or otherwise use their accrued time off to recharge however they wish. It also gives them time for much-needed focused thinking and planning.

We are doing this because it is our turn to help the helpers. We care about their well-being, and want to thank them for keeping our community afloat during a period of unfathomable trauma.

It’s time for us to practice chesed (lovingkindness) for our colleagues like they have for our community. And we are helping by providing the physical, emotional and spiritual space for them to rest.

Let us remember that rest is a deeply held Jewish value, built into the fabric of our calendar. We rest weekly on Shabbat, and we take breaks on seasonal holidays throughout the year. The ancient practice of shmita — letting the land (and society as a whole) rest every seven years — is also being revived today in creative ways.

All of this goes right back to the Torah, beginning with the first Shabbat on the seventh day of creation, and continuing with repeated reminders to take a break, celebrate and focus on gratitude.

Rest is as Jewish as it gets.

Rabbi Arthur Green even says that Shabbat “may be the best gift we have to offer the world.”

We all have this new opportunity to change the rules by which we typically work, to design a deliberate rest period modeled on one of our most sacred spiritual foundations.

We warmly invite you to join us in saying “no” in the short-term so we can say “yes” to an easier future.

We’ve outlined the schedule we designed; what works best for your teams, and those whom you serve?

After enduring the storm that’s been the past 16 months, we all deserve to do good for ourselves.

And the best thing we can do for us (and those around us) is to practice chesed for ourselves.

Let’s rest, however much we can, if and when we can. Recharge. Let’s find renewed energy and drive. And we’ll see each other in the fall, ready to continue this holy work together.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Danny Grossman
Danny Grossman

Danny Grossman is the former CEO of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. He is currently writing a memoir of his time as a U.S. diplomat/human rights officer stationed in Leningrad during the Cold War.

Arthur Slepian
Arthur Slepian

Arthur Slepian is the immediate past board chair of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and the founder of A Wider Bridge.