The Jewish Workplace

November 1, 2012
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My daughter has worked at a Jewish day school for the past six years. When she became pregnant last year, she was told that the school didn’t cover maternity leave, but she could purchase disability insurance that would cover about 60 percent of her salary for the time she was off work. Since when is having a baby a “disability”? While women have advanced in many professional sectors, where are we as a society — and as a Jewish community — if being pregnant and giving birth are considered disabilities? It was this that sent me on an exploration of what types of parental leave policies our Jewish workplaces offer. While I was at it, I looked into other benefits, and also into the culture and environment of the Jewish communal sector. I began talking, primarily, with young entrepreneurs who shared their stories about working within the community. What we offer in the following pages is not a map of the Jewish nonprofit sector in general — we do not include the workplace narratives of employees of synagogues, federations, Jewish community centers or day schools. Rather, this issue of Sh’ma focuses on the margins of the community, where men and women are clamoring to become Jewish professionals — a sector that is fast becoming the place to experiment with new ideas, but that is sometimes lacking the seasoned wisdom that comes with

sustained effort. The Jewish communal sector, which began as a clannish consortium that sometimes felt more like a bad family dinner, later moved toward professionalization with a rush of Jewish communal service programs and degrees. Today, the Jewish communal sector is poised for its next leap forward. As it prepares to make that leap, we wanted to explore how the Jewish community treats some of its employees with the least leverage and support: Are the values we espouse in our mission statements aligned with our human resource policies? Are we fostering a work environment that spurs open conversation and growth? Is it one that inspires our best and most creative talent? Do leadership models lead to burnout and women stepping off the professional ladder? I hope this month’s issue unsettles you, and I hope it suggests opportunities for change.

—Susan Berrin, Editor-in-Chief

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