During my years in St. Louis working for that Jewish Federation, I taught a seminar at the Washington University George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the Olin School of Business on nonprofit management. Most of the MBA students had little knowledge of the nonprofit world. They were challenged to intellectually understand that nonprofit work, with little-to-no “cost of goods,” was actually product driven.
We don’t count our work on the number of widgets we produce each year or our ability to make those widgets for a lower cost. We do count our work on the number of lives we impact: the teens who go to Israel and have an enriched Jewish experience; the graduates of our Jewish Day School or synagogue confirmation classes; the adults who learn Hebrew; the families being assisted at the JFS food pantry; the elderly in Eastern Europe who are assisted with meals and social programs at the local Chesed Centers; the college students exploring their own Jewish identity; the efforts to combat the BDS movement; the young children who read Jewish-themed books from PJ Library with their parents and siblings; and the JCC day campers, or those who go to Jewish resident camps, who celebrate Jewish programming and learning without even realizing it.
But key to the products we produce are those who do the work. As I write, we are in the middle of our annual Allocations process, so I am quite familiar with lots of budgets. All of our beneficiaries have occupancy expenses, IT costs and office consumables. But the majority of every budget, averaging 60 to 80 percent, is personnel. And this is across the board in the Jewish community. We do what we do because of the staff engaged by our Federation, our agencies, our synagogues and our programs. We do what we do because of the quality staff engaged to enhance Jewish life in our community.
At the risk of minimizing the role of volunteers and board members – which I definitely do not intend – a tremendous amount of credit is due to the wonderful professionals employed by our Jewish communal agencies: rabbis; cantors; supplementary school teachers; synagogue administrators; program directors; Jewish family life educators; office and administrative staff; day care staff; counselors and therapists; case managers; day school teachers; principals, heads of school, and executive directors; bookkeepers and CFOs, cafeteria staff; facility maintenance staff; health and fitness professionals; fundraisers; programmers; and caring and patient professionals who work with our emotionally challenged children, our skeptical teens, our precious preschoolers and our fragile elderly.
Jewish communal professionals chose this profession for a myriad of reasons: passion, drive, a calling, a job, a career. Most – I for one – stay in this profession for one reason: to make a difference. Jewish and non-Jewish staff, alike, speak with pride about working for organizations which make a difference and have an impact.
Our wonderful staff seek to improve the quality of Jewish life, strengthen our communities and impact change, working long hours in a challenging profession with rules that constantly change in communities and organizations that sometimes do and sometimes don’t. We work days and evenings, weekdays and weekends, targeting our efforts to strengthen Jewish life. We work for a constituency that demands nothing short of excellence.
I have not worked outside of the Jewish community since I was a team leader at Baskin Robbins during my high school 10th grade year. I transitioned to an after-school job at the Nashville Jewish Community Center and have never looked back. And I have had no regrets. I am immensely proud of my profession, a feeling reinforced daily as I observe and interact with Jewish communal professionals throughout the Lehigh Valley. The employees of our agencies are immensely competent and caring.
As this school, program and campaign year is drawing to a close, take a moment to marvel in the awesome work of Lehigh Valley Jewish communal professionals who help make our community so special. Let them know you respect their commitment and value their efforts.
The Talmud (Baba Batra 9a) teaches us that one who causes others to do is greater than one who does. For it is said, the work of righteousness shall be peace and the effect of righteousness shall be calm and confidence forever.
This idea is fairly straightforward: There are people who do good, and there are people who cause others to do good. The former are praiseworthy, but the latter are exemplary.