I am a professional Jew. I mean a Jewish professional. Or both.
I have spent the past three and a half years working for Jewish communal organizations that do incredible work to help members of the community locally and overseas. And while this sort of work isn’t for everyone, it has been a natural fit for me.
People ask me – where did you go to school? What was your major? How did you end up working here? Well I can’t tell you that my college choice (Ohio University, less than 1% Jewish) or my majors (Political Science and French…essentially irrelevant) had much to do with it.
Honestly, my mother did what Jewish mothers do best – nagged me about getting an internship when I was in school – and the rest was history. One internship, a summer at the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland’s Community Planning department, led to another, and before I knew it, four years later I’m still here.
My positions have evolved – from doing research and assisting with fundraising projects as an intern at the Cleveland Federation, to managing volunteer programs as an associate with the Jewish United Fund, to finally managing volunteers and outreach at The ARK.
Now as you can imagine, people don’t choose a career working for a nonprofit to make the big bucks. Not at all – especially in this economy. But for every challenge that comes with any position at any company, ideally there should be reasons why you enjoy what you do. Here are a few of mine, in no particular order:
1) Working at a Jewish communal organization means that you are surrounded by likeminded, mission-driven people who share your passion for advocating for and serving Jews in need. When you’re having a long, crappy day and nothing seems to be going your way, you know that you’re not crunching numbers and working for The Man – you and your peers are working for the greater good of the community. Yes – it’s cheesy, but 99% of the time, knowing that what you do makes a difference really does make you feel better.
2) Jewish geography. We’ve all played it. Jewish communal professionals live it everyday. Just as in the business environment, networking is critical, in the Jewish workplace, connecting with people is like building a rolodex full of “-steins,” “-bergs” and “-mans” who believe in your mission and want to spread the word.
3) Everyone has been there on a Friday afternoon that is moving much too slowly – the minutes are barely ticking by as the weekend approaches. Not me – out at 2:00 p.m. on Fridays for Shabbat!
4) Being a twenty-something surrounded by Jewish mothers and grandmothers, it’s seriously comforting when you’re not feeling good to have a (dozen) surrogate mothers who want to feel your forehead, tell you where to find the best chicken soup and remind you to get a lot of rest. And when the holidays roll around, you have a (dozen) resources for tried and true recipes for everything from the lightest matzo balls to the perfect Passover kugel. For those who live hundreds of miles from home, this is a huge perk.
5) Speaking of food, there is a ton of it. Everywhere. Because we are a communal people, no holiday, birthday, day that ends in “Y” can go by without some yummy leftovers or sweet treat turning up to be shared in the kitchen. Great for the taste buds, bad for the waistline. You decide.
6) We have tons of days off to honor Avinu Malkeinu – our Father, our King, the Big Guy upstairs – whatever you want to call him. When Yom Kippur falls on a weekday, I don’t have to think twice about being able to get away from the office to go to services. The office is closed. For many Oy!sters, you are not worrying about this beyond the High Holidays in the fall, but for those who observe the plethora of holidays that us Jews celebrate, this perk just keeps on giving. Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot – Jewish communal professionals get all of these days off and more.
7) I know so many people who haven’t stepped inside a synagogue since the 7th grade when bar mitzvah season ended. Others find their only connection to Judaism in a trip to Mannys Deli. While I love a good corned beef sandwich and am not a huge fan of going to shul instead of sleeping in on a Saturday, I think it’s important as you find yourself in your 20’s and 30’s to allow Judaism to play some part – big or small – in your personal growth. For me, it’s work. For others, like Erin, it’s connecting with a local congregation. Maybe you want to volunteer or make a donation to a Jewish cause. You decide.