Why I Wrote Bless Our Workforce

I feel blessed to be a Jewish community professional. I wasn’t always planning to be one, and for a long-time, I didn’t realize how wonderful this profession is.  

When I was 18, a recruiter from the Mandel Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Cleveland, Ohio paid a visit to the JCC’s summer camp, Camp Wise, where I was the head song leader. The recruiter pitched us working full-time for the JCC after college. I was a prime candidate. I loved working and put my heart and soul into working at camp, it never felt like a chore. Yet, I wasn’t inspired, why not?

At the time, I thought working for the Jewish community, at camp or otherwise, didn’t seem to me like a real job. I also thought I couldn’t raise a family or make a decent living this way. In addition, I foolishly thought that I wouldn’t be respected by my peers.

But I was wrong! Two decades later I am a proud Jewish community professional, and working in fact for the JCC Movement as I finalize this book. I remain and am committed to this profession because I have been blessed to work for great people, assigned interesting projects, on the whole have been well-compensated, and have caught a few lucky breaks. But my journey has also been convoluted and, at times, challenging. My work environments haven’t always felt supportive and rewarding, and the ability to elevate to new roles hasn’t been as clear as I think it could have been. I began to wonder, could the journey to feeling like a blessed Jewish community professional be easier? What have been the experiences of my peers? what was their journey and what continues to motivate them?

I began this project in response to these curiosities, well before COVID-19 massively began to disrupt our society. Beginning in fall of 2017, I interviewed 13 colleagues in an effort to complement the growing quantitative studies on the Jewish community professional workplace in recent years. I wondered if narrating a portrait of each of these colleagues might reveal a “big idea,” to how we can better motivate and show value to our staff. This would then help inform how we — leaders, managers, and participants in Jewish organizational life — can best inspire, invest, and retain our talent. I completed the book manuscript in summer of 2019, with aspiration to publish in early 2020.

Then COVID-19 changed our world and set my timeline back a few months, yet allowed me to make a few adjustments in light of our new reality. As I publish Bless Our Workforce 3 years later, we find ourselves at a time of immense challenge. We are now dealing with the crisis of a lifetime and still at a time when Jewish life has been mobilizing for several years to ensure strong community leadership for the future. While we are forced to make difficult staffing decisions to keep our organizations afloat, now is also the time to ensure we have sufficient high-quality talent in our workforce for today and the future. We must inspire young people both to become Jewish community professionals and our current talent to stay, so they thrive in our field for years, if not decades. A compelling set of strategies can help us achieve those goals. What might these strategies be though, and how do we go about uncovering them?

Though each interview I did indeed uncover a big idea. I call each a blessing. My initial curiosity morphed into a core purpose and goal of this book: for us to change how we manage our Jewish community professionals so each feels honored, valued, and blessed.

Many of these blessings may already be widely used, while some less so. Each is supported with a brief narrative portrait of the professional I interviewed. I also support each idea both with research and practice from the secular world of management and leadership and with the wisdom of our Jewish tradition.  Each aims to uncover a deeper understanding of our professional’s intrinsic motivations, desired career path, motivation to remain in the workforce, and reasons they might consider leaving; finally, I explore how we can apply each idea to inspire and retain our talent.

I feel blessed that you are reading this book. I hope Bless Our Workforce helps us to inspire more talent to join the work of strengthening Jewish life, including those young camp counselors to join up early, grow their potential, maximize their impact, and help them feel joy in their work. I also hope this book will help Jewish community professionals at all levels to lead and innovate, take control of their own destiny, and advocate for themselves and their colleagues.

If you are a Jewish institutional leader, either lay or professional, because of your title, your actions, or whom you influence, I hope this book helps you lead our critically important institutions towards long-term success.  

If you are a manager of staff, I hope this book provides you with a concrete and applicable guide to inspiring, valuing and blessing your staff.

If you are a Jewish community professional at any point in your career journey, I hope this book gives insight to your own journey, what motivates and excites you, and how you would like to be valued.

To all readers, I hope this book motivates you to have the kavanah, intentionality, to act by deeply getting to know the journeys and motivations of those you work with, who work for you, and for whom you work for.  Let us ensure our entire workforce feels blessed. We’ve got some important work to do. Let’s get started.