Point One:

The data on Jewish communal professionals are even more discouraging. Talented young Jews, even those with excellent Jewish educations and sensibilities, are opting for careers in the private sector. Those who have served Jewish organizations are burning out prematurely and opting to leave the field altogether. The resulting brain drain means that many of the best and the brightest in the Jewish world are either not looking seriously at entering the field, or are exiting before ever having the chance to make their mark.

This comes from a piece by Hal Lewis, President and Chief Executive Officer of Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.  (For the rest of the article, which is an adapted version of a commencement address he delivered to the inaugural Canadian cohort of Spertus’ acclaimed Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies, click here.)

Point Two:

A 2008 paper by Dan Ariely et al. reports on an interesting experiment about work and wages.  Ariely and his partners gave two groups of Harvard undergrads a similar task: assemble a set of Lego Bionicle.  Participants were paid $2.00 for the first Bionicle set they assembled, then $1.89 (11¢ less) for the second one, etc etc etc. For the 20th set (as well as for any subsequent set), they would get $0.02.  But wait… there’s more!

The first group, working under the “Meaningful condition”, would build each Bionicle, then after completing it, would get a new box with new Bionicle pieces. As the session progressed, and the participant agreed to build more and more sets, completed Bionicle sets would accumulate on the desk.

The second group, working under the “Sisyphus condition”, would only work with two sets.  After the participant completed the first Bionicle and began working on the second, the experimenter would take apart the first Bionicle set and place it back into the box. After the second Bionicle, the participant would then rebuild the set she assembled previously. Etc etc etc.  As Ariely et al. wrote: “This was the only difference between the two conditions.”

Ariely et al. found that those in the “Meaningful condition” built an average of 10.6 Bionicles and received an average of $14.40, while those in the “Sisyphus condition” built an average of 7.2 Bionicles and earned an average of $11.52.  That’s a decrease of about 40% …

Ariely et al. concluded that “the subjects in the Sisyphus condition simply become disenchanted with their work and become insensitive to the tradeoff between time and money.”  Or, in other words, money ceases to be a factor in a participant’s decision to continue with the task when they regard the task as meaningful.  What determines when a participant quits is their sense of disenchantment with the work.

Point One + Point Two:

Jewish non-profit professionals, a set of deeply committed individuals with “excellent Jewish educations and sensibilities”, are leaving the Jewish communal world NOT because of money or material concerns per se but because they are increasingly DISENCHANTED with the conditions under which they are meant to work.

What are the ramifications of this data (and this tentative conclusion) on the future of the professional Jewish world?

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