The Professional Sphere

In contrast with the significant progress made by women volunteers in recent years, “the situation of women professionals in Jewish agencies is really deplorable,” declared Jacqueline Levine.

There were eleven female executive directors of Federations in the U.S. in 1984, all of them in small cities.

The first woman executive director of a Jewish family and child care agency in the entire U.S. was appointed in 1984—in Philadelphia.

There are some women professional directors of local UJA campaigns, and more women locally in middle-management positions but unable to move up.

Only one major national “coed” Jewish organization—the American Zionist Federation— has a female executive director, Karen Rubinstein.

There are no women directors of local Jewish Community Relations Councils in large cities.

A 1981 survey of over 2,000 professional staff in 273 agencies, conducted by the Conference of Jewish Communcal Service (CJCS) indicated that, although women constituted over half (58 percent) of the total staff, they made up only 8 percent of executive directors and assistant directors. The great majority of professional women (92 percent) were in the two lower job categories: 32 percent as supervisors and 60 percent as line staff.

These findings were corroborated by a 1982 survey of women professionals in New York Jewish agencies, conducted by the New York Federation’s Task Force on the Role of the Jewish Woman in a Changing Society. The study concluded that although “a large number of women have been promoted to supervisory and associate executive positions over the past three years . . . much greater percentages of women than men work in the lower two professional levels of employment.”

The survey also revealed that there was not one female executive director of Jewish family and children’s services, senior citizen agencies, education, health and rehabilitation, youth, vocational, fund-raising agencies—or of the Federation itself. The cover of the report revealingly listed “Mrs. Laurence A. Tisch” as Federation president.

Stephen Solender, Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Federation, told participants at a 1984 CJCS meeting that “we are not yet an equal opportunity employer. . . . Because of antiquated attitudes and time-worn prejudices, we . . . are severely underutilizing the abilities and skills that women can offer professionally in Jewish communal service.”

A major impediment to women is that fear that the influx of women professionals into Jewish communal service will lead to a devaluation of the field. This is similar to the fear—so far unsubstantiated—voiced in 1973 by sociologist Daniel Elazer. He argued that “the increase in opportunities for women is likely to further reduce the presence of men in synagogue activities . . . and could further enhance the image of Judaism as ‘women’s work,’ i.e., less important. . . . This image will be further enhanced even in light of the thrust toward greater acceptance of women as equals.”