Jewish “Talent” with a Capital “T”
The Professional Leaders Project (PLP) has created a new Academic Fellows program for highly selective Jewish “Talent” to pursue degrees in Business or Public Administration in conjunction with Jewish Studies. “Talent,” as defined by the PLP, is “an exceptional 20-30 something with a passion for professional or volunteer Jewish life.” The expectation is that fellowship recipients will enter executive-level Jewish communal professional leadership tracks immediately following graduation from the top business or entrepreneurial program of their choice.
The PLP homepage has an interesting “hook,” framing this new initiative as a response to a perceived problem. The top of the page reads: “THE CRISIS” explaining that if “the American Jewish community does not embrace, recruit, and nurture the next generation of talented leaders now... there will be a major talent and leadership crisis in the next decade.”
With so many organized fellowship opportunities in the Jewish community already in existence—among them the Wexner Fellowship, Bronfman Fellowship, Hillel Fellowship, Goldman Fellowship—it’s striking that PLP implicitly suggests that there is a dearth of “Talent”-honing possibilities in the Jewish community, which serves as the primary incentive for their new initiative.
So I wonder… is there a subtext behind “Talent Crisis?” Why, according to the PLP, is the notion of “Jewish communal leadership” synonymous with business, entrepreneurial, and non-profit management career paths? This seems to be reflective of a general shift in thinking about what constitutes leadership and success in the Jewish community, and I can’t help but wonder if the perceived “Talent Crisis” has a relationship to the perceived “Boy Crisis.” Is it sexier for men to get a degree in Business Administration rather than Social Work? Most likely, since the pay and prestige of the Social Work profession is not particularly impressive, and an MBA seems to be a more status-laden degree. To be fair, broadening the scope of Jewish career possibilities to equalize men and women’s leadership in all aspects of the Jewish world is a good thing. But does the fact that long-standing dual-degree programs in Jewish Studies and Social Work attract more women than men suggest that these programs have less value than, say, Business?
Is the PLP program an effort to re-masculinate Jewish leadership by appealing to what men want, or is it just attempting to expand possibilities for Jewish professional engagement for men and women alike? What is “Talent” anyway? And do programs that focus on business and entrepreneurship really capture the full breadth, scope, and creativity of the talent that’s out there?