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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?

Topics: Entrepreneurs
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My name is Arianna Jeret and I am the Director of PLPÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s Academic Fellowships. Thank you for introducing us on your blog, as I am thrilled to have the opportunity to respond with my own thoughts! You should know that PLPÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s own Executive Director is a woman, as am I, and we are dedicated to gender balance in our organization. In addition, we look creative new models of professional roles when needed, such as the development of my position, which was specifically designed so that I could be successful as a working mom on a part-time, from-home basis. We encourage work/life balance and open dialogue about gender issues across the board.

Contrary to the question about whether we are attempting to Ì¢‰âÒre-masculinateÌ¢‰âÂå Jewish organizations, the idea of expanding our program to MBA and MPA students was actually brought to me by a wonderful woman I was recruiting, who explained that she and her peers feel they would fair better in the Jewish communal market and would be more successful in their careers with the skills learned and gleaned in MBA an program. I am an MA/MSW myself, and each degree carries different benefits, but the Jewish community is struggling deeply with issues of financing, marketing and strategic planning, all of which need to be addressed by people with the expertise to do so. Many of the dual-degree programs themselves are rethinking the MSW connection, as very few people are applying to these joint programs at all. No organization or school can be all things to all people, and we do not discourage people who would want to attend one of these valuable programs. But we are proud to be broadening the lens of who we are making funding available to from our own resources.

It may seem like a large number of fellowships are currently available, but in total I would estimate that less than 30 people per year receive one of these scholarships, and very few of them offer full tuition. Why would we want to limit ourselves to only 30 or less wonderful new people per year in an international field?! I know I came out of my program $100,000 in debt making only $33,000 per year, and it was not easy to get by, no matter how deep my passion.

We hope Next Gen men and women alike will revitalize and reshape the Jewish world so that it will still exist for your generation and beyond! I do not feel that entrepreneurialism, management, and business are male characteristics, and I hope you are not unintentionally limiting women by saying that they are. MSWs did not free women to achieve Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ they in large part pigeonholed them and kept them at lower salaries and lower levels of respect. We hope to transcend the past and find the best and brightest to move forward into the future! I hope you will consider applying!

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Jewish “Talent” with a Capital “T”." 25 May 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 22, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/talent>.

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