Who should be filling professional leadership positions in the Jewish communal space?
Jaime Bean answers that question with two others: If not me, who? And if not now, when?
“Jewish young adults often want to see change in our community, and the best way to effect change is from inside the community itself. Change-makers are individuals who possess the insider knowledge to make it happen,” says Bean, the Israel and Overseas Associate at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
She adds, “If the younger generation doesn’t start pursuing Jewish world careers in greater numbers, in the long run the Jewish community will experience not only a severe age gap in leadership, but a shortage of leaders in general.”
But Masa Israel Journey — which counts Bean among the over 150,000 alums of its long-term experiences in Israel for Jewish adults ages 18-30 — believes it has found the missing piece in the Jewish professional leadership puzzle. A survey released by Rosov Consulting last year revealed that more than two-thirds (69 percent) of Masa alumni who see themselves as “Jewish leaders” also view themselves as “leaders” in the workplace.
At the same time, female leaders like Bean remain rarer commodities than male leaders in the Jewish space. According to the same Rosov study of Masa alumni, 53 percent of men and only 42 percent of women consider themselves a “Jewish leader.”
Bean — a graduate of the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF) program as well as the Jewish Communal Leadership Program within the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work —spoke to Masa CEO Liran Avisar Ben-Horin about how she became the Jewish leader she is today.
Liran Avisar Ben-Horin: Let’s go back in time: You’ve earned your college degree. What’s next?
Jaime Bean: I wasn’t sure! But I was fortunate to find the University of Michigan’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program, which provides a great combination of experiences inside and outside the classroom. As a philanthropic advancement intern with Detroit’s Jewish Federation, I gained practical experience like helping coordinate the Federation’s Super Sunday phone-a-thon fundraiser. I was learning so much at the internship that I decided to keep working with the Federation during my last semester in grad school.
Ben-Horin: If you already had all that experience, why enroll in a Masa program?
Bean: Before I officially started my career, I knew I needed to spend a more significant amount of time in Israel. My mentor at the Federation also recommended Masa as a worthwhile, growth-promoting experience both personally and professionally. The timing was perfect, as the Federation was running a pilot program for English-language teaching that year through its Central Galilee – Michigan partnership.
Ben-Horin: What was the most powerful portion of your Masa experience?
Bean: Definitely the Poland Program and Central Europe leadership development seminar within the Masa Leadership Center which I joined while part of MITF. I met some of my best friends during that program and connected with other like-minded Jews from around the world.
The Masa Leadership Center’s track isn’t just for people who want to work in the Jewish philanthropy field. I met people with all kinds of different passions, and that experience solidified my own passion for working in the Jewish space.
One particularly valuable takeaway was an exercise we did during the Masa Leadership Center’s Summit. We worked together in small groups to solve a problem and then received feedback and critiques on our process. It’s a mindset that applies directly to my current work at the Federation, where we’re very team-oriented and make sure to hear each other’s perspectives.
Ben-Horin: How did you decide to return to the Federation?
Bean: While I was in Poland, I received a call that the Federation’s Birthright coordinator was leaving, and I happily returned back to the U.S. after living in Israel to take that job. I worked on different young adult programming for about a year, and then six months ago I moved to the Israel and Overseas Department to work on its scholarships program. It has been so rewarding to provide other young adults in the Detroit area the opportunity of fulfilling their dreams of living, studying, and working in Israel. I also work with our Israeli Camper Program, in which 90 Israeli students in 7th and 8th grade come to Detroit from our partnership region in Israel for summer camp.
Ben-Horin: Women make up 70 percent of the employees at Jewish nonprofits, but only 30 percent of those organizations’ CEOs. Do you envision any progress in that gender gap?
Bean: It’s true that even though this line of work is very female-heavy, the CEOs don’t reflect that. But things are changing gradually. We are in fact seeing more and more women getting to the CEO level — like yourself, or like Amira Aharonovich, the first woman CEO of The Jewish Agency. It’s incredible to see that Jewish groups are increasingly empowering women to reach these leadership roles. I think it’s at least partially the result of the mentorship that experienced female leaders in the Jewish world are providing to the younger generation. I know that I benefited from that kind of mentorship, and I hope to pay it forward one day.