My first job out of college was working for Hadassah, and I worked there for six years. But if I were still working at Hadassah, odds are, as of today, I'd no longer be working at Hadassah.
The organization laid off a quarter of their staff, but as I spoke to a friend of mine who still works there, she reeled off a list of names of veteran employees who now find themselves without a job (but with a decent severance at least for longtime employees) - and it seemed like more than a quarter to me, if only for the reason that these employees were deeply interwoven into the last decade of Hadassah's work.
And now, as the speculation begins over whether Hadassah will actually have to return tens of millions of dollars, they're without many of the staff members who have served as a constant over the last ten years. And they're going to have to figure out where to get the annual $91 million that they send to Hadassah health initiatives in Israel, much of which goes to pay doctors' salaries at the hospitals. So the ripple effect of the one-two economy-Madoff punch continues...
Over at CAJE, which runs an annual conference for Jewish educators that I've attended the last two years, they've announced the cancellation of their upcoming conference and the folding of the organization, as well as expressing their hope that their initiatives might be subsumed into another organization. (This is very brave and realistic of CAJE, even as the moment is a sad one.)
This may be part of an upcoming trend, as Jewish organizations existing in the "alphabet soup" of non profit life are forced to assess their strengths and weaknesses and identify community partners who can complement them and solve some of their financial problems without having the programming be completely lost.
Might this be a good thing for the Jewish world? Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish at Brandeis University and the author of "American Judaism," is quoted in the JTA saying that maybe merging isn't such a bad thing.
“Hard times will promote consolidation," Sarna said. "Initially there will be great sorrow at the loss of this organization or that organization, but if we do it right, we will find that we are leaner and meaner.
"We will see significant efficiencies produced by this kind of downsizing. Though no one is unsympathetic to the people losing their jobs who have also done important work, when looked at from the Jewish community as a whole, there is a sense that we expanded a bit too rapidly and far too many organizations came into existence."
The employee loss at these organizations will be considerable. But Sarna's got a point (which is echoed by various other fund and organization directors in the JTA article on the topic) - sometimes, tough times force a reassessment: when times get tough and the period of plenty is over, what's really important to the life of a community? And how can previously-competing organizations align on mission to serve that community without ego?