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Changing the World – and Getting Paid for it

January 19, 2012 – 4:52 pm5 Comments

Although they left flailing academic careers to start a small business, it doesn't get more alternative or more in the spirit of tikkun olam than ghost busting

By Keren Tuch

A new year, a new set of first round university offers, and hard decisions to make.  Which university course to do – law, commerce or medicine? Embarking on an alternative career is almost seen as sacrilegious.  Yet people do, and for good reason.

The not-for-profit sector accounts for 9.6% of Australia’s economy, and although Jews do not account for an overwhelming majority of this sector, it is not surprising to find a sprinkling of Jews that work across the field.

Ilana Jaffe, 30, is one such person who decided to choose a career which she was passionate about – tackling homelessness in Melbourne.  Ms. Jaffe is the Health and Human Services Unit Manager at Youth Projects, The Living Room Primary Health Service . Her role is to oversee the drop-in and primary health unit for homeless people with complex healthcare needs.

Ms Jaffe explains that she was motivated to work in this field due to a growing sense of social injustice at how society was structured and fragmented. Growing up in the Jewish Community she could see how fortunate she was to be part of such a vibrant community. When it was time to choose a career path, the  array of choices was overwhelming, but she realised that advocating for social change was important and thus  chose to work in the community sector.

Ms Jaffe loves that her job is closely aligned with her value system and she can practice with integrity.  It may mean she receives less pay than peers of the same age and responsibilities, but she is happy to work in an area she is passionate about, as  personal job satisfaction outweighs the bank account.

Simon Lipschitz, 27, is a rare breed being a Jewish male community worker.  Mr. Lipschitz works in the community sector for a youth and family service team in the Western suburbs of Melbourne.  His motivation? “Knowing that I am making society a better place.”   After studying an undergraduate degree in psychology, he realised his passion was youth and helping those less fortunate.

Mr. Lipschitz grew up in the small Jewish Community of Adelaide where he became a member of the youth group Habonim Dror.  A lot of habonim activities were focused on social justice themes, which partly influenced Lipschitz’s values.  He was also taught the necessary leadership skills at Habonim to work with youth in his work environment.  His friends are all in the corporate sector, but that doesn’t bother him.  His friends can’t relate to the work that he does, but they react favorably to his career choice.

Jordi Kraus, 23, is also working in the community sector for the homeless.  Kraus is excited to work in this industry as there are current governmental reforms to help create a paradigm shift from ’servicing’ homelessness to actually breaking the cycle of homelessness. It was a natural progression after a meaningful volunteer experience with Sudanese refugees at Jewish Aid Australia, and an internship at Global Poverty Project.  Although she is at the beginning of her career, she plans to continue to work in this sector and hopes to move into international development down the track.

However, Ms. Kraus also acknowledges a societal change in how people can contribute. “We are undergoing a huge shift in terms of cross-sector collaboration to achieve social innovation and social justice. Social justice is no longer the domain of an isolated ‘charity’ sector.”

Jewish welfare workers are there for the job satisfaction of tangibly making the world a better place.  They face difficulties ranging from lack of resources to a mountain of bureaucracy, but find their careers worthwhile and rewarding.

These people are not your mainstream Jewish accountants, doctors or lawyers, but they are also highly skilled and passionate about what they do.  And arguably living a real Jewish life through their job.

If anyone is interested in volunteering at the Living Room Primary Health Service www.youthprojects.org.au, please contact Ms. Jaffe via email:

Ilanaj AT youthprojects.org.au

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  • Larry Stillman says:

    A great article. There are heaps of ‘oldies’ too, whose life is dedicated to working with NGOs and communities for social justice.It is one of the best & fulfilling choices you can make

  • naava says:

    For those seeking,
    http://www.ethicaljobs.com.au/ is a good portal for community or not-for-profit roles.

    Young people making career decisions might benefit from finding mentors like some of the hardworking and amazing people mentioned in your article.

    At my workplace (a for-profit organisation supporting execs through their transition into new roles) I see many corporates make the change to not-for-profit without anticipating a whole set of new challenges unique to those environments. ie lots of dedicated people driven by strong values can sometimes make for more political environments than others. A mentor outside your org can be great for talking through all that stuff as you learn the ropes.

    Great piece Keren!

  • Dov says:

    It is great that this concept is being aired by you Keren. 1st generation immigrants want security, and hence take on more secure occupations such as law and medicine. 2nd + generation immigrants can afford the luxury of being more inventive, and the not-for-profit sector is one of these.

    I have combined the beauty of both worlds, having trained in Medicine, and then helped set up a not-for-profit organization to assist the research that may change the world. It’s marvellous who puts their hands up to assist, and I don’t mean just with the finances. A very rewarding experience to pursue the goal of trying to get 145,000 young Australians with type 1 diabetes off insulin.

    Perhaps there are others out there who have their own story to tell, that will encourage those planning careers to think outside the square.

  • Grandma C says:

    Kol Ha’vod to the young people who are working in this field; not only would it be of lower pay, but I’m sure there is always extra work done for nothing by the same people. It goes with the territory.
    And although it might seem like only a “sprinkling’ of Jewish people are working in the not-for-profit sector, in proportion to our population numbers it is probably not unreasonable. At the other end of the scale you have a disproportionate number of wealthy, or even moderately well off Jewish people who do not work in the field, (they couldn’t be wealthy if they did…) but give in the form of philanthropic donations, foundations etc.

    I hope this piece will help some more Jewish youngsters find a rewarding and satisfying niche for themselves.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Can I indicate that to young people who are currently at Monash, or considering studying at Monash (as well as staff at Monash), that there is a wonderful opportunity to get matched to an NGO though the Monash Volunteer Gateway.

    See https://volunteergateway.monash.edu.au/. This is also a means for voluntary organisations to advertise positions.

    Linked to this is the Monash Passport http://monash.edu/study/options/more/

    As an example of one of the more outstanding volunteering opportunites which Monash offers, you could spend time in a (funded) overseas placement with Oxfam Australia. See http://www.odvce.monash.edu.au/oxfam/student.html. However, applications are closed for this year, but think about 2013. There are also opportunties through the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law.

    I should make it clear that I work with Oxfam Australia-Monash Partnership, but I am not involved with the student aspects of the project (and this is information offered in a personal, not official capacity).

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