Labour court: Ethiopian rabbis suffered salary discrimination

Ethiopian rabbis and religious leaders suffered salary discrimination, an Israeli labor court ruled.

The rabbis and kesim – a traditional Jewish Ethiopian religious leader, will receive $13,000 in compensation from the Israeli government and some plaintiffs also will receive a pension that kicks in the day they retire, the Beersheba Regional Labor Court ruled Monday, according to reports.

The court found that both the government and the local religious councils were discriminatory against the 16 plaintiffs.

Last month, the government’s Religious Affairs Ministry said it would not extend the tenure of the Ethiopian community’s chief rabbi, Yosef Hadane, when he turned 67, the mandatory retirement age, next month. However, other rabbis have been granted automatic extensions once they reach retirement age.  The forced retirement reportedly was over the rabbi’s criticism of racial discrimination by the Chief Rabbinate against Israelis of Ethiopian descent, in particular his protest of their difficulties in registering for marriage in Petach Tikvah. Days later the decision was overturned by the ministry, which extended his tenure by six months, with the explanation that it would ensure uninterrupted service to the Ethiopian community.

Cemetery chief Herbert Klapper’s salary among highest in Jewish communal world

Herbert Klapper, the president of a New Jersey not-for-profit cemetery, has one of the top salaries in the Jewish communal world.

Klapper, of Cedar Park & Beth El Cemetery in Paramus, took home a base salary of $729,000 in 2009, according to tax documents, the paper reported.

The Forward’s 2011 survey of Jewish communal salaries—a survey that did not include Jewish cemeteries—found only two individuals earning more than Klapper: Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center received $739,000 in 2009, and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, received $853,000.

The paper found that only one other not-for-profit cemetery in the country with comparable revenues paid its top executive a higher salary in 2009. The cemetery, which is not Jewish, had assets 3 1/2 times larger than those of Cedar Park.

Lawrence Rose, Cedar Park’s general manager, defended Klapper’s salary.

“We have 300 acres of property and over 25,000 crypt spaces in modern beautiful buildings. There are no other facilities like ours on the East Coast,” he told the paper. “If you had visited other cemeteries, especially those in New York, you would have concluded that none offer the quality and dignity at burial, or offer mourners and visitors the opportunity to reflect in an environment like ours.”

Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?

What began in Israel in June as a Facebook-driven rebellion against the rising cost of cottage cheese, then morphed in July into tent encampments protesting soaring real estate costs, has since turned into a full-scale Israeli social movement against the high cost of living in the Jewish state.

From Tel Aviv’s tent-filled Rothschild Boulevard to marches in Beersheva, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated in one protest or another. The movement’s targets have expanded from housing and cheese prices to everything from the costs of child care and gas—not to mention salaries.

All this begs the question: Just how expensive is it to live in Israel?

A close examination of some key metrics show that compared to the United States and Europe, Israeli costs of living are a mixed bag. Salaries are lower, but so are health care costs. Consumer goods and services costs are nearly double those in the United States, and owning a car can run about six times as much relative to one’s salary.

So how do Israelis make it? Israeli retailers and banks offer easy credit on everything from big-ticket items like summer vacations to everyday purchases like groceries; all can be paid in monthly installments. The result is that many Israelis are perennially in debt and are increasingly frustrated by their inability to cover costs with their monthly paychecks.

Here’s a closer look at some of the costs of living in Israel.


The most expensive and desirable places to live in Israel are in the center of the country, where the vast majority of the population resides and works.

According to figures from the real estate company RE/MAX Israel, apartment prices in central Tel Aviv run $5,714 to $7,142 per square meter. In Jerusalem, the peripheral neighborhoods of East Talpiot and Kiryat Hayovel offer housing from $4,285 to $5,714 per square meter, while prices in the tonier neighborhoods of Baka, the German Colony and Rechavia range from $7,000 to $8,571 per square meter.

That means that in Baka or the German Colony, a typical two-bedroom apartment starts at $428,571, according to Alyssa Friedland, a broker for RE/MAX.  In the peripheral neighborhoods, some of which are built on territory captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, a two-bedroom apartment runs for about $343,000. According to RE/MAX figures, two-bedroom apartments in Beersheva, Haifa, Hadera and Afula cost between $143,000 and $286,000.

Mortgage rates are about 4.5 percent, according to Friedland, but the required down payment is usually about 40 percent.

“Young couples are getting the money from their parents because they don’t typically have savings like that,” she said.

As the economist Daniel Doron noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, “A small apartment can cost the average Israeli worker 12 years in annual salary.”


In Israel, the average salary is about $2,572 per month, and the average income for a tfamily with two wage earners is approximately $3,428 per month, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Teachers and nurses earn abound $1,666 a month, making Israeli teachers’ salaries among the lowest in the world, according to a recent report by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Business managers, computer engineers and lawyers have some of the highest median salaries in Israel. A lawyer with five years’ experience can make $5,500 to $6,500 per month, and top associates earn about $8,571 per month, according to Dudi Zalmanovitsh, who runs the Tel Aviv law consulting firm GlawBAL. Technology professionals are some of the highest paid in Israel, with technical writers and software engineers earning between $2,500 and $3,500 a month, and managers making upward of $10,000 a month.

Doctors, most of whom work at clinics and hospitals, earn $6,000 to $7,000 a month, unless they also have a private practice.


With a tax rate of 78 percent on new cars, a lack of competition in the import market and high auto insurance costs—not to mention the price of gas—owning a car can be one of the most expensive things for an Israeli.

A Honda Civic, which has a sticker price of approximately $16,000 in the United States, costs $33,000 in Israel. Gas costs more than $8 per gallon.

As most Israelis earn about one-third of their American counterparts, Israelis may spend more than six times as much of their monthly salaries on car ownership as the average American.

The alternative—public transportation—is cheap by comparison in Israel, though the network of mass transit is much less developed here than in America or Europe.

A small but growing number of Israelis commute by train, but most need to take a bus to complete their commute. Buses are subsidized and therefore relatively cheap. Within cities, bus fare costs about $1.51 per ride or $65 for a monthly pass.

Health care

Israel’s socialized health care system is considered among the world’s best, and taxes pay the lion’s share of costs. Based on figures from the National Insurance Institute, the health care costs deducted from the average paycheck are between 3 percent and 5.5 percent, estimates Dr. Michael Cohen, who runs an HMO in the coastal city of Netanya.

With a system of universal health care run by private corporations, all citizens are entitled to the same uniform package. Whether self-employed or employed by a company, every citizen pays a basic health insurance rate to one of the four HMOs, which are heavily regulated by the government and subsidized.

For Israelis who need to visit the doctor, require fertility treatment or visit the emergency room, the extra costs are minimal. Medications are cheaper in Israel than in the United States because they are subsidized by the HMOs.

Many Israelis choose to expand their coverage with private health insurance that offers more access to private care or more comprehensive coverage. Private insurance costs a fraction of what it costs in the States.

“The working poor are much better off here because if someone gets sick, they still get full hospital treatment for what would be very expensive in the U.S.,” Cohen said.


Israel is more like Europe than America on taxes. The top rate of income tax is 45 percent (it was 50 percent until 2003). The value added tax, or VAT, which amounts to a sales tax, is 16 percent. That’s considered regressive because rich and poor pay the same rate.

The average Israeli pays an income tax rate of 20.5 percent. The top 1 percent of salaried workers, who earn an average of $19,000 per month, pay a 40 percent income tax rate. The top 1 percent of the self-employed—the super-rich who gross an average of $121,000 per month—pay 26 percent in income tax.


Education is one area in which Israelis pay considerably less than Americans.

Tuition at Israel’s renowned public universities is about $2,714 per year, thanks in large part to government subsidies. At Israel’s lesser-known private colleges, tuition costs about $8,571 each year. Compared with other developed countries, Israel ranks eighth out of the OECD’s 26 countries for tuition rates.

Those paying tuition for Jewish day school in America would save a bundle in Israel. Public schools—whether secular, Modern Orthodox or haredi Orthodox—are free. However, parents must pay service fees for field trips and special events, are responsible for busing costs and must pay for books.

The growing number of semi-private schools that offer special pluralistic, democratic or religious curricula charge annual tuitions ranging from $800 to $1,600, and boarding schools charge $3,000 to $5,000 per year.

Because the traditional Israeli primary school day is short, often ending before 2 p.m., many parents shell out money for afternoon childcare programs or afterschool activities.

The most expensive part of child rearing may be day care for the under-3 set. Some day care centers cost $630 a month for private toddler day care. Once children turn 3, they can take advantage of the public school system and day care centers that charge as little as $257 a month for a six-day, six-hour program.


Israel’s social protest movement began with an investigative report by the Globes business daily on food prices. Globes found that prices for basic food products were two to three times higher in Israeli stores than in other Western countries.

An 8-ounce container of cottage cheese costs $1.68; a pound of hummus costs $4.54; 2 liters of orange juice—in a country that exports oranges—costs $6.54; 2 pounds of rice costs $1.94; and a 13-ounce container of Israeli Osem soup nuts costs $4.54—more than it costs in American stores that import the soup nuts from Israel. A 6-ounce can of Israeli-made sunscreen spray can cost approximately $40.

“Prices have gone above what the middle class and weaker classes can afford,” said Rami Levy, who owns 22 supermarkets nationwide. He attributed the rise to Israeli supermarket chains that collude to set prices.

“I started my business with the goal of selling to my customers at wholesale prices,” said Levy, who started with a stall in Jerusalem’s open-air Machane Yehudah market. “I wanted them to be able to buy what they needed and still have money left at the end of the month.”

Netanyahu posts pay slip on Facebook

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes about $12,300 a month before taxes, he informed the public on Facebook. 

Netanyahu posted a copy of his monthly pay slip Monday on the Prime Minister of Israel’s page on the social networking site.

The prime minister earns a gross salary of about $12,300 a month, but takes home just $4,200 after taxes and other deductions.

According to his pay slip, Netanyahu is paid for a 42-hour work week, which is defined as full-time.

In his position as prime minister, Netanyahu receives free housing, but money is deducted from his salary for his cell phone, transportation, four daily newspapers and health insurance.

“Following online requests, the Prime Minister has decided to provide total transparency concerning his monthly pay slip,” read the status posted with the image of the pay slip.

Netanyahu’s salary is less than half that of President Obama, who makes an annual salary of $400,000.

Why Jewish community executives make so much money

The Forward newspaper has done a service to the American Jewish community by publishing the salaries of major executives of American Jewish organizations. They are essentially Jewish communal civil servants, and, as do all civil servants, they sacrifice a measure of privacy — and what is more private in the United States than the amount of money one earns? — for two very important goals: transparency and accountability.

As first glance, these salaries may seem quite high for civil servants and higher than for comparable non-Jewish organizations. Many of the top-tier organizational heads earn significantly more than the president of the United States, whose job, even in the best of times, is far more arduous. And yet, they work for lay leaders who earn far more and who, quite frankly, do not understand how these men and women live on so little.

American Jewish life is funded to a great degree by generous philanthropists, very wealthy men and women who often see the value of things in the price that is paid for them. And if an executive does not command a high salary, seemingly he or she gets little respect. So let us say it candidly: Some are paid so well not because they deserve it, but because if they were not, the donors would not regard them as worthy of their time, their concern or even their support.

It has been my sad — and repeated — experience in Jewish life that when I undertake a pro bono project, I find my time abused and my advice disregarded, but when I charge substantially for my time, I find my advice is taken seriously and my time well respected. Would that it was otherwise, but it is not.

So, part of the reason employers pay American Jewish leaders as well as they do is because the employers don’t believe the leaders are well paid, and if they paid the leaders any less, would treat them as gofers — as the hired help.

Furthermore, high-ranking Jewish executives hang around with multimillionaires and, increasingly, with billionaires. They often believe themselves to be smarter and harder-working than the men and women who employ them, and gradually they get exposed to a lifestyle that includes first-class travel, more often than not in private planes; luxurious suites; expensive restaurants in fabulous locales; and they come to expect such treatment even when they are traveling on their own, when their employers — the nonprofit charities they represent — are not footing the bill. If you look at the corruption among top executives that has become public knowledge over the past several years, one senses that such corruption is the result of class envy on the part of paid employees for the lifestyle of the very rich.

I remember some two decades ago when I spoke at Purdue University, at a symposium with a prominent Jewish billionaire who was impressed with my talk and offered me a ride home on his plane.

“But I live in Washington,” I said.

“So come with me to New York, and I will have my plane then take you down to Washington.”

While on the plane, I met a high-ranking dedicated Jewish professional from a humble background who had come along for the ride, to get important face time with the philanthropist. He said to me: “You know, I could get used to this.” I responded, “I can’t, because I have chosen a career that will not allow me such luxuries, and I would not choose otherwise.”

I recently attended the board meeting of a charity. On the agenda was the forced, premature, retirement of a 67-year-old rabbi who had done a terrific job and was continuing to do a terrific job after 37 years with the organization. He was earning $120,000 a year and could be replaced by someone earning $75,000, thus saving the organization some $45,000 annually. Men and women who earned that much each week were willing to send him off to pasture for a fairly modest savings.

And, yet, we must ask some very important questions as we look at these salaries:

Are these professionals worth the money they are being paid? Do they really make that much of a difference?

Those of us in Los Angeles understand that the Simon Wiesenthal Center would not be what it is without the unique skills of Rabbi Marvin Hier. He created the center, he invented it. He could earn triple his salary and more in any public relations agency in the country. In fact, whatever his salary and those of his family who are also employed at the Wiesenthal, he is paid less than he is worth to the organization. Will the same be true of his successor some day?

What would the Anti-Defamation League be without Abraham Foxman, one of the most visible Jewish leaders, one of the few who is more than a legend within his own office? But his prominence, for which he is well compensated — and deservedly so — may come at the expense of his organization, which is overshadowed by his presence and has yet to develop a viable succession plan.

There are clear rewards for success, but are there consequences for failure? Leaders have presided over failures. We need not name names, but the United Jewish Communities took the brand name of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and joined with the Council of Jewish Federations and ran the organization into the ground, so much so that its name had to be changed, and not one in 25 — perhaps not even one in 100 — donors now can tell you the name of the organization and its functions. Many still believe that they are giving to UJA.

Or take other leaders who have followed the nasty American corporate model of downsizing staff and then increasing the salary of their executives as a reward for the “difficult task they had to perform.” It is startling to see how few have taken a salary cut despite the fact that their organizational income is considerably reduced and they have added Jewish professionals — dedicated and competent Jewish professionals — to the roster of the unemployed.

With transparency and accountability, we must ask, agency by agency, executive by executive: Are they worth the money they are being paid? Or are we paying more and getting less?

One final note: A half century after the launch of the women’s movement and the first shattering of the glass ceiling, at a time when Jewish women are Supreme Court justices and Ivy League presidents, corporate executives and some of the most significant philanthropists in the United States, we should have more women leaders.

Our record is shameful. The Jewish people cannot make do with but 50 percent of its talent pool. We need an affirmative action program, and if we Jews are reticent to impose quotas, we should at least impose goals and timetables.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. His blog, A Jew, is at

Forward’s salary rankings: Men got more money, better raises

The Forward’s second annual survey of 74 major Jewish national organizations found that in the past year, women lost ground in leadership, continued to lag behind men in pay and did not experience the same increases in salary that a majority of the men enjoyed despite these recessionary times. (VIEW THE SURVEY HERE)

While there were 11 women serving as presidents and CEOs of federations, advocacy and public service groups, and religious institutions last year, there are now only nine. Even though the work force in these organizations is overwhelmingly female, the percentage of women in leadership roles has dropped in the past year to 12% from 14%.

In this, the Jewish communal experience is dramatically at odds with trends in the broader not-for-profit world. GuideStar, which collects the informational tax forms that not-for-profit groups are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service, reported in September that women were chief executives of nearly 47% of the nation’s charities in 2008. Although women were concentrated in smaller organizations, even in the larger charities — those with annual budgets of more than $1 million — they still held 38% of the top roles.

Read more:

Low Wages Force Workers to Struggle

For Vera Haim, teaching Jewish children about their
religion, history and culture gave her life a deeper meaning. For 17 years, the
53-year-old Israeli-born educator taught at Jewish nursery schools throughout Southern
California, most recently at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills. Nothing made
Haim happier than helping young students develop self-esteem and a curiosity
about their roots.

But her dream job held the seeds of a nightmare. Earning
just $15,000 annually and with no health-care benefits, Haim landed in dire
financial straits after she and her husband divorced last year. Unable to
support herself, she had to move in with her 31-year-old son. In short order,
she left Kol Tikvah and nearly doubled her income by opening a home day-care
business in her son’s house.

“I think babysitters make more per hour than nursery school
teachers, especially at Jewish schools,” Haim said. “You work so hard with
those children, but what you get paid is nothing, nothing.”

She and other Jewish day-school teachers are not alone in
their frustration. From social workers caring for Holocaust survivors to cooks
preparing kosher meals for the elderly, many Jewish communal workers complain
that low wages make it nearly impossible for them to buy homes, take vacations
or live a comfortable middle-class existence. Some even must work two jobs to
eke out a living.

A study by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish
Education found that nearly two in three people working at Jewish nursery
schools failed to receive company-paid medical benefits.

Not everyone at Jewish organizations or synagogues has to
pinch pennies. Top agency executives and rabbis make upward of six figures,
with some Westside religious leaders earning $300,000.

The focus on Jewish communal workers’ wages and benefits
comes at a time when labor issues have assumed increasing importance. Thousands
of supermarket employees throughout the Southland are striking to protect
medical benefits. A short, nasty strike by MTA mechanics earlier this year
crippled Southland transportation. And rising health care costs are putting
tremendous pressure on employers and employees in all sectors of American society.

Locally, Jewish agency executives and rabbis said they would
like to pay their employees more but simply lack the means to do so. With
donations flat and workers’ compensation and health-care costs skyrocketing,
salaries for low-wage workers appear unlikely to improve anytime soon.

That infuriates Jon Lepie, a consultant to the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 800. He said nearly
20 percent of the 450 full- and part-time unionized workers at The Jewish
Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Family Service (JFS) and five other
agencies earn less than $20,000 a year. To cite but two examples, a full-time
nursery school teacher assistant at the West Valley Jewish Community Center
(JCC) makes less than $16,000, while a SOVA driver delivering food to the needy
from the food bank makes about $12,500.

“It’s a shonda that Jewish agencies should pay anybody less
than a living wage,” Lepie said.

Even nonexecutive Jewish professionals lag behind their
counterparts. Unionized registered nurses and licensed clinical social workers
at Jewish agencies earn, on average, $47,795 and $38,474, respectively. That’s
nearly 10 percent and 33 percent less than they could make at other local
nonprofits, according the Center for Nonprofit Management, which recently
surveyed 419 area nonprofit organizations.

Workers at Jewish agencies and synagogues are by no means
the only ones struggling. Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County
Economic Development Corp., said good jobs are vanishing both locally and
nationally, especially in manufacturing.

“There’s this ongoing concern that you’re going to end up
with this two-tiered society, with a few skilled people with high wages and
many more low-skilled workers with low-wage jobs,” he said. “You’re seeing the
great middle-class disappearing.”


Some Employers Fall Short

Rabbi Mark Diamond said he thinks Jewish institutions should
do more. The executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern
California said Jewish law mandates that workers receive fair wages and

He said synagogues and Jewish organizations should serve as
“community exemplars.” That some fall short upsets him, especially since so
many Jewish leaders loudly proclaim support for unions and workers’ rights.

“Before we point fingers, we need to look inward and make
sure we’re treating our workers and staff in the Jewish community with fairness
and equity,” Diamond said. “I’m aware that not every synagogue or organization
lives up to the ideals of Jewish tradition.”

Joe Paulicivic, director of human resources at Catholic
Charities of Los Angeles, said nonprofits like his don’t pay “big fat” salaries
for a less nefarious reason: low administrative costs mean more money goes to
the needy. Catholic Charities, which serves an estimated 1 million people
annually in Southern California, pays its social workers slightly more than
Jewish agencies. However, its cooks earn less, comparisons show.

Low wages notwithstanding, many temple and Jewish communal
employees express high job satisfaction. They enter their chosen professions
not to grow rich but rather to make a difference. They also like the
family-friendly work environments and time off for Jewish holidays, including
Shabbat, said Marla Eglash Abraham, associate director of the School of Jewish
Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los

But with Jewish day-school tuition at about $15,000, two
weeks of Jewish camp going for $1,500 and synagogue membership costing about
$2,000, some communal professionals “who want to raise Jewish families and for
whom this is important by and large don’t have access” to Jewish institutions,
Eglash Abraham said.

Such is the case for JFS social worker Susan Hallett. A
single mother of two with a master’s degree in social work from California
State University, Long Beach, she earns just $36,500. Her salary is so low that
her son and daughter qualify for Healthy Families, the state’s health-care
program for children of the working poor.

Hallett wanted her children to go to Hebrew school but
couldn’t afford the fees. She figured her status as a Jewish communal worker
would entitle her to a discounted rate. But after a supervisor told her
otherwise, Hallett said she gave up on the idea of her daughter and son getting
a bat and bar mitzvah through a synagogue.

She said she could make much more working at a hospital,
given the demand for qualified social workers. But caring for Holocaust
survivors gives Hallett such satisfaction that she has no desire to leave the
agency. Her bosses also give her flexibility to leave work on short notice if
she needs to take her children to the doctor.

Still, Hallett said life is a struggle. She saves almost
nothing and has $10,000 in credit-card debt and more than $20,000 in student
loans. Hallett lives in a dilapidated two-bedroom Sherman Oaks apartment with
dirt-stained carpeting, a couch without legs and a makeshift chair fashioned
from a milk crate and a pillow. The whir of passing cars and trucks from an
adjacent four-lane thoroughfare is constant.

“I just scrape by,” she said. “I still have to call my mom
from time to time to help me financially. I’m almost 40. Give me a break.”


Kitchen Workers Struggle

Hallett has it good compared to some of the men and women who
work at the JFS-operated Hirsh Family Kosher Kitchen. Most of the cooks who
prepare the meals; kitchen assistants who chop the vegetables, scrub pots and
lug out the trash, and the drivers who deliver food to seniors’ homes make less
than $19,000 for full-time work.

One helper in his late 30s said he earns so little that he
must work a second job as a dishwasher to support his wife and three young
children. Some nights he gets home from his restaurant job at 4 a.m., sleeps
for a couple hours and then drags himself out of bed to begin his shift at the
Hirsh kitchen at 6:30 a.m.

The man, who requested anonymity, said sleep deprivation has
taken a toll on his marriage. Irritable with fatigue, he and his wife fight
often, a situation exacerbated by having five people living in a one-bedroom
apartment. He said he constantly puts drops in his eyes to flush out the

“When I was in Mexico, my friends said, ‘Hey, let’s go to
America. There’s easy money there,'” said the helper, who cannot afford health
insurance for his children and takes them to the emergency room whenever they need
medical attention. “After coming here, I’ve learned differently.”

A Hirsh kitchen cook in his late 20s also needs a second job
to support his family. Although he enjoys his time at the kitchen and at a
supermarket, his 63-hour work weeks leave him precious little time with his
wife and two daughters. He speaks wistfully about spending weekends in the park
with his family, something he rarely does because of his hectic schedule.

Paul Castro, JFS executive director, said he sympathized
with the plight of the Hirsh kitchen workers. He said he wished he could pay
them and other JFS employees more, but that the money simply isn’t there.

As difficult as the kitchen workers might have it, they at
least have health insurance, sick days and paid vacations, unlike many others
in the food service industry. JFS also pays them more than the minimum wage.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Castro said.


Trying to Do Right

So is Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Senior Rabbi Steven Z.
Leder said the synagogue provides fully paid health care and pensions for its
employees. The rabbi recently invited religious school teachers and their
spouses to his home for a Chanukah party. In the spring he will host an all-day
barbecue in Malibu for temple workers and their families.

As much as Wilshire Boulevard Temple does, though,
sometimes, good intentions run up against hard economic realities.

The temple, like many businesses and institutions, doesn’t
provide health insurance for employees’ family members, forcing workers to make
difficult choices. At a minimum of $231.87 per month to cover a  spouse and
$424.32 per family, some employees opt to take their chances.

That’s what happened to a temple maintenance man. After his
uninsured wife fell ill, he found himself near financial ruin as medical bills
mounted. Upon hearing of his plight, Wilshire Boulevard Temple executives
raised thousands among themselves to help defray the woman’s medical expenses.

“Everybody’s a part of the family here,” Leder said. “We
take care of each other.”

Similarly, Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah said he does
what he can to improve the lives of his workers.

Jacobs considers himself progressive in the best sense of
the word. Employees at his synagogue attend High Holiday services for free. Two
years ago, the rabbi won the Walter Cronkite Freedom and Faith Award for
recognition of his interfaith and civil rights work. An active union supporter,
Jacobs said he played a role in ending the recent janitors’ strike.

Like many synagogues, though, Kol Tikvah has struggled in
recent years. That has led to painful decisions. To cut costs, the synagogue
reduced the hours of four full-time teachers and made them part-time employees.

In the process, the educators lost their health insurance.
Now, none of Kol Tikvah’s 40 nursery and religious school teachers receive
medical coverage through their jobs, although they get paid sick days and

“I think what we need to do is somehow figure out on a
communitywide basis how we’re going to take care of our teachers, how we’re
going to take care of our social workers,” Jacobs said.

One communal agency is trying to address that. The Jewish
Free Loan Association (JFLA) recently launched a program that loans up to
$10,000 to Jewish day-school teachers buying their first homes. The educators
can use the money for closing costs and emergency repairs.

Mark Meltzer, JFLA executive director, said he hoped the
loans would increase teacher retention by making it easier for them to own
property in the neighborhoods where they teach. He also wants to expand the
program to include all Jewish communal workers. But with the median housing
price in Los Angeles County at a record $339,000, JFLA’s largesse might not be
enough, he said.

“Unfortunately, teachers and most Jewish professionals need
family or spousal assistance if they ever hope to buy in this market,” Meltzer

One nursery school teacher assistant at West Valley JCC
needs financial help from her two grown children just to get by. The
middle-aged Iranian immigrant loves working with young children, even
performing such mundane tasks as giving the children snacks during recess.

But her $16,744 salary makes going out to dinner, taking
vacations and going to movies an unaffordable luxury. She said she’s relieved
she works during the day, because she doesn’t have enough money to keep her air
conditioner running. The woman, who requested her name not be used, said her
situation has deteriorated since her husband retired two years ago.

After 18 years at Jewish schools, she said she deserved more
than $7.83 an hour.

“It’s hard, but my husband and I have managed,” she said.
“If we need help, our children will help. What can we do?”