It's been nearly two years since David Lorch had a job. Currently, the former pricing analyst for an Orange County high-tech firm attends networking events near his home in Laguna Hills, does volunteer work for his shul, Congregation Eilat in Mission Viejo, and tries to maintain his hope.
With the job market showing little or no signs of improvement, Lorch is hoping to start a new networking group through his synagogue that is focused specifically on helping unemployed Jews find work. Such organizations have taken off at a handful of congregations in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dismal job market is already considered a crisis in the Jewish community. Lorch is hoping to draw from the experiences of his peers in Silicon Valley in crafting a network of his own.
"It's one thing to have a general group, but I think a focused group of Jews helping Jews could be more powerful, more beneficial," Lorch said. "So far, the standard stuff hasn't worked."
Rabbi Sheldon Lewis of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto said his Conservative synagogue was a natural place for out-of-work congregants to base their support and networking activities. Their 1-year-old Project Full Employment, holds two monthly meetings and maintains an e-mail group for job leads that has attracted more than 300 members.
"I think in a community like a synagogue, we have a deep stake in each other's welfare," Lewis said. "If we're not ready to act in a time like this, then when?"
Lewis, a 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley, said the current economic downturn is the worst he has ever seen. At Kol Emeth, a congregation-wide appeal for job leads was part of the Yom Kippur services this year.
"I'm still finding out about people in the congregation who have been quietly facing this challenge. There are even families in which two bread-winners are unemployed together," Lewis said. "The toll is immense. I've seen tensions in marriages, drained self-esteem and the loss of hope."
Jill Kulick lost her job as a vice president of human resources when her Silicon Valley start-up company folded more than a year ago. Now, in addition to looking for a job, she organizes the networking group at Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, at which an estimated 8 percent of adult congregants are out of work.
"It's very lonely to be out there without a job," she said. "The common thread is that all of us are professionals who three years ago were in great demand. You go from a feeling of true competency and professionalism to where people don't give you the time of day."
Like Kulick, many unemployed Jewish professionals find structure and a sense of purpose by getting more involved in their synagogues. For example, when Congregation Beth Am's vice president of finance needed some help, Kulick knew of three unemployed chief financial officers she could call on. "I said here are our people, and they all said great, we'd love to get involved."
After a year of setting up guest speakers for the synagogue's job networking group, Kulick and fellow organizers have shifted their focus toward establishing more personal connections between the 1,800-family congregation's unemployed members and their fellow congregants who are in the position to help them make contacts and find job leads.
A recent dessert reception at Beth Am brought about 50 out-of-work congregants together with more than a dozen "movers and shakers" from the congregation's own ranks. After each person briefly told their story, the group split into smaller networking units and shared resumes and suggestions.
"They got to meet with a whole constituency who never had come together as a community before," Kulick said.