Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work in Jewish Community Centers: A Question of Compatibility

Academic journal article Social Work

Social Work in Jewish Community Centers: A Question of Compatibility

Article excerpt

A sizable, but unknown, proportion of social workers are employed in host settings. Barker (1999, p. 221) defined a host setting as "an organization within which another organization provides specialized services." Host settings include schools, hospitals, prisons and courts, and recreational centers, such as the Young Men's and YoungWomen's Christian Associations (YMCA and YWCA) and Jewish community centers (JCCs).

Employment in host settings poses a unique set of constraints and challenges for social workers. Decision making and major activities associated with the organization's mission are carried out by professionals of other disciplines and the social worker's role is ancillary (Gibelman, in press). Over the years, various commentators (Dane & Simon, 1991; Goren, 1981; Link, 1991; Reisman, 1981; Schafler, 1978) have posited that the incongruities are so great as to bring into question the appropriateness or fit between social work and the work of the host organization. Role conflicts, in particular, have been identified as a major cause of burnout among workers in these settings. These issues and problems, however, are largely based on speculation and anecdotal evidence rather than empirical investigation.

This article presents findings of a national study of JCC professional staff designed to explore the degree of congruence between social work values and JCC practice. Although the JCCs' mission has been modified over the years, it maintains some social service goals. For this reason, JCCs have greater congruence with the social work profession than other host settings. Even though the social work presence is more secure and constant than in other host agencies, social workers are still "guests" (Gibelman, in press). Although this study focused on practice in JCCs, the findings have implications for other sectarian and nonsectarian host settings providing similar types of services.


The JCC is similar to the YMCA and YWCA in its religious origins and its current functions. Its mission focuses on the cultural, physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, and recreational needs of the Jewish community. Created more than 100 years ago, the JCC has continuously evolved to meet changing societal conditions and needs. Changes affecting the purpose and mission of JCCs did not follow a linear process. At times,mission changes were stimulated by Jewish mission-based goals and at other times by social factors.

Professional staff of JCCs have become recognized and respected by the Jewish communal world as a vehicle through which a broad range of programs and services are delivered. Professional schools, institutes, and workshops have provided practical and theoretical knowledge to those choosing careers in Jewish community centers. Since their inception JCCs throughout North America have employed social workers to carry out components of its mission.

In general, social workers are employed by JCCs to work with and provide services to JCC constituents. Those working with adolescents, for example, lead activity groups and provide support to address such issues as self-esteem, socialization, family and school problems, and substance use. Similar services are provided to other segments of the Jewish community, such as single adults, older adults, people with special needs, and college students.

Historically, a social work degree has been the most common and most accepted academic credential for JCC work (Altman, 1988; Berger, 1974; Dubin, 1983; Levy, 1976; Reisman, 1981; Solender, 1957). However, changes in the Jewish community have called into question whether social workers continue to be the most effective professionals for JCC practice. For example, an appreciation for Jewish identity building has come to be seen as a mission of extreme importance to the future of Jewish life (Linzer, Levitz, & Schnall, 1995). …

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