Friday, November 2, 2012

Burt Siegel, the former executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia, has reached the other side of his transition journey.
It has taken four years.
Actually, it was exactly four years ago today -- the Friday before Election Day -- that he left his job.
"The Council is a 5013C. I had to be non-partisan," he said. "I left before Election Day so I could campaign for Obama."
In that regard, he is like others who delight in being  politically unshackled when they leave their longtime jobs.
The Forward, a national Jewish newspaper and website, ran a headline about his departure, "Free at last. Free at last."
"I was free to come out of the closet and engage politically."
But really, he wasn't free. He still felt chained by decades of responsibility and the idea -- if not the need-- of a paycheck. First, he took on some paid part-time jobs -- with the Israeli Consul General and CeaseFire PA -- two groups that he'd had connections with during his tenure with the JCRC.
"You weren't supposed to go from income to no-income," he said about taking on paid work. "People said you'll find something to do. You'll get all kinds of offers."
He found that he couldn't help but say "yes."  If someone reached out to the Jewish community, he had to jump in and help. It's what he'd done at his job and he felt he had to continue doing it even though he had left.
He likes to tell a story that captures his pride in stepping up.  Philadelphia City Commissioner Marian Tasco, who is African American, was asked once why she had chosen to march in Washington, D.C. in support of Soviet Jews. Her response, Burt recalls, was "When Jews are asked to support civil rights, they don't ask 'Why?' They ask 'Where?' and 'When?" So that's what she did when she was asked for her support.
Looking back, Burt thinks his sense of responsibility was "overblown."
After his initial foray into paid work, he realized he didn't want the money. "I didn't want to be obligated," he explained. "I'm 69. At that age I've met a lot of my obligations."
"I weaned myself."
He now finds himself telling people seeking his help, "'I'd love to do it but I don't have the time.'
"I didn't do that at the JCRC."
He remains "very vested in reaching out to the Jewish community," speaking to groups, writing ads, raising money," (again for Obama). But he does it as a volunteer.
 "I don't feel as compelled to say yes all the time."
He's vice president of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network; he serves on a number of boards including Philadelphia Reads, and he's on a search committee for his co-op. In September, he was on National Public Radio talking about the upcoming election and his support, as a Jew, of Obama.
He cherishes "the freedom" to do what he wants.
"I don't want a job. I want to do it on my own."

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