CareerHub Interview: 5 Questions with Etan Harmelech


CareerHub Interview is an ongoing series where we speak with and learn from emerging leaders working and volunteering in the Jewish community. In this edition, we catch up with Etan Harmelech, project lead at PJ Library. Etan shares how he brings the gift of reading to young families, his favorite interview questions and the surprising twists in his Jewish journey.

1. What is the best part of your job? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I love trying to figure out new and different ways to get books in the hands of families that want them -- even if those families don't know they want them just yet. Every day we hear parents tell us about how the simple gift of a Jewish book sparked a new tradition in their home, and I'm constantly thinking about how to re-create that experience for every family raising Jewish children.

2. What is your vision for Jewish life? How do you see the Jewish community evolving over time?

I like to think of myself as a realist when it comes to contemporary American Jewish life. For many cultural American Jews, being Jewish doesn't necessitate having a Jewish mother, attending or belonging to a synagogue, or even believing in God. In my mind what does unite the entire Jewish community is a shared history that spans almost 5,800 years, and a strong core of objective values that focus on family, ethics, and inclusion. In an increasingly secular society, the Jewish community needs to find creative ways to ensure that future generations are taught those collective values and collective traditions. I think we're doing a pretty good job, but there's more work to be done.

3. When things get busy/challenging/frustrating, what keeps you going? What is your source of inspiration?

I never get frustrated! Apologies for being rah-rah, but I like to think about how my family has changed since receiving our first PJ Library book. At the time we attended synagogue only on the high holidays, and only celebrated Shabbat if another family invited us over for the occasion. Fast forward three years...we now attend synagogue at least twice per month, celebrate Shabbat and Havdalah every week, and have a son enrolled in our local Solomon Shechter -- something I never thought I would say/write. When things get challenging, knowing the impact a program like ours can have gives me reassurance and confidence.

4. What is your favorite interview question to answer? What is your favorite interview question to ask?

My favorite interview question to answer is some variation of, "What sparked your interest in the Jewish non-profit world?" Selfishly, this gives me a chance to talk about my son. My favorite interview question to ask applicants is, "What one accomplishment in your professional or academic career are you most proud of?" First, I like ignoring grammatical rules by ending a sentence with a preposition. I also love seeing applicants go through the internal process of parsing their work down into one single achievement, and reflecting on what it meant to them both at the time it happened and at the present moment.

5. What is your best time management trick?

It's not the most innovative hack. When I start a task, I set the timer on my iPhone for half the time in which I think it should take me to get that task done. After the buzzer goes off, I rinse and repeat. I rarely finish before the first buzzer, but I usually finish before the buzzer goes off twice.

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The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or program participants.