Combatting Sexual Harassment In The Jewish Community

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#MeToo. #GamAni. The stories are numerous and painful. They span decades and reach every corner of the Jewish community. Enough is enough. The time is now for us to finally and fully address sexual harassment in Jewish institutional life.

When it comes to sexual harassment, Jewish teachings are unequivocal: We are obligated to put an end to the behavior for the sake of the victim, the perpetrator and the community as a whole. Despite our moral code, however, sexual misconduct in the Jewish community too often goes unaddressed. As Hollywood, media and government offices grapple with their ethical challenges, it is clear we need a reckoning of our own.

When the Good People Fund surveyed Jewish professionals in 2017, it found that sexual harassment is perceived by respondents to be tolerated in Jewish organizations. Female CEOs, fundraisers and rabbis frequently report problems in their interactions with donors and lay leaders. Female employees report feeling some level of harassment is inevitable, and most believe — and some have left the field as a result — that their organizations are ineffective at preventing or addressing it.

Indeed, the recent Leading Edge study found that only two-thirds of employees of Jewish organizations report that they are aware of their organization’s sexual harassment policies, and only about one-third know what to do or where to go if they experience harassment.

The time is now to end this reality. The time is now to move from talk to action. The time is now for us to commit to acting individually and collectively to build safer, more respectful and equitable places to work. We must come together across political, denominational and gender lines to address the power dynamics and structural inequalities that allow harassment and abuse to take root. We must raise the bar of fairness and equality in our workplaces, institutions and the spaces in between.

To succeed, we need to advance cultural and practical change. We at the Schusterman Foundation are joining with other foundations and organizations to explore how we can help create systemic change in Jewish communal life on both fronts.

Here are five crucial areas in which we can and must act:

Ensure accountability:

To eliminate harassment in our community, all of us — funders, nonprofit professionals and lay leaders — must hold ourselves and our organizations accountable. I envision a pledge, akin to the Child Safety Pledge, committing us to uphold safety and respect in and around the Jewish workplace as an important step forward. A common pledge — backed by tangible resources and collective action — could ensure that organizations walk their talk and actively pursue today’s best practices for preventing and responding to sexual harassment.

Exhibit leadership:

Committed, engaged organizational and philanthropic leaders are critical to changing the status quo. Thanks to the outstanding work of Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic, who led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, we know that “the cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.”

Those in leadership positions must start by refraining from and putting an end to adverse behavior. Jewish leaders need to show they will not stand for or accept sexual harassment and take proactive steps to promote a safe, respectful Jewish organizational culture. Funders, too, must commit to this work — not just for the organizations we support, but also to help equalize the relationship between donors and Jewish professionals, and to strengthen our own internal cultures.

Refresh policies and procedures:

In the wake of #MeToo, every Jewish organization must have in place the modern infrastructure of a safe workplace, including transparent policies, consistent training and protected reporting methods. The EEOC recommendations are clear on this front as well. Healthy work environments need “strong and comprehensive harassment policies; trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.”

Train staff and boards:

Annual, ideally in-person training of staff and boards are vital and can be customized to the fields and organizations they serve. They can transcend the harasser-victim dichotomy and focus on more effective methods, such as empowering bystanders and helping employees understand how they can advocate for one another.

Facilitate reporting:

Every employee in the Jewish sector should know and trust his organization’s reporting structure. One of the most common refrains is that employees do not know whom to turn to if they experience or witness harassment. This is equally true at foundations and all other kinds of nonprofits.

It is incumbent upon us as Jews that our reporting structures allow for fair consideration and due process for both the accuser and the accused. To that end, it is worth considering external reporting structures like those suggested by Yehuda Kurtzer and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who have called for the creation of a neutral platform for those seeking redress without fear of retribution.

Equal opportunity:

Beyond these five areas, the most important way to create sustainable change in our community is to ensure that women are treated equitably and have opportunities to advance to top leadership roles.

Starting today, we must help elevate women’s voices in Jewish life. We must advocate for pay equity for comparable roles. We must include more women on CEO search committees and candidate interview lists. We must mentor and sponsor women in advancing in their careers. We must, as Advancing Women Professionals has taught us, make the choice not to serve on or support panels, committees and initiatives where women are not represented. When we raise up women, we raise up everyone — especially those of diverse, underrepresented backgrounds.

Lisa Eisen
Lisa Eisen

Lisa Eisen is the vice president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, where this essay first appeared.

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