Sometimes the Jewish community can be slow to acknowledge or recognize a significant issue. Lisa Eisen, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s U.S. Jewish Portfolio and an activist addressing gender inequality issues in the Jewish community, recently said, “There’s been a prevailing myth that there’s no issue in the Jewish community, like there’s nothing going on in our institutions. It is not true.”
Recent research by Dr. Guila Benchimol and Marie Huber reveals that the Jewish community is
subject to the same kinds of issues, inequities, and power dynamics that exist in other communities. This research details the severe lack of sufficient safety and respect for women in the Jewish professional workplace; it also details the nature of harassment and assault of women in Jewish communal spaces, and the power dynamics that contribute to environments that allow such behavior to occur. The most difficult aspect of the report for me was the stories of survivors and how the Jewish community discourse has to this point been complicit in silencing and shaming these women.
Jewish day schools must be a place to holistically address gender discrimination and harassment. As we work with students, faculties, families, boards, and donors, we are uniquely situated to raise both the current standards in our institutions and engage the next generation of Jewish leaders to shift societal attitudes.
Together with our boards and faculty, we can review and adopt policies and procedures that foster a safe, respectful, and equitable workplace. Along with any policy changes, day schools can institute training that goes beyond mere compliance to build harassment free cultures and to establish protocols that enable employees to freely report issues that do arise. We can also partner with families in our communities to raise awareness and to help us to support harassment free cultures.
As schools, our focus is rightly on the students. Here I wonder if our curricula have been sufficiently revised in the wake of the #metoo movement to teach gender equity and topics such as consent and harassment in ways that fully engage our students. As our future leaders, it is necessary to include students in this critical conversation and to learn from their experiences.
Lastly, day schools can join the SafetyRespectEquity (SRE) Coalition. SRE works to ensure safe, respectful and equitable Jewish workplaces and communal spaces by addressing sexual harassment, sexism and gender discrimination. SRE has developed a commitment for Jewish organizations and clear standards to make Jewish workplaces more equitable and free of harassment. Over 100 organizations have joined the SRE Coalition. I am proud that CESJDS has adopted the SRE Commitment and Standards and encourage other day schools to do the same.
Day schools should and can take a leadership role in ensuring harassment free Jewish spaces in the actions we take today and into the future through the education we provide our students. This work is gr ounded in the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elokim, that every individual is created in the image of God.