Dr. King and the Jewish Organization Equality Index
by Adam Simon
On a chilly Sunday a few weeks ago, I took my children to see the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial off the National Mall. As we walked across the Potomac River, seeking distraction from the biting wind, we discussed why Dr. King deserved such an honor.
At five and eight years old, their questions were poignant and telling: it was not the fact that someone had fought for equal rights and freedoms that bewildered them – it was that he had to fight for it as recently as when their grandparents were in college.
To my young children, equality is a given and diversity a cause for celebration. The prospect that someone might be treated differently because of the color of his skin does not exist. And the idea that someone might not be accepted because of who she loves is beyond comprehension. I know that one day they will fully understand the realities of an unequal world. As much as I would like to shelter their idealism forever, to do so is not only impossible but also irresponsible.
And yet, there are steps we can take today that will go a long way toward shaping a world in which equality and diversity are upheld as fundamental tenets.
This week, in fact, our partners at the Human Rights Campaign – with support from our Foundation, the Morningstar Foundation, philanthropist Stuart Kurlander and an anonymous donor – launched an easy, inexpensive but impactful way to take a significant step toward making the Jewish community a fully welcoming and inclusive place for LGBT individuals.
It is called the Jewish Organizational Equality Index. Similar to the Corporate Equality Index, but adapted for the Jewish nonprofit world, it asks organizations to answer a series of questions that will assess their inclusivity policies and procedures. Covering everything from gender-neutral language to domestic partner benefits, the survey will create a baseline measurement of current practices within Jewish nonprofits toward LGBT employees and community members.
Every organization that participates in the survey will receive its results and, where needed, have the opportunity to work with HRC Foundation staff and leading Jewish LGBT organizations like KESHET to improve their scores. For our part, we will share the findings with the broader community so we can reflect upon where we stand today and where we need go from here in our quest to be a fully inclusive community.
Why are we doing this? Because at our Foundation, we have a vision that is shared by many across the Jewish world: an open, inclusive, pluralistic Jewish community that welcomes all who seek to lead actively Jewish lives and embraces every Jew as “b’tzelem elokim,” made in God’s image.
We believe that our Jewish tapestry is stronger because of the richness and diversity of the people who comprise it – and we have heard from countless organizational leaders who agree with us. Who lament that they want to be inclusive beyond a rainbow sticker and a few comments from the bimah. Who ask how they can be as inclusive as possible, even if they don’t have throngs of LGBT individuals at their doors every day.
Our answer: participate in the Jewish Organizational Equality Index. It is not a silver bullet, but it is a start. By creating this equality index, we can advance an open, iterative process whereby LGBT Jews will be welcomed and protected in Jewish organizations and communal life and, in turn, we can set a standard for forging a culture in which inclusivity, diversity and equality are paramount.
So call your local synagogue. Email your federation. Share the survey with the leadership of the organizations you are a part of to find out if they are participating. If they are, let them know how much you appreciate them joining this movement.
But if they are not, ask why. Explain that not only is it vitally important for our LGBT family members and friends, it is also important for the health of their organizations. After all, HRC’s work has shown that workplaces with inclusive policies and practices are often more productive environments with stronger recruitment and retention rates.
Creating a vibrant Jewish community where all are welcome and embraced is everyone’s responsibility. We owe it to ourselves, to our children and to our children’s children to do as Dr. King said: make a career of humanity and commit ourselves to the noble struggle for equal rights.
Adam Simon is Associate National Director, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Cross-posted from Schusterman.org blog.