An Accounting of the Soul: Cheshbon HaNefesh
A Reflective User’s Guide to Thirteen Principles
for Ensuring Equity in Jewish Communal Workplaces

In the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year, it has become a tradition to engage in reflective introspection. As we prepare for the high holidays that begin on the first of the new month of Tishrei with Rosh HaShanah, followed ten days later with Yom Kippur, we move through a process of deep contemplation that enables us to do the teshuvah, the repentance, that we need.

How might we prepare to do this? One way is to engage in a spiritual accounting traditionally called a Cheshbon HaNefesh, literally translated as “accounting of the soul.” This can be traced back to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lefin of Satanov (1749–1826), who kept a journal to document and cultivate attributes of teshuvah in himself.  

We are increasingly aware that a pervasive sense of inequity in our Jewish workplaces and communities is pushing us to confront some of the dark habits that we have chosen to ignore. Equity is in short supply, women are sidelined, and rules are unevenly applied to all in the workplace, creating systems that are broken and communities that are themselves fractured. At this moment, as Elul begins to turn toward Tishrei, we have an opportunity to reflect on this and turn toward change.

To help raise awareness, engage in reflective introspection and do our own soul accounting, as well as to help others to do the same, we offer some ideas:

  1. Disseminate the Thirteen Principles to colleagues, supervisors, supervisees, and lay leaders. Encourage others to undertake this Chesbon HaNefesh during the month of Elul and throughout the month of Tishrei.
  2. Share the original article out of which these Thirteen Principles were born, and use it as a springboard for discussion as part of this introspective process: The Week That All Jewish Women Turned Invisible
  3. Self-assess both your own professional practice and your organization on how each of the principles lives in your day to day life, using the scale below:

Professional practice: Reflection

    4-This is always part of my professional practice
    3-This is occasionally part of my professional practice
    2-This is rarely part of my professional practice
    1-This is not currently part of my professional practice

Organizational practice: Reflection

    4-This is always part of my organization’s culture
    3-This is occasionally part of my organization’s culture
    2-This is rarely part of my organization’s culture
    1-This is not currently part of organization’s culture
  My Professional Practice My Organization’s Culture

4 (always) 3 (occasionally) 2 (rarely) 1 (not currently)

4 (always) 3 (occasionally) 2 (rarely) 1 (not currently)
1. Refuse all invitations to serve on a ‘manel’ (all -male panel) and speak up when you see them    
2. Cite women’s voices equally in written work    
3. Ensure gender representation/balance on hiring committees    
4. Recommend women as candidates for jobs and board positions    
5. Think about the space you take up and commit to listening    
6. Notice interruptions and use your own voice to support those who are overlooked    
7. Don’t settle for token inclusion    
8. Audit your media consumption for gender balance    
9. Give credit where credit is due, regardless of gender or role    
10. Stand up for women in writing, in person, in social media and in the board room    
11. Ensure a safe and comfortable work environment by applying rules equally    
12. End the wage gap    
13. Read SRE’s new report on sexual harassment in Jewish organizations and share it with others*    

*The SRE report can be read, and downloaded, here.

    4. Pause for reflection on your scores. What would it take for you personally, or for your organization, to move any 1, 2 or 3 closer to a 4? In which categories might this be more difficult, or easier? Where might you begin?
    5. Create opportunities to discuss these results with colleagues, supervisors, supervisees and lay leaders. Consider how you may share both your personal results as well as your reflection on your organization. We hope this quantitative data is valuable to you and to your organization: we see data as vital, as it tells the story of our work. What is the story that these results tell? Is this a story of which you can be proud?
    6. Take a proactive role in moving this important work forward to make the Thirteen Principles part of our Jewish communal employment lexicon.
    7. Help us think about the impact of this effort – and collect the data that will help us increase awareness and shift culture. Visit our discussion and reflection space, Cheshbon Hanefesh: A User’s Guide to the 13 Principles, (on Facebook) and share your responses to the following:
    1. What was the experience of completing this self-assessment like for you?
    2. What was your greatest learning?
    3. What was most difficult?
    4. What was your biggest surprise?
    5. How do you plan to use the experience of completing this and discussing it with colleagues to inform your work in 5780?
We encourage you to adapt this template for your own organizational use. As you do so,  we ask that you please credit the source (see Principle #10 above), and that you reflect by sharing your experiences on our Facebook page. The page will be available for our “accounting” until the 1st of the month of Cheshvan, 5780, and we plan to reignite this conversation and reopen the page once again in Elul of 5781, so that we can hold ourselves and our community accountable, together.

User’s Guide conceived and created by:

Dale Glasser, Founder and Chief Strategist, Dale Glasser Training and Consulting,
Dana Sheanin, Chief Strategy Officer, Jewish Learning Works, San Francisco,
Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Founder, Rimonim Consulting/Co-Founder, The Gender Equity in Hiring Project

This reflection is grounded in and an opportunity to
lift up and carry forward the principles espoused in
The Week That All Jewish Women Turned Invisible
authored by the women of the
5779: Year of the Jewish Woman Facebook Group

Jamie Allen Black, CEO, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, @JamieAllenBlack
Joy Ladin, David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University, @joyladin
Shifra Bronznick, Founder of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community
Miriam Brosseau, Principal, Tiny Windows Consulting, @miriamjayne
Rachel Gildiner, Founder, 5779: Year of the Jewish Woman, @rlg131
Ginna Green, Chief Strategy Officer, Bend the Arc, @ginnagreen
Sheila Katz, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women, @SheilaKatz1
Idit Klein, CEO, Keshet

Esther Kustanowitz, Writer and Consultant, @EstherK
Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Founder, Rimonim Consulting/Co-Founder, The Gender Equity in Hiring Project @shaplev
Halie Soifer, Executive Director, Jewish Democratic Council of America, @HalieSoifer