Celebrating works in progress

Five years of pursuing safety, respect and equity in the Jewish community

In Short

Looking back at what's been done and what's still to do to improve workplaces

I have a friend who insists on celebrating half-birthdays. Another marks down tasks they’ve already completed on their to-do lists, for the satisfying feeling of crossing them off. They bask in the celebration of small wins or works in progress. I am more likely to get overwhelmed by how much I have to do. I find it difficult to celebrate progress when I know that the finish line, which is often unclear, lies so far ahead. This year’s SRE (Safety Respect Equity) Network annual convening taught me that we can do both simultaneously. 

In June, nearly 200 people came together in New York to celebrate the SRE Network and learn about one another’s work on gender justice in the Jewish community. It was also an opportunity to mark five years of the organization’s existence and its achievements, or progress. As the senior advisor on research and learning, who has been with the organization since its inception, I was so moved to be a part of this celebration with others who champion a safer, more respectful and equitable Jewish professional and communal landscape. 

As I read through the gallery of SRE’s milestones and listened to the change that network members and grantees have made possible, I recalled the 2018 meeting in the Schusterman Family Philanthropies offices, after which SRE was formed. At that time, 30 Jewish funders, lay leaders, professionals, practitioners, rabbis and others gathered to discuss the revelations and impacts of the lack of safety, respect and equity in Jewish spaces, many of which were suddenly being discussed publicly in the wake of the MeToo movement. We could not have imagined then that an organization dedicated to gender justice in the Jewish world would form, or the impact it would have. 

This year’s convening was a lesson in celebrating progress while continuing to strive for success. The opening conversation with journalist Jodi Kantor drove this home. Her groundbreaking investigative reporting, which broke open the story of allegations of abuse and sexual harassment against powerful film producer Harvey Weinstein, has had far-reaching effects on many industries and communities, including the Jewish world. She recalled not knowing whether the story she and her colleagues were working on would matter to anyone. Upon reflecting on the impact of her reporting she added, “Everything’s changed and nothing’s changed.” What better way to acknowledge the progress that has been made on this uphill battle while acknowledging the continued need to keep climbing?

But what keeps us going when the work is difficult, some believe it isn’t needed, and there is so much to do? We can learn from the “progress principle.” After analyzing 12,000 diary entries written by 238 employees from seven companies, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer discovered that “making progress in meaningful work,” no matter the size of that progress, is the most important factor to increasing motivation, productivity and joy at work. They also identified catalysts, or actions that support one’s work, and nourishers, which are uplifting interpersonal events at work, such as showing respect and encouragement. Building on this, Anne-Laure Le Cunff writes about micro-wins, which celebrate “incremental accomplishments” or progress rather than success. She explains that the key to turning micro-wins into macro-wins is consistency. 

The SRE convening itself was both a nourisher and a catalyst that applauded participants for the work they are doing, while supporting them by bringing them together around a meaningful cause. Throughout the day, small and big wins were shared as we looked to SRE’s past to build a better tomorrow. For one participant, “feeling the energy in the room and seeing that progress is being made” was the most valuable part about the gathering. And as SRE prepares to release its new strategic plan, it is clear that this work is here to stay. 

Engaging in the intentional work of the three-legged stool that is safety, respect and equity is meaningful – but it is also difficult, underfunded and must be steeped in the lived experiences of those who have been mistreated. Therefore, the sessions focused on hearing from a wide range of voices including survivors, funders and practitioners in the field both in and outside of the Jewish community. There is a lot more work to do to secure safety, respect and equity for all and, therefore, the convening closed with participants working on action plans to apply what they learned and identify their next steps. But we know that, over time, progress is being made. 

Lisa Eisen, SRE’s advisory board chair, noted that “we are all on the hook to fix what is broken, to change what needs to be changed, to make the world better.” The Mishna in Avot reminds us of this responsibility while encouraging us not to get overwhelmed by it: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” Success is not necessarily about reaching a final destination but about the small steps of progress we make along the way. 

Guila Benchimol, PhD., is a researcher, educator, consultant and victim advocate whose work focuses on gender, abuse, and power. She was one of the key advisers who guided the launch of the SRE Network (Safety, Respect, Equity), and she continues to serve as their senior advisor on research and learning. She also sits on the board of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and is a research associate at the Center for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence where she has worked on projects related to homicides and domestic violence deaths.