Top-down efforts

How funders can advance safety, respect and equity in Jewish spaces

In Short

Five years on, the foundations behind the SRE Network lay out the best ways to make Jewish workplaces better for everyone

In January 2018, in the midst of a global movement against sexual violence, harassment and discrimination, Jewish foundations, organizations and expert practitioners came together to form what is known today as SRE (Safety Respect Equity) Network. The goal was ambitious: to create a community-led movement to address gender-based harassment and discrimination, and to support Jewish workplaces that are safe, respectful and equitable for all. 

Earlier this summer, nearly 200 community leaders celebrated five years of this work at SRE Network’s convening in New York. As a community, we came together to acknowledge what we have accomplished and how far we’ve come. 

Since 2018, SRE Network has grown to 165 member organizations committed to this work; has defined standards to characterize safety, respect and equity in Jewish communal life; and has invested more than $5 million across 40 initiatives that help train staff to advance healthy workplaces, champion gender equity, support survivors of abuse in Jewish workplaces and other settings, and more. The network has also provided leadership, research, training, connections and resources within and across Jewish communities. 

As victim advocate Guila Benchimol, who was key in guiding the launch of SRE Network, shared, “This year’s convening was a lesson in celebrating progress while continuing to strive for success.” 

Now, as we look toward the next five years, it is clear that funders have a critical role to play in prioritizing and advancing efforts to build safe, respectful and equitable Jewish workplaces, JCCs, camps, synagogues and other communal spaces. We were pleased to reconnect with a broad group of new and established partners at this year’s convening, including colleagues from The Russell Berrie Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, The Mayberg Foundation, Jewish Funders Network, and more. As funders, we have an opportunity to set benchmarks of excellence in a range of areas such as paid leave, diversity in leadership, equal pay and recruiting and retaining top talent. 

To lay the groundwork for the success we want to achieve, here are three ways funders can help drive this critical work today and for the long term:

Lead by example. Funders can join SRE Network and commit to being active participants in creating healthier and stronger Jewish communal organizations. This not only means providing funding but also doing the work within our own organizations. Internally, we can examine how we advance safety, respect and equity in our organizations and how we support our grantees to do the same. At the convening, several of our human resources and operations staff learned alongside Jewish communal organizations. Only when we hold ourselves accountable to doing this work can we ask grantees to do the same. 

Put the needs and experiences of those harmed by abuse in Jewish settings front and center. This means assuming the presence of survivors in communities and organizations we support. We can adapt funding practices by asking if and how survivors are considered and consulted in the development of grantee programs and strategies. One session during the recent SRE convening featured survivors and people affected by abuse in various Jewish settings who shared their stories and discussed the public response they received. By understanding the short- and long-term impacts of harm, and by asking thoughtful questions and integrating survivors’ perspectives, organizations can be more intentional about supporting survivors in both their programming and hiring.

Commit to continuous learning to support long-term change. Funders should pay close attention to what is, or is not, working well. One way we can do that is by holding ourselves and our grantees accountable to participating in surveys, such as Leading Edge’s Employee Experience Survey and SRE’s Standards Self-Assessment. These help us understand and improve organizational culture, including opportunities to create greater workplace safety and stronger employee engagement. In addition, we can work with organizations to learn from and deepen work that is already underway. For example, the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) launched a multiyear process for implementing the SRE standards, including adding its first-ever employee handbook; developing reporting and response procedures for workplace abuse such as an ombudsperson program; and strengthening its policies overall. We see this as one of many examples that point to progress and provide models that organizations can learn from and implement.

As supporters of SRE Network, we can and should acknowledge the strides we’ve made while recognizing that our community is not done growing. Much more work remains to achieve the ambitious goal we set in 2018. We share a vision for greater safety, respect and equity within Jewish communities, where people can live and work free from abuse and be treated fairly and with dignity. The more that funders commit to this work, the more amplified our impact will be. For survivors. For our community. For our society.

Dawne Bear Novicoff is the chief operating officer at the Jim Joseph Foundation; Jon Hornstein is the program director at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; and Rebecca Shafron is the program officer for U.S. Jewish grantmaking at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies.