How to Create Change:
A Series on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in Our Community

An introduction from Robert Bank, Lisa Eisen, Sheila Katz and Idit Klein

You need only look at today’s deeply personal and widespread debates about sexual harassment and gender discrimination to understand that our society is at a crucial inflection point. In light of painful and courageous #MeToo revelations, people in all sectors are calling, unequivocally, for change.

Jewish organizations have also been confronted with our own need for reckoning. We all, in one way or another, have been part of perpetuating the culture that allows harassment, assault, discrimination and inequity to occur. We have only recently begun addressing this critical issue on a comprehensive scale, and it will take the efforts of all of us to create the kind of change we need.

The SafetyRespectEquity Coalition was formed to help make this change a reality. The Coalition supports Jewish workplaces and organizations in making systemic reforms to prevent and address sexual harassment and establish and maintain gender equity. We are proud to be part of the powerful wave of social activism currently coming ashore and see this work as an extension of our moral responsibility as Jews.

Today, we know what is happening. We know why we must change. The question now is how?

Inherent in Jewish tradition are the lessons and values that must guide us forward – the obligation to treat others with dignity, to build on our legacy of righteous action, examine the role of bystanders and seek teshuvah and restorative justice. As Jewish scholars describe, justice is not merely an idea, it is an exercise.

Yet, no matter how steadfast the Jewish teachings, entrenched systems can often be just as unyielding. Systemic change is complex, made more difficult by years of inertia, our community’s blended personal and professional relationships, and, as always, an imbalance of power and resources.

Change is hard – but the work of the SafetyRespectEquity Coalition is grounded in our belief that it is both possible and essential.

In particular, the Coalition helps to ensure that organizations have access to best-in-class policies and procedures, proper training for preventing harassment and responding to allegations and educational resources for fostering a fair and healthy culture.

More than 60 organizations, which together reflect the breadth of the Jewish community, comprise the Coalition’s Leadership. All have adopted a commitment to implement comprehensive standards to achieve the goals of safety, respect and equity.

As we continue to bring other institutions on board, we will be expanding the technical and financial resources available to support these organizations on their ongoing journeys, including the announcement today of $500,000 in field-building grants to expand the work already underway in this space.

Another member of the Coalition, The Genesis Prize Foundation (GPF), recently granted $1 million to 37 women’s NGOs in Israel. GPF has launched a matching grants initiative in North America focusing on gender equity in Jewish workplaces and communal spaces, which is being administered by Jewish Funders Network.

It is in the spirit of how that we are also excited to share a series of articles written by representatives from Coalition member organizations that are driving change and finding success. These organizations are all beginning the central task of ensuring their values and protocols align.

Throughout the next few weeks, you will hear from several leaders about their team’s efforts to proliferate best practices among emerging philanthropists; produce a gender awareness guide for funders to use in their grantmaking; create culture change within an organization and across a field; work toward gender equity at the highest levels of leadership; and more.

Not only are these efforts laying the groundwork for significant change within each organization, they also help to strengthen a broader culture of respect and inclusion across our community.

Notably, these initiatives are not yet finished. We hope that by pulling back the curtain to reveal works in progress, we make change tangible and inspire others to get started with their own crucial internal efforts.

The Coalition will be the first to acknowledge that there is so much that we do not know. Our theory of change, however, stems from the idea that progress requires us first and foremost to begin, and to learn and course correct in real time.

Progress, after all, will require everyone’s participation – organizations large and small, national and local, spiritual and secular. We have a collective responsibility to do better by those vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. Ethically, this work is fundamental to who we are as Jews. Practically, it is vital to our ability to attract and retain talent and build a strong Jewish future. It is urgent, important and serves as a true test of our community’s character.

While each organization must chart its own path, we do not embark on this journey alone. We are in this together. Let’s lean on each other, share our lessons learned and hold each other accountable. Let’s replicate our accomplishments and share our failures. Let’s keep the faith that positive change is possible.

Most importantly, let’s get to work.

Robert Bank
President and CEO, American Jewish World Service
Co-Chair of SRE Coalition Stewardship Group

Lisa Eisen
Vice President, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Co-Chair of SRE Coalition Stewardship Group

Sheila Katz
Vice President, Student Engagement and Leadership, Hillel International
Co-Chair of SRE Coalition Steering Committee

Idit Klein
Executive Director, Keshet
Co-Chair of SRE Coalition Steering Committee