Safety Respect Equity

SRE Network convening considers how to navigate Jewish professionals’ workplace challenges

Conference also serves as a welcome party for the organization's incoming executive director, Rachel Gildiner, who officially begins next month

How should Jewish leaders handle misconduct complaints in the workplace? What should mid-level professionals do to advocate for their employees from the middle of the power structure? And how can we all support each other during tumultuous times? These questions were central to the SRE (Safety Respect Equity) Network’s annual convening, held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan last week.

More than 200 grantees, funders, Jewish community leaders and other organizational representatives — many of them members or affiliates of the network’s more than 175 organizations  — gathered to reaffirm and deepen their commitment to creating workplaces and communal spaces that are safe, respectful and equitable for all. 

The convening also marked the official introduction of incoming executive director Rachel Gildiner, who previously worked with the young adult Jewish community in the greater Washington, D.C., area through her organization, GatherDC. 

Gildiner, who takes the helm of the organization next month, told eJewishPhilanthropy that this year’s convening “felt more important than ever,” amid rising antisemitism and tension within the Jewish community.

“The work of safety, respect, and equity is never easy and particularly in a moment where so many other issues of the world and of the Jewish community feel at stake,” Gildiner said. “And yet, those of us who gathered understand we cannot complete the work the world needs us to if we aren’t uplifting and honoring the humanity in all of us as we do it. I felt the strength, resilience, and energy in the room, knowing that the work of safety, respect, and equity will continue to be centered as foundational and core values of any work worth doing.”

Ariele Mortkowitz, who founded the D.C.-area-based women’s circle Svivah and helped plan and attended the convening, said that SRE “put tremendous thought and care into how they were gathering us.”

“The work of SRE is all the more so important in this moment when the Jewish community feels like such a lifeline to so many of us,” Mortkowitz told eJP. “I felt that the team was conscious of the hard work that was before us,” she added, noting that instead of empty platitudes, the convening showed “a real recognition of what we are grappling with as communal leaders and trying to address,” she said. “It felt good to be in a room full of people who were all rolling up our sleeves.”

The convening’s sessions provided a “choose-your-own adventure” experience for attendees, said Shaina Wasserman, SRE’s senior director of strategic operations, who has also been serving as interim executive director. The convening was also a space where attendees could “just be together, to breathe, to feel like you’re not alone in the work,” she told eJP.

“The Jewish community [is] different. We are the same [as secular resources], but we also have our own language and our Jewish values are guiding our work,” Wasserman said, adding that resources outside the Jewish world are also important and instructive, and are incorporated at convenings, but for the Jewish community, “bringing in [concepts like] kavod habriyot [respect for all creations], derech eretz [treating others fairly], and grounding in Jewish values is important.”

SRE was launched 2018 as a collaboration of nearly a dozen core funders — chiefly  the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and Jim Joseph Foundation — in the wake of the “Me Too” movement and amid a growing awareness of gender-based harassment, discrimination and abuse in Jewish workplaces.

SRE has an annual budget of about $3 million, has distributed $6 million in grants since 2018, and will be announcing another $600,000-worth of grants in a few weeks, Wasserman told eJP. 

Open grant cycles are divided into internal capacity building and external field-building (creating ripple effects across the field) and are determined by a grants review committee. Past grants have been given to partner organizations such as Sacred Spaces, Ta’amod and the Gender Equity in Hiring Project, as well as to organizations whose primary focus is not necessarily related to equity but who want to bolster their SRE efforts, such as Footsteps, Moving Traditions and the Jewish Federations of North America. 

According to SRE’s three-year strategic plan, the organization aims to grow its budget by approximately $500,000 a year. SRE is run remotely, with staff members in Boston, Maine, Florida, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. “Being national and remote works for us,” Wasserman said.

One session, featuring Andrea Jacobs from Ta’amod and Zachary Schaffer and Kara Wilson from Project Shema, centered on navigating antisemitism in the workplace, as many Jewish professionals are experiencing what speakers called “anti-Jewish harm.” 

Mortkowitz said that she was “deeply moved” at the honesty expressed in the session, as panelists acknowledged that some Jewish professionals may have to consider moving on because the organizational mission might not be a match for their beliefs, ideas and values, but that it was “hard to hear.”

“Their honesty was met with a request to not leave with anger, but to just recognize how hard this is for everyone and how no one is coming at this from a place of malice,” Mortkowitz told eJP, adding that attendees were urged to approach these conversations through their relationships. 

“Creating conversations and spaces for processing, and allowing people to share how they are feeling rather than labeling actions,” she said, were among the recommendations from the session’s speakers, as well as “stressing the importance of keeping the Jewish community a place for everyone and that we shouldn’t be looking for reasons to push people away,” she added, “were deeply moving.” 

Lisa Eisen, co-president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, called on the network’s funders to support essential operational support, Mortkowitz said, and to recognize how important it is to “invest in the people of the organizations who are doing this work, and so tired of holding themselves, their colleagues and the Jewish people together,” Mortkowitz added. 

At the convening, Daphne Lazar Price, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Wendy Platt Newberger, director of Jewish life and Israel giving at Crown Family Philanthropies; and Melanie Roth Gorelick, CEO of Elluminate, were acknowledged as women who are championing other women in the U.S. and Israel. 

In her remarks, Lazar Price hailed the support that her organization received for its January mission to Israel from other female Jewish leaders, particularly Schusterman’s Eisen and Ann Pava, president of Micah Philanthropies. 

“Both Lisa Eisen and Ann Pava – a lifelong champion of JOFA – saw the need and helped us to step up to the plate,” Lazar Price said at the event. “It can feel very lonely to be a Jewish person. It can be lonelier to be a Jewish woman, and lonelier still to be a Jewish Orthodox woman, where not only is our voice discounted by Jewish people on the right and on the left, too often we don’t even get a seat at the table. So to be able to come back here, to bear witness, to share with you, to be surrounded by so many incredible leaders who are so invested in supporting women, and supporting the women who support women, leaves me eternally grateful, inspired, and breathless.”