By Maya S. Horowitz
Many of us have watched enthusiastically as the Safety Respect Equity (SRE) Coalition has built momentum, with one after another prominent organization adopting the Commitment and implementing the Standards. Each individual victory has felt like a personal win, a bell ringing out that the dignity of all people has been acknowledged, is being asserted, and will be solidified moving forward.
Visionary global Jewish organizations like Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League, and Birthright Israel Foundation have paved the way for the next step in this movement: a community-wide implementation and embrace of safety, respect, and equity in all Jewish workplaces.
Tucson, Arizona is pioneering the first community-wide approach by building a broad coalition to include all Jewish agencies and inviting all synagogues in our community to join together, adopt the SRE Commitment, begin to tackle these important issues, and put structures in place to advance safety, respect, and equity in a holistic way for the entire community.
This past May, we launched the endeavor with a broadly co-sponsored #MeToo #WeToo program for Jewish community stakeholders. Led by the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation and the Tucson Jewish Community Center, Boards of Directors and Trustees at Tucson Jewish organizations began adopting the SRE Commitment in advance of this landmark event, which introduced and solidified our dedication to this movement and made our intention for overarching impact across our agencies and synagogues clear.
The powerful plenary included a presentation of anonymous victim stories, which borrowed heavily from a script prepared by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York for the Hillel International Global Assembly last December; a panel discussion featuring Tucson Jewish professionals, a prominent community lay leader, and Dr. Guila Benchimol, SRE Senior Advisor and academic researcher whose work focuses on sexual violence and crimes; and an immersive experience designed to encourage participants to each define their role in our community movement.
The circumstances of our mid-sized community – a relatively substantial Jewish population that has not lost its “small town” flavor – lend themselves favorably to this innovative approach. That is to say, Tucson has a robust number of Jewish agencies, synagogues, and other Jewish offerings such that SRE implementation can have a meaningful, large-scale impact, and there are also enough personal connections among all of us that when a spark of change is lit, it is not long before it ignites in flame.
For these reasons, among others, our Tucson community is well positioned to pioneer an approach that may offer insights and key learnings to speed the progress of other communities which may aspire to similarly advance this critical cause in a coalition-based way. Certainly, our first priority is to successfully implement this change in our community; nevertheless, our hope and intention is that once we complete a working model, it will serve as a clear roadmap for holistic SRE implementation across a diversity of local communities.
A working group of professionals, including representation from each of our Jewish agencies, has convened over the past several months to advance this goal. As a recent addition to the Tucson community, it has been an honor to serve on this taskforce as one of the agents of cultural change stewarding in a “new normal.”
In the interest of hakarat hatov, our working group has already been the fortunate beneficiaries of insight and expertise from within the SRE movement, including contributions from Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, Mimi Kravetz, Hillel International’s Chief Experience and Talent Officer, Jamie Allen Black, Executive Director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, and Lisa Eisen, Safety Respect Equity Advisory Board Chair and Co-President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. We are grateful to stand on the shoulders of these giants as we continue our local efforts.
Among others, Tucson is eager to work in collaboration to build upon the Diagnostic tool SRE has developed for individual organizations to pilot a community-oriented version that will enable organizations across a community to review their policies and practices so that they can implement the appropriate strategies and reporting mechanisms to address the unique challenges of each context. We imagine this diagnostic will allow for organizations and synagogues within our communal framework to benefit from the common practices, to share in training and policy development, and other advances that can be achieved together, while also allowing each to develop, execute, and hone custom approaches to their unique circumstances.
Our engagement with those more experienced within the SRE movement has helped inform our thinking around benchmarking our milestones for awareness, commitment adoption, model creation, and the implementation of mechanisms for action. We are beginning to execute a plan to train not only staff, but also volunteers and donors throughout our community, to introduce a robust reporting system to ensure that new and existing policies are upheld and violations are appropriately addressed, and to leverage the growing expertise of a number of existing organizations and initiatives, including the Gender Equity Hiring Project, Leading Edge, and the Slingshot Fund.
The Safety Respect Equity movement makes a powerful assertion about the values and priorities of Jewish professionals, volunteers, and donors in North America and critically, lays out an aspirational path forward. Tucson is striving to set the standard for what community-wide implementation looks like so that, as we look to the future in communities large and small, we see safety, equity, inclusiveness, dignity, and respect for all people.
Maya S. Horowitz is Project Manager at Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.