Yes. Safety, Respect and Equity Count in a Pandemic

The SRE Omer Project

By Elana Wien and Dr. Guila Benchimol

Many people have been counting and tracking the days since they’ve been ordered to stay indoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For Jews, this counting coincides with another marking of the days that takes place during this time of year, the Counting of the Omer. We at the Safety Respect Equity Network (SRE) launched a collaborative project to help us reflect on what it means to be counting both the Omer, as well as marking and lifting up what counts – what matters – during this time.

When the SRE Network launched two years ago, we knew that addressing the lack of safety, respect, and equity that had taken generations to take root demanded long-term commitment. While we are all experiencing this pandemic, its impact is distributed inequitably across gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age, religion, abilities, immigration status and more. Yes, we need to look beyond our community to understand how that inequity is being felt and reinforced, but we also need to get real about who is in our community and what they are experiencing right now. Who is being disproportionately impacted and are their voices being heard and centered in our decision-making?

Right now, inequity is playing out in our homes, in our workplaces and online every day. Where are our current practices, policies, habits, assumptions reinforcing inequities felt by the 70% of our Jewish nonprofit professionals who are women, the 12-15% of our Jewish community who are Jews of Color (and many more who are in multiracial families), the one in four Jews with a disability, the 16-20% of Jews living in poverty, and the one in four women experiencing domestic violence?

How do we count and account for these experiences and these voices? By marking it down.

We need to collect what we are experiencing around safety, respect, and equity as a community, not only to notice what is happening, but to gain clarity around what we want to leave behind and how to imagine a better, more equitable future together.

As SRE continues to move forward, these are the questions we are asking around how safety, respect, and equity are presenting during COVID-19:

  • What are the gendered differences regarding how individuals are being asked to work, parent, sacrifice, and be in this moment?
  • How are pay cuts, layoffs, and rehiring being distributed across positions, race, and gender?
  • What does it look like to treat your staff ethically, with empathy and respect as they work from home, and as leaders engage in the difficult task of furloughing or laying off staff?
  • How are safety, respect and equity being modeled and tested in the power dynamics between funders and grantees?
  • Whose voices are leading the calls around what is next for the Jewish community and being credited for possible reform and innovation?

Share with us the challenges you are experiencing and how you are making these days count, especially in ways that reflect safety, respect and equity. By holding a mirror to ourselves, the challenges we are facing, and how others are being impacted, we will step into a more equitable future for all.

Elana Wien is the inaugural Executive Director of the Safety Respect Equity (SRE) Network, a national Jewish network mobilized to create safe, respectful, and equitable workplaces and communal spaces.

Dr. Guila Benchimol is the Senior Advisor on Research and Learning with the Safety Respect Equity Network.