In recent weeks, the American Jewish community, particularly the Reform Jewish community, has been rocked again, this time by the release of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) report on decades of sexual misconduct, discrimination and abuse at the seminary. Replete with statistics and trends, most harrowing are the personal accounts of trauma and harm suffered by students and faculty over decades at the hands of those they trusted to be their teachers, colleagues and leaders.

The timing of the release of the report with the Jewish calendar is as appropriate as it is meaningful. The month of Kislev comes at the time of year when the days are shortest, as light is fleeting long before we are ready to rest for the night. Perhaps, we have more time to contemplate what is hidden by darkness and shadow. Simultaneously, every year at this time teachers, rabbis and writers talk about the power of the light in the celebration of Hanukkah that comes to the Jewish calendar in this, the darkest of months. 

While a shadow is cast by the actions revealed in the report, the HUC-JIR investigation and the report itself are like a candle revealing what has been long hidden or obscured by an unwillingness to see or to acknowledge. Only through the revealing of truths, the willingness to shed light on what has been hidden and the courage to face the damage do we have an opportunity to heal.

Yet, we cannot heal what we cannot see. When, for example, the news of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior broke four years ago, reckonings broke open in other arenas, including the Jewish academic and professional worlds. With every new report, we have an opportunity to do teshuvah, and implement steps to make healing change. Once illumination occurs and our eyes are open, we have an obligation to engage in the hard work of addressing and taking action towards real systemic change.

That change requires a breakdown of old systems where power and money are synonymous. In order to actionably move forward so that we eradicate harassment, abuse, discrimination and inequity; in order to co-create a Jewish communal world where there is no need to illuminate systemic harm because it is no longer a reality – we must allocate resources that elevate the capacity for the work. We must shift the power into the hands of the organizations and professionals that are committed to doing the hard work internally and whose missions themselves are to help others build this vision of a whole and equitable Jewish world. 

We need you, reader: Are you a Jewish development professional, an independent philanthropist or a concerned community member with the capacity to give? Are you an influencer with proximity to foundations or donors who care about this work? We need you to rally around those of us who are already in the trenches – bring your light of funding and support that will get us the breath we need to carry on. 

In the light of these last years, a few mighty professionals and determined organizations have risen to the call and dug in to do the work. Ta’amod is one of those. Through cutting edge training and unprecedented tools and skill building, we are opening hard conversations with organizations to look at the reality of what their culture really is and to do the work to make course corrections or bolster an already positive culture to sustain it. We at Ta’amod extend deepest gratitude to the Safety Respect Equity Network, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, Women of Vision, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta for their generous support to date. And yet, we need others to join who have made commitments to this work. The challenges we face in the Jewish communal landscape impact all of us and require all of us, the entire community, to rally around and fund the work that must be done. We cannot just leave it to the small organizations and the pioneering professionals. To truly make a broad and lasting impact the financial investment needed from the community exceeds the capacity of these pioneering funders.

Ta’amod shares the field with other small, largely or entirely female led initiatives that are willing to get their hands dirty, dig into the trenches and be the changemakers. Yet almost daily, I speak with colleagues who are struggling to respond to the demand for the work we are already doing. We are all facing understaffing and limited resources as well as systems of funding that limits our capacity to grow in step with the need. A CEO of one such organization recently shared with me her own experience. She had so much stress and anxiety about being able to make payroll, that her spouse suggested she needed to talk to someone. Her reply was, “I don’t need a therapist, I need a donor!” This sentiment is unfortunately far from atypical. Is this the story that we want to continue to tell across the Jewish communal landscape? It need not be a dream that Jewish professionals have the abundance and spaciousness needed to do the work well – without the burnout that has become almost inevitable in our sector. 

Deep financial support is required to transform Jewish institutions from the inside out and work towards eradicating harassment, abuse and discrimination. We cannot heal what we cannot see, and we cannot make change without the resources it takes to fuel our efforts. Let this moment of continued reckoning, unearthing and light shedding, be one that also buoys the organizations and individuals who are answering the call long into the future.

Nicole Nevarez is executive director of Ta’amod.

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