By: Carly Friedman
Sacred Spaces partners with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power. Bringing a uniquely Jewish lens, Sacred Spaces is the only national organization dedicated to ending institutional abuse through a systemic approach across the lifespan and denominations. It is driven by the belief that healthy and accountable institutions — whose culture and daily operations foster sacredness and reduce the risk of harassment abuse, and other forms of interpersonal harm — contribute to the overall health and well being of the community.
We have worked with hundreds of organizations to implement new policies and protocols to enhance safety and respect for each organization’s children, staff, and community. After Sacred Spaces worked with The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies on policy development, Judy Klitsner, senior lecturer in Bible at Pardes, shared the following reflection: “Gradually, and often with difficulty, we came to understand that functioning on good will and good instincts alone — though we had an abundance of both — would no longer be sufficient… All in all, there is sense of enormous institutional pride at the intensive work we have done and at the rewards we have reaped. We have fostered an atmosphere of safety, of trust and transparency.
We have enhanced our sense of institutional integrity: we are more thoroughly living out the values and principles we encounter in the texts we study. A Pardes, we are profoundly grateful to Sacred Spaces for helping us translate our values into action, and as a result, for helping us to walk taller as an institution.” This kind of response to our work is common, and organizations recognize the value in having experts guide them through the difficult stages of policy development and implementation.
We are now building our Keilim Policy Toolkit, a free website that will guide the development to policies and procedures to create respectful, healthy, and safe environments for those who work at or access Jewish organizations. Our work also focuses on safeguarding youth through Aleinu: Safeguarding our Children. Cliff Nerwen, a pediatrician and active member of an Aleinu organization, shared that “For years I was a ‘responder,’ passively reporting encounters with child abuse. But my real desire was to be a ‘preventer,’ to actively prevent child abuse from happening, to keep children safe and healthy, particularly in my own community… [Sacred Spaces] guided me and a group of lay leaders and professionals at my synagogue, The Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale (CSAIR), in developing a child protection policy. Over 18 months, we discussed the principles of child protection, increased our awareness of and sensitivity to the topic; developed a robust policy statement, Safeguarding Our Children; A Child Protection Policy; and, most importantly, engaged the community in taking responsibility for youth’s safety.” Aleinu provides training, office hours, and a web platform with resources and support to implement safeguards. This groundbreaking platform is currently in New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, and we aim to make it available to all Jewish youth-serving organizations across the United States. In addition to our prevention work, Sacred Spaces provides expert advice and consultation to Jewish organizations when necessary, including crisis consultation for institutions that have received disclosures of abuse. We have experienced a significant uptick in requests for case consultations from institutions enrolled in our prevention programs, suggesting that knowledge gained in these programs enables organizations to identify problems sooner and seek guidance.
Recent recommendations have included practical considerations for keeping youth safe in the presence of known risks, conducting responsible and ethical investigations, insight into trauma-informed communications, guidance in bringing communities together to process and heal, and advice for preserving evidence. And while historical cases have always been a part of Sacred Spaces’ work, recently, institutions are not merely seeking expert advice to respond to the disclosure of a historical case; they are also exploring deeper ways for communities to heal. Our services now include supporting institutions as they envision teshuvah in their communities and helping institutions take steps towards achieving trauma-informed restorative justice. It has been heartening to see institutions consider these questions and rethink their approaches.
Sacred Spaces engages with our work with a deep sense of responsibility toward our community, its institutions, and the members in its care. At the center of our actions is the biblical call in Exodus 25:8 to construct a sanctuary: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”. ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם When we create safe and sacred communal spaces, we invite God’s presence to reside in our midst.
To learn more about all our programs and services, visit [jewishsacredspaces.org])(https://jewishsacredspaces.org)
Judith Belasco is the Executive Vice President at Sacred Spaces. She works to strategically scale and manage Sacred Spaces by aligning mission and vision with day-to-day operations.