A Roadmap Forward: Striving for Accountability and Repair

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The URJ’s ethics accountability efforts over the past year have included a key commitment to accountability and restorative justice for all victims-survivors of abuse and misconduct in URJ spaces. In order to ensure that the URJ engaged in a serious restorative process that focused on the needs of victims-survivors, we contracted with Dr. Guila Benchimol and Dr. Alissa Ackerman, renowned experts in this field who are survivor scholars and restorative justice facilitators, and who have dedicated their lives to addressing abuse and harm by understanding it and its far-reaching consequences.

As a first step, Dr. Benchimol and Dr. Ackerman conducted a series of listening sessions, hearing directly from some victims-survivors about the harms they experienced, the impact of those harms, and the restorative needs of these victims-survivors. A primary goal of these conversations was to inform the design of a restorative justice “Roadmap to Accountability.”

The document that follows is the full document prepared by Dr. Benchimol and Dr. Ackerman. It includes their recommended survivor-centered Roadmap as well as a more thorough description of the harms and needs expressed. During this process, we learned a great deal about secondary harms articulated by the participants. We will be learning much more about these themes from an additional thematic analysis provided to us by Dr. Benchimol and Dr. Ackerman as part of our educational process. The document also outlines what ownership and accountability look like according to the participants. During the course of this work, we have recognized the power dynamics that are and have been at play, and the powerful position the URJ holds. We recognize that we need to rebalance and let go of some of that power, a step that is critically necessary for restorative justice to be effective. The Roadmap provides various methods of restorative justice to respond to the participating victims-survivors’ stated needs, many of which we plan for the coming year. The Roadmap applies to all victims-survivors, not just those who spoke with Dr. Benchimol and Dr. Ackerman.

We are deeply grateful to those who participated in these conversations, even when it was difficult to reflect on the impact of the harm. The reports of the impact of the harm experienced by the victims-survivors who spoke with Dr. Benchimol and Dr. Ackerman included harms caused at or by the URJ, harms that occurred in congregations, and harms by other Reform Movement partners. These accounts were very difficult to read and we are continuing to absorb them. These members of our Reform community trusted the URJ and the Reform Movement and we failed to live up to our moral responsibility. Over time, those harms have only deepened as they went unaddressed. We are deeply sorry for the harm that we have caused, and we profoundly apologize for the enduring pain caused to so many.

As we have shared, we accept full responsibility for harms created in URJ spaces, including camps and youth programming, including where we failed to properly respond. Through our commitment to ethical accountability and to a culture of accountability for the safety and protection of all, we will continue to seek to prevent future harm, to ensure appropriate response to abuse and misconduct reporting, and to create safe and equitable spaces for all. We are equally committed to collaborating with our Reform Movement partners and our URJ congregations to effect change and to ensure the safety and well-being of each and every person within our Reform Jewish community.

The Roadmap provides a comprehensive plan for restorative justice work that the URJ is committed to implementing for and with victim-survivors and our community. Some parts of the Roadmap are actions that the URJ will do. Some are plans which will require collaboration with victims-survivors or Movement partners. We take these plans seriously and the URJ Ethics Task Force/Restorative Processes Work Team is charged with reviewing and planning this important implementation. We will communicate more in the coming weeks.

It is our deepest hope that by engaging in a serious restorative process with victims-survivors through the Roadmap, and by holding ourselves accountable to the values of URJ, we can begin to repair and bring meaningful healing, restoration, and justice for all victims-survivors and to our entire community.

DOWNLOAD THE ROADMAP

Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him)
URJ President
rjacobs@urj.org
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her)
Chair, URJ North American Board of Trustees
jkaufman@urj.org

 

If you have further questions, please feel free to contact URJ Ethics Accountability Task Force co-chairs Shelley Niceley Groff or Missy Johnson.  

If you have experienced or witnessed any type of harassment, abuse, or misconduct at a URJ worksite, camp, or program, please contact: Ombuds, Caroline Cuneo, or URJ General Counsel and Vice President, Missy Johnson. To report an incident to another Reform Movement Institution, please contact one of these representatives

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