Ethics Accountability Update - April 2022

April 13, 2022Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman

When the URJ released the Ethics Report following the independent investigation into sexual misconduct in URJ workplaces and programs in February, we committed to implementing the recommendations and keeping our community apprised of our progress. It is in that spirit that we share this update on the key milestones and outcomes we expect to achieve over the next several months.
The elements identified below are grounded in the recommendations made by Debevoise & Plimpton in the report. This is a summary of a comprehensive plan that will continue to evolve with input from victims/survivors, movement partners, staff, and lay leaders. Working groups comprised of these constituent groups will be responsible for designing and implementing the specific work plans, while the Ethics Accountability Task Force, comprised of lay leaders with the participation of Missy Johnson, URJ’s General Counsel and Vice President, People, Culture & Risk Management, will have oversight of the work and will hold the URJ accountable for meeting milestones and timelines. Updates to the plan will be shared periodically with all stakeholders. You may sign up to receive more regular updates.
In this first phase, we are focused on the following outcomes: 
Victims and survivors are centered in fostering a culture of respect and safety. This includes seeking the participation and input of victims and survivors in developing restorative processes; developing processes for transgressors that allow for apology, amends, and t’shuvah for those who seek it; and the holding of communal gatherings and town hall conversations. 
URJ cultivates a sustainable culture of belonging, safety and respect. This includes training and coaching all stakeholders in an ongoing way; expanding staff capacity to prioritize safety and respect; and providing tools and resources for congregations to foster sustainable cultures of safety and respect. 
Reform Movement standards and practices for safe and respectful environments are consistent and aligned. This includes working with movement partners to establish movement-wide protocols on clergy placement; developing movement-wide protocols on publicly sharing list of expelled, suspended, or censured clergy; and working with our movement partners to align practices related to employment. 
Reporting mechanisms are known, easy to access and responded to in a timely way across all programs. This includes developing a plan for additional reporting avenues, including hiring an ombudsperson by year-end; identifying and clarifying staff roles in relation to reporting processes and timeframes for response; updating and increasing accessibility and safety of reporting resources for stakeholders; and use of virtual reporting tools to enhance record retention. 
Consistent, clear expectations are known and used by all stakeholders to foster safe and respectful environments. This includes updating policies and procedures; making policies and tools easy to access; training stakeholders to ensure understanding of and access to policies and procedures; and supporting congregations in adopting ethics codes. 
We hope that these initial steps will set us on a path of true, comprehensive, and lasting structural and cultural change. Going forward, we will continue to honor the courage of all those who have come forward, both during the investigation and after the release of the report, as we build out our efforts to ensure that our communities are safe environments for everyone. 
Soon we will gather to recite the ancient narrative of Passover, a story of our people’s journey from bondage to freedom, from degradation to dignity, from fear to faith. It is a journey of transformation for us, as well as our ancestors, as we continue to leave all that oppresses us today. Our will to shape a more just and equitable world is the imperative that continues to animate us. Our seder ritual should be an act of disruption. It should help transform each of us, so we leave our tables renewed and ready to lead more engaged and responsible Jewish lives. We know you will join us in our commitment to liberate our community from the plagues of sexual misconduct and to create a community overflowing with accountability, safety, and respect.
We thank you for partnering with us in this sacred work and we wish you and your loved ones a sweet and liberating Passover.


Rabbi Rick Jacobs
URJ President

Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman
Chair, URJ North American Board of Trustees

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