Jewish Institutions Must Also Do T’shuvah

September 13, 2021Rabbi Rick Jacobs

On Yom Kippur, we are commanded to strip away the superficial layers of our lives and see ourselves with utter honesty and unflinching ethical accountability. 

On the Day of Atonement, our prayers cannot right the wrongs we may have inflicted on the people around us, though they can help us summon the resolve to walk the intensely demanding path of t’shuvahT'shuvahתְּשׁוּבָה"Return;" The concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holidays. or repentance, which is our Jewish tradition’s way to repair and heal relationships. There are several steps to t’shuvah, which is often a long, emotionally grueling process. First, we must acknowledge the wrongs we have done. Second, we must demonstrate true remorse and regret for our behavior. Third, we must take responsibility, seeking to repair harm that has been done and using learnings to ensure that the future is more equitable, inclusive, and respectful to all. Only then can we ask for forgiveness.

Jewish institutions too must do t’shuvah. It cannot be emphasized enough that the heart of our Reform Movement is our deep commitment to shaping a more just and compassionate world. That holy work must begin with each of us and the sacred communities we love and lead. In Judaism, living ethically responsible lives means regularly taking an account of our spiritual and moral health, a practice called in Hebrew cheshbon hanefesh. We at the URJ have been and continue to be deeply committed to the sanctity of ethical accountability.

This accounting includes a profound reckoning in response to several public reports of leaders in our Reform Jewish Movement who have engaged in sexual harassment and misconduct. I have shared my thoughts on this matter in the video linked below. It follows the URJ’s announcement of  April 30, 2021 that we engaged  outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation of past sexual harassment, abuse, and misconduct within the URJ. When that work is complete, we will share the key findings and recommendations of the investigation.

I pray that our observance of Yom Kippur will be probing and transformative, helping us become the best people and the most inspiring Movement that we are meant to be.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you be inscribed and sealed for a new year overflowing with courage, honesty, healing, and new beginnings.    

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