In the summer of 2015, with the Jewish community abuzz over sexual abuse claims against a rabbi that had lingered in the shadows, I was approached by a friend who was wondering how we could prevent something like that from happening in our community. Did we have the training, policies and procedures in place to prevent abuse from happening or respond to it in our synagogue? We started googling and embarked on a journey that continues to this day.
The problem felt so big and complicated that we didn’t know where to begin. We had been doing background checks on our employees, but were they sufficiently thorough? What kind of training did our youth directors need, and what about the maintenance staff? What rules were we even asking people to follow? It felt like we were stumbling in the dark.
Thankfully, our research led us to Shira Berkovits, a leading expert in abuse prevention in the Jewish community. By the time we connected, she had consulted for synagogues across the country. Although some of her clients were dealing with tragedy that had already struck, she had been working with organizations who were proactively getting things in place that could both prevent something from happening, and prepare them to respond to any allegations or evidence of abuse that might arise. There was no paved path to follow, but Shira and her team could guide us through this tangle of very sensitive issues.
Shira’s organization, Sacred Spaces, is committed to “providing Jewish organizations with the professional services to develop robust policies and training to prevent opportunities for abuse.” They are now launching the Safeguarding Children Campaign, a DIY program for organizations to implement these 10 best practices for child protection:
1. Form a child safety committee to oversee child protection efforts.
2. Establish connections with community partners including law enforcement, Child Protective Services, Jewish Board of Family Services and more.
3. Conduct a building safety assessment.
4. Screen current employees and volunteers who have access to youth.
5. Establish protocols to screen employees and volunteers applying for a job.
6. Provide mandatory training for staff and volunteers with access to youth.
7. Educate children about matters of personal safety and privacy.
8. Offer pastoral support to victims and survivors of abuse.
9. Develop guidelines for interacting with children, including a wide range of matters.
10. Develop a protocol for responding to complaints.
The Hebrew Institute of White Plains was honored to be invited to a pilot of this campaign, and is thrilled to be co-hosting a campaign launch event with our four White Plains sister synagogues. We are appreciative to the UJA Federation, Westchester Jewish Council, Westchester Jewish Family Services and other community organizations for partnering with us.
Please join us on October 29 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. to hear from Shira Berkovits about how you can bring the Safeguarding Children Campaign to your synagogue, school, camp or organization.
Please encourage the rabbis, professionals and lay leaders in your community to learn more about the Safeguarding Children Campaign, and to sign up as soon as possible.
For more information about the event and campaign, visit www.jewishsacredspaces.org.
Westchester Safeguarding Children Campaign Launch
Monday, October 29 | 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Hebrew Institute of White Plains
20 Greenridge Avenue, White Plains, NY 10605
By Aaron Steinberg
Aaron Steinberg is the chair of the Safeguarding Children Committee at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains.