December 24, 2018
The year gone by led to a #UsToo reckoning for American Jewry. While the issue of unwanted sexual advances and demands by powerful men remained a prominent topic in wider society, it assumed a position of particular notoriety in the Jewish community. This newspaper played a role in reporting in detail about allegations lodged against leading sociologist Steven M. Cohen, mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and former NJY Camps director Len Robinson. In the wake of our July story, Cohen stepped down from his position as head of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University and he resigned from his post at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. (His downfall also touched off a debate about whether his demographic findings were influenced by what critics labeled as his sexism.) Robinson resigned as well, and last week an internal report obtained by The Jewish Week suggested that his inappropriate behavior with young women was far more widespread than first thought.
In response to these and other allegations, the Jewish community is beginning to address the problem, albeit in fits and starts: the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York and the Good People Fund launched the B’kavod initiative, designed to merge “Jewish values with Jewish organizational behavior”; Sacred Spaces, a nonprofit organization launched by Shira M. Berkovits to help Jewish organizations develop protocols to prevent abuse, has been working at full capacity with synagogues, camps and national institutions; the Reform movement launched a task force on women in the rabbinate to proactively examine the experience of female clergy and congregants alike; and the Conservative movement created a confidential in-house hotline and dedicated an email address to handle complaints of a sexual nature related to its youth arm. (More of our #metoo coverage here.)