I have been thinking about the future we expect for our children and what we anticipate their future will be like in light of the recent and pervasive accounts of sexual harassment throughout society. How can we, shapers of the Jewish future, prepare them for such an imperfect future?
In the Jewish day school world, we talk an awful lot about vision. We know that at its very core, education is about the future. When we set well-intentioned goals or implement strategies constructed with the help of cutting-edge consultants, we are intending to have a direct influence on the future. And on the other hand, we must admit that there is a vast pool of indirect influences that contribute to a vision of a world over which we have little control.
Given the importance of this subject, on February 22, Prizmah will be offering a webinar for Jewish day schools, “Ensuring a Respectful Workplace in Your School,” led by Fran Sepler. Fran is a leading expert in this field, and she designed the national Respect in the Workplace training for the EEOC. A number of Jewish communal professionals have already participated in trainings by Fran in recent months, every one of which has received overwhelmingly positive views. Click here to learn more about this webinar and to register. In view of the importance of this subject, this webinar is open to Prizmah members and non-members.
As we look to think deeply about how we can best serve students and create a safe space for children, their families, our professional staff, and lay leaders, we can look within our own institutions and check what we are doing to create safe, inclusive environments for all. Lisa Eisen, vice president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, offers tangible suggestions in Six Ways to Combat Sexual Harassment in the Jewish Community.
We can also rethink what the school’s role is in fostering young people who are empowered to do better than current society has. The vulnerability of youth is matched by its enormous capacity to learn and change. In her Edutopia article, “We Need a Place to Start Educating Kids About Sexual Consent. And School Can Be It,” by former high school teacher Maureen Kelleher makes the case for schools increasing the cultural conversation and taking a more active role in teaching about consent.
And most immediately, we can model the values we want to teach our children by ensuring that our schools themselves are respectful workplace environments. Prizmah recently co-sponsored a program led by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, Revealing #MeToo as #WeToo in Jewish Communal Life: an Evening of Discussion and Action. We have made a commitment to provide resources to schools on policies, communication strategies, and training about how to handle issues when they arise.
Following our February 22 webinar, Prizmah will also be offering in-depth training sessions for school leaders to do a comprehensive review of their policies and receive training on how to establish effective procedures. The first of these training sessions will be held in NY – more information coming soon. We will offer additional sessions in other parts of the country
Many of us can easily quote from Pirke Avot 4:1, “Who is wise?” Rabbi Ben Zoma asks. “The one who learns from all.” Yet there is (at least) one other response to this question in the Talmud: “One who sees what the future holds” (Tamid 32a). I doubt many would have predicted the sea change we are witnessing in the way society is talking about workplace harassment. We are in the business of wisdom, however, and in the day-to-day efforts to shape just what the future does in fact hold. May the learning we share inspire us to create a better world for our children and to support them as they encounter what is not yet as it should be.