This is the result of the last of three investigations launched in April 2021 by the American liberal Jewish community into cases of sexual harassment and abuse. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest federation of liberal Jewish communities in the United States, released the full report on Wednesday (February 16) aimed at determining the extent and nature of abuse cases. sex that has taken place within it since the 1970s.
→ READ. Sexual abuse: in the United States, the Reform Jewish movement investigates internally
Commissioned by the URJ, the independent firm Debevoise & Plimpton interviewed 168 people, including current and former employees, and collected more than 3,000 documents, to conclude that 17 cases of abuse or sexual harassment of adults against minors , 16 cases involving minors and 39 cases involving adults, most of which took place during youth camps. More than 500,000 young people have taken part in this type of event over the past fifty years.
Culture of sexualization
” We find that both women and men have been victims of sexual harassment
while applying or working for URJ, including unwelcome sexual comments, sexual advances, and sexual assault “, write in the preamble the investigators. They also warn of the presence of an “old boys’ club” atmosphere in the previous generation of directors and highlight the existence of a “culture of sexualization” within certain youth camps.
Several personalities of the movement are cited by name in the report, such as three rabbis and a director of a structure, having run a youth camp for nearly fifty years. The latter is accused of having sexually assaulted at least six adult women.
This investigation was launched last spring, after the revelations of accusations of sexual abuse launched against the American reformed rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, former president of the reformed rabbinical school from 1996 to 2000.
However, the investigators recognize several limitations to their approach. For example, the report does not cover the more than 800 Reform Movement communities, which operate independently of each other. In addition, the investigators point out that sexual abuse is generally under-reported and that “ so there are likely other survivors who knew about our work but chose not to come forward, a choice we respect “.
The report also highlights the refusal of many witnesses to contact the URJ, by ” fears of retaliation “, from their ” superiors, rabbis, their peers or other people in the Reform movement “.
The investigators recommend the implementation of several initiatives, including adopting a stricter consent policy or even establishing an audit of the URJ archives. ” We emphasize the importance (…) of empathy and fairness for all parties involved “, they conclude, insisting on the need for the establishment of a ” additional, age-appropriate training on consent, starting in secondary school “.
“We are heartbroken and devastated by these stories and we deeply apologize for the lasting pain caused to so many people”Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, and Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, chair of the board of directors, said in a joint statement. “We are committed in the future to creating environments that better protect the safety and well-being of everyone in our community”, they also wrote. The authors of the report recognize, for their part, the character “positive” of the gait, which translates, according to them, the sign of a “profound cultural change”.
In November 2021, a similar survey, conducted within the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the main training center for liberal rabbis, had been published by the law firm Morgan Lewis to analyze and collect complaints from 170 witnesses. The investigators had identified cases of sexual harassment committed by six personalities of the establishment.