Like many others in the Jewish community with long ties to sociologist Professor Steven M. Cohen, we at UJA — staff and lay leaders — have been grappling with news of multiple sexual harassment and misconduct allegations brought against him last week. In response, Professor Cohen has publicly admitted to “inappropriate behavior” and expressed remorse.
We contracted with Professor Cohen on multiple projects over the years, as did many other Jewish organizations seeking his expertise. We will do so no longer. We respected and trusted him, and we were deeply pained and shocked to learn of these allegations. It has taken years for many of these stories to come to light; I hope the bravery of Professor Cohen’s victims will give courage to all others who have been reluctant and fearful to speak out.
Sexual harassment will never be tolerated at UJA, nor is there any place for it in our community. Over the last year, as the #MeToo movement gained momentum, we enhanced training for employees, reexamined our policies, and recommitted to creating a culture that does not condone abuse of any kind. We also updated our ethical guidelines to clarify that our zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment extends to staff and volunteer leaders alike, whenever and wherever they represent UJA. Of course, there’s more work to do. We will continue to adjust, to self-examine, and to try to hold ourselves and others in our orbit to the highest possible standards of ethics and integrity.
We’re not alone in this. The #MeToo movement has precipitated a major cultural shift, one that is forcing us all to examine behaviors and practices that have too long been tacitly permitted. As more and more victims come forward, we learn story by story of the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct. Yet we also know that the issues transcend sexual harassment and encompass more broadly the abuse of power and gender inequality. Long overdue conversations addressing these topics have begun in the wake of #MeToo and must continue. UJA, along with the Jewish community, needs to own responsibility for and confront these issues, so that all of us can do better together.