The release of a 37-page report this week that detailed a number of acts of gender, LGBTQ, and racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying from a number of professors and leaders at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion hit home for some of the nearly dozen Twin Cities clergy and educators that are graduates of the school.
The investigation led to 170 interviews of current and former students, staff, and faculty. The allegations spanned five decades since the 1970s, with one allegation having been made of something that took place in the 1960s. “A significant number of the women we interviewed, as well as some of the men, described gender discrimination or bias that they experienced and/or witnessed. The most prevalent comment we heard was of a “good old boys” mindset across all of HUC’s campuses,” the report said. “It is undeniable that, over the 50 year period we reviewed, societal norms and doctrinal positions evolved, and conduct occurring decades ago must be viewed in context. In so doing, however, we do not suggest that conduct that violated individual rights and caused harm to others should not be condemned because it was deemed to be acceptable by some at the time.“
Below is a letter from some of the female graduates of the program, as well as other female-identifying clergy members in the Twin Cities:
As Minnesota female graduates of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) we are saddened, but not shocked, by the Morgan Lewis Report of Investigation into Allegations of Misconduct. The pervasive and persistent experiences of sexual harassment and abuse, a pattern of protecting the perpetrators over the victims, and a retaliatory culture that demonized truth-tellers reflect a dysfunctional system that we each experienced in different ways during our time as students, faculty members, and leaders at the college-institute.
We want to acknowledge the work of the committee and the importance of this independent and comprehensive investigation into allegations that have been reported for decades. However, we also want to acknowledge that making the report of this investigation public is only the first step in changing the sexism, homophobia, racism, and ableism that exists at HUC-JIR, and in other Jewish institutions throughout this country. We stand in solidarity with those who courageously came forward to relive their trauma and we stand with those who chose not to. Judaism teaches that each person is created in the image of God. As a Jewish seminary, HUC-JIR repeatedly acted as though only white, straight, cis-gender men were granted this sacred right. There is a great deal of teshuvah to be done and as alumnae of the college institute, we are committed to encouraging that process of teshuvah.
We, along with female Minnesota rabbis and cantors from all traditions, started gathering together in the wake of the #MeToo movement, at a time when women’s voices were crucial but absent in the Minnesota Jewish community. We have been meeting for over two years to discuss and determine the best way we can support one another as leaders and professionals during this time in history. With the release of the Morgan Lewis Report earlier this week, we decided the time has come to publicly, and collectively, address our local Jewish community. We want to communicate our heartache at the specific findings of this report. We also want to state that while this report is specific to HUC-JIR, we know these allegations are not isolated to any one Jewish institution or movement. It is time to reckon with our history and call for transparency and teshuvah across all levels of organized Jewish life.
As female clergy and leaders, we call our Minnesota Jewish community to action and are ready to lead the effort toward developing and adopting a statement of commitment to make every Jewish Institution across our state a safe community. We aspire for all Jewish professionals and lay leaders to be trained around what constitutes a safe community and hope this effort will culminate with a collective commitment toward safeguarding our institutions from dehumanizing behavior and perpetuating a culture of abuse in the years to come.
Rabbi Esther Adler (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 1987)
Rabbi Jill Crimmings (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 2013)
Frances Silverstein Fischer (HUC-JIR LA, Communal Service, Class of 1989)
Rabbi Jennifer Hartman (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 2010)
Cantor Tamar Havilio (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 1996; HUC-JIR Jerusalem Faculty, 2002-2020)
Rabbi Rebecca Kamil (HUC-JIR Cincinnati, Class of 2016)
Rabbi Cathy Nemiroff (HUC-JIR LA and NY, Class of 2002)
Rabbi Sam Schauvaney (HUC-JIR Cincinnati, Class of 2021)
Wendy Robinson Schwartz, RHSOE (HUC-JIR LA, Class of 1984)
Cantor Jennifer Blum Seeger (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 1998)
Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 1996)
Cantor Jennifer Strauss-Klein (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 2009)
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman (HUC-JIR NY, Class of 1988)
Hazzan Joanna Dulkin (Jewish Theological Seminary, Class of 2004)
Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman (Hebrew College, Class of 2010)
Rabbi Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg (Hebrew College, Class of 2017)
Rabbi Lynn Liberman, BCC (Jewish Theological Seminary, Class of 1993)
Rabbi Tamar Magill-Grimm (Hebrew College, Class of 2010)
Rabbi Debra Rappaport (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Class of 2007)
Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Class of 2018)
Rabbi Sharon Stiefel (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Class of 1990)