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Central Synagogue’s Anti-Harassment and Culture of Respect Policy

April 20, 2022 | Messages From Leadership

This email announcing Central Synagogue's new Anti-Harassment and Culture of Respect Policy was sent to the congregation on April 20, 2022.

Dear Central Family,

It has been almost a year since we shared the findings of our investigation of Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman and we now wish to provide important updates in our ongoing learning about our past to build a better future, consistent with our Jewish practice.  

Our decision to go public, which we did not take lightly, but felt was critically important, was followed by three additional and significant investigations at our Reform Movement’s key institutions – Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), and the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Their reports can be found on their websites.

In our letter to the congregation, we asked our members, current and past, and others who had something to share to do so through a confidential reporting line. In response, we received a number of additional reports, and our independent legal team at Morgan Lewis worked with us to carefully evaluate each one to ensure we understood the scope and to respond appropriately and proportionately.

It is important to share that we heard from two individuals who told us personal accounts of inappropriate behavior over two decades ago by a past Clergy member when they were minors. We asked Morgan Lewis to undertake additional investigative steps, as the reports were troubling, and the activities alleged would be out of bounds under any code of conduct. We are grateful to our former members who stepped forward with their allegations.

Turning to our current practices, we continue in our commitment to being a role model for best-practices, further building on our existing robust policies and procedures to ensure a workplace that is free of harassment and built on a culture of respect. Using what we learned in each of the reports, we worked with Morgan Lewis and other leaders in this space and have made some important changes to our practices, including but not limited to the following:

  • We expanded our Anti-Harassment Policy to include a focus on a culture of respect, which includes training in addition to that mandated by New York State that emphasizes the expectation that all individuals associated with Central be treated with respect and dignity.
  • We developed a Culture of Respect and Anti-Harassment Policy for our members, which you can find here. This includes a section on relationships between Central employees including Clergy and congregants. Going forward, this policy will be shared with new members and is also available on our website.
  • We installed glass inserts in all doors and have clear and stringent guidelines to ensure minors are not alone with staff, including Clergy.
  • Together with Morgan Lewis, we developed a Corrective Action matrix that lays out a range of inappropriate behavior, from conduct that may seem minor to that which clearly is more egregious, and maps out ahead of time how we would want to respond. Through the development of this matrix, we considered when complaints should be escalated to senior staff or the Board, when to conduct internal versus external investigations, and the range of remedial actions that would be proportionate to the inappropriate behavior.

We encourage anyone who wants to share information with us to do so. To that end, as a best practice, we established an anonymous reporting portal. We also are available to speak directly to anyone who has experienced or witnessed behavior that we would want to know about. They may reach out to Shonni Silverberg, President of the Board of Trustees, at [email protected], or Marcia Caban, Executive Director, at [email protected].

We want to acknowledge and express our gratitude to the survivors of inappropriate and predatory experiences who have come forward, whether or not we know their identities. Their courage in sharing their stories has not only prompted Central’s important process of Teshuvah and learning, but has helped initiate this process across our movement. May we ensure that our sacred institutions are indeed sacred spaces for everyone.  

Shonni J. Silverberg, MD

Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
Senior Rabbi

Marcia Caban
Executive Director

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