Shira Berkovits believes every child has the right to feel safe and to always be protected.
“They deserve to not just feel it, but to be protected when they walk in the door of our Jewish organizations,” said Berkovits, the president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Sacred Spaces. The nonprofit’s mission is to build healthy Jewish communities by partnering with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power.
To help Pittsburgh youth feel secure, Sacred Spaces has partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to offer a new program, Aleinu: Safeguarding our Children, to youth-serving Jewish organizations in the region.
The program was created after several organization approached Sacred Spaces to see if they could expand their safeguarding efforts and serve as models for organizations throughout the country, according to Carolyn Linder, director of Jewish Life and Learning for the Federation.
“We spent the last year laying the groundwork,” explained Carolyn Linder, senior manager of Jewish Life and Learning. “We wanted to create public awareness, we wanted to test the waters, we wanted to know where the organizations were, what their needs were before we took a deeper dive.”
To understand the Jewish community’s needs and to gauge interest in additional abuse-prevention education, Federation conducted five webinars open to different audiences.
“The first one was community-based,” Linder said. “Anyone could participate: clergy, educators, parents, lay leaders, etc. We did another specifically for parents, another for professional staff at the Jewish youth organizations and their leadership.”
The Federation also worked with Sacred Spaces to create a survey to help understand the community’s needs.
Through its research, the Federation found that the community wanted more resources and support for deeper, long-term efforts to help strengthen safeguards against child abuse.
As a result, Pittsburgh Jewish organizations will comprise the third Aleinu cohort in the United States, joining New York City and Chicago.
Linder calls Aleinu “a multiyear change initiative.”
Those organizations participating will learn the 10 best practices to safeguard youth from abuse, said Berkovits.
“Each of the best practices can be accessed through a web platform,” she said. “They can move at their own pace and access videos, online resources, everything they need. An implementation toolkit, if you will, to take these practices and bring them to life.”
There also will be three trainings during which Berkovits and her team will teach the underlying principles of the best practices.
Those taking part in the program will be able to reach out to Sacred Spaces and request specific, additional help or resources where needed and will have coaching sessions with an expert consultant.
“It’s really in this peer-to-peer learning environment that the best practices, the principles, the research come to life,” Berkovits said.
Funding for the program is provided by the Federation and a grant from its Steel Tree Fund. The subsidies cover 75% of the program’s participation costs for the five-to-10-member cohort.
“It is our hope that the agencies that participate in Aleinu feel empowered to adopt best practices in safeguarding children from abuse and appreciate having their colleagues in the cohort to turn to for ongoing support in this difficult work,” said Rabbi Amy Bardack, director of Jewish Life and Learning said.
Organizations interested in applying to be a part of the Pittsburgh cohort can do so at jewishpgh.org/aleinu. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.