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Nachat Through Partnership

November 24, 2020

Nachat (often pronounced nachas) is hard to pin down in English: it lies somewhere along the spectrum of satisfaction, pride, pleasure, and joy, and is usually felt in response to the achievements of those closest to us. 

Approximately two years ago, I was blessed with a moment of great nachat, when Sacred Spaces, an organization with which I have been involved from the ground level, partnered with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, where I have had the privilege of teaching Torah for the past thirty years. With the steadfast guidance of Sacred Spaces, Pardes joined the growing list of organizations that are advancing the Jewish community’s cultural shift toward safeguarding its institutional spaces.

My sense of nachat was intensified by my insider’s knowledge that both organizations are rooted in, and deeply committed to, core Jewish values. Sacred Spaces was founded on such biblical imperatives as emulating God in infusing the world with holiness, and actively protecting others from harm, especially the weakest elements of our society. From the start, these, and other ethical principles, with their roots in Judaism, have been Sacred Spaces’ compass: the guiding force in accompanying Jewish institutions through the arduous process of constructing transparent policies and protocols aimed at preventing, and when necessary, addressing, all forms of abuse.

Jerusalem’s Pardes Institute is home to a unique learning community, which is open, diverse, and intellectually challenging. Beyond facilitating rigorous text study in a respectful, inclusive environment, Pardes challenges its students to internalize and put into practice the Jewish values found in the classical texts they study all day.

At Pardes, realizing that our commitment to Jewish values demanded of us a robust plan for safeguarding our community against abuse, we sought the guidance of Sacred Spaces. At their instruction, we formed a committee, comprised of Pardes’ president and its dean, one board member, and two faculty members, with outside input from student representatives. For two years, we engaged in the laborious process of policy building. Gradually, and often with difficulty, we came to understand that functioning on good will and good instincts alone-- though we had an abundance of both—would no longer be sufficient.

Supported by the wise counsel of Sacred Spaces, we pushed ourselves to articulate the behaviors that we felt defined us as an institution; we then held those behaviors up to the exacting standards of best practices for communal safety. As one example of the numerous tensions we faced: for many teachers at Pardes, private conversations with students were essential for addressing the difficult, sometimes existential, questions presented by such a pivotal year in their lives. How could we ensure safety without losing a feeling of connection and confidentiality?

Along the way, we learned a lot about how to address conflicting visions and priorities, how to debate the fine points of matters that seemed self-evident to one committee member but not to another, and, most painfully, how to compromise. Ultimately, we all emerged with a more mindful, collaborative, and positive approach toward institutional safety. To return to the example of intimacy vs. safety: we arbitrated this tension by setting down a principle that while personal meetings should continue, they must be both observable and interruptible (to these ends, respectively, we installed windows within our internal doors, and we determined that Pardes staff members should be inform a colleague in advance of a private meeting with a student. Both parties to the private meeting would be made aware that at any time, another staff member might briefly enter the room.) 

Once we constructed our policies, we faced the next challenge: gaining buy-in from all the institution’s stakeholders. Under the guidance of Sacred Spaces, members of the board, staff, administration, faculty, and students were called upon to participate in interactive training seminars, designed to help everyone understand the need for, and the particulars of, our policies. In addition, the seminars served to clarify each person’s role in making the system work. 

Two years on, I am pleased to report that indeed, the system works. We have had numerous occasions to turn to our policies, and to our committee, and they have helped us negotiate conflicts decisively and fairly. For us, the very fact that relatively minor conflicts have surfaced (often along the lines of words or gestures that one party claims are innocent or friendly, while the other receives them as unwanted or aggressive) has reinforced the need for policies: it is likely that in the past, such matters would have remained unarticulated and unaddressed. All in all, there is a sense of enormous institutional pride at the intensive work we have done and at the rewards we have reaped. We have fostered an atmosphere of safety, of trust and transparency. We have enhanced our sense of institutional integrity: we are more thoroughly living out the values and principles we encounter in the texts we study. At Pardes, we are profoundly grateful to Sacred Spaces for helping us translate our values into action, and as a result, for helping us to walk taller as an institution.

Nachat may be hard to define but we all know it when we feel it. For me, it is knowing that the two organizations closest to my heart have worked together to help promote communal safety. I am confident that as more institutions follow the lead of Sacred Spaces-- through its Aleinu: Safeguarding our Children campaign, through its other policy development programs, such as Sacred Synagogues, through its work with camps and day schools, and through the help it extends to individual institutions of adult learning and programming such as Pardes—we will go a long way toward ensuring the safety and the sacredness of all our communal spaces. And surely, that will be a wellspring of nachat to us all.

Judy Klitsner is a senior lecturer in Bible at Pardes and author of the award-winning book, "Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other." She is the founding Board Chair of Sacred Spaces and now proudly serves on its Board.