While interviewing candidates for a recent position opening at Sacred Spaces, I posed the following questions: How do you define integrity, one of the core values that informs our work? How has it manifested in your work? The candidates spoke broadly about showing up even when no one is looking, following through on what you say you will do, and not asking more of others than you will give yourself, all answers that resonate with me. If I were asked the same question, I might say that integrity creates wholeness; it allows me to align my ethics and moral beliefs with my actions and allows my actions to resonate with my deepest sense of self.

For me, asking this question to prospective colleagues provides an opportunity to clearly mark, from a first interaction, that Sacred Spaces grounds our work in our values; these are not merely a set of ideas on a page but rather constant guideposts for our work and decisions.

Before I could ask this interview question, however, our staff and I went on a journey together. Over a six-month period, we discussed, workshopped, and reflected together in order to identify our core values. As a staff, we named times when we are the best version of ourselves, and we thought about how we sometimes fall short, considering how our values could support us to be our best and help us if we should stumble. The process was both difficult and worthwhile, and we grew together during the process. Now, the Sacred Spaces staff values are available on our website for everyone to read.

In our work partnering with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power, we have seen that gaps can arise between stated values and lived values. So while building our values required hard work, we realized that the real work lay ahead in answering important questions: how do these values inform our work? How do these values impact our policies, practices, and culture? How do these values shape who we are, both in the workplace and beyond it?

We are an entirely remote office, which means work and non-work life regularly overlap. Since so much of what we do together occurs during online meetings, we turned to consider how we gather as a staff. Over a series of months, we discussed and developed our staff meeting interaction guidelines, which address the environment in which we work, the structure of our meetings, how we communicate, and how we ensure that we are living our guidelines and reflecting our values. Here are portions of those guidelines.

We aim to create safe workspaces where staff feel comfortable participating. Part of this includes the right to know who is in the room or able to hear the meeting. We recognize that staff work in different spaces, including spaces that are shared with others. When another person is in the room, we operate from the principles of privacy (headphones, muting) and informed consent as others in the meeting have a right to know who else hears the words they say.

Begin on time and aim to end on time. If the meeting runs over, it is understandable for anyone who needs to leave to step out of the meeting. If recording a meeting is vital to its purpose, staff will be informed when it is scheduled so that individual members can decide whether or not to participate. As part of those requests, staff will be informed about the reason and plans for recording, including for how long the recording will be saved. Unanimous affirmative approval is needed before recording.

Ask genuine questions and come curious, ready to listen and learn, and open to new ideas. Different ideas are welcomed and needed to foster innovation and critical thinking. Our values come alive as we translate them into how we communicate with each other.

Finally, and in some ways more critically, we invite staff, if they feel comfortable doing so, to approach each other privately if someone is not upholding a guideline. With this invitation, we aim for a culture of mutual support, clear expectations, and collective accountability. We also check in as a full staff at least twice a year to reflect on how we are upholding our guidelines and craft any needed revisions to achieve our goals. New staff members receive the link to the guidelines as part of their onboarding process, as well as in advance of their first meeting with their supervisor.

From this foundation, we strive for our values to live within the organization through our policies, ranging from an unlimited vacation policy to dedicated professional development time and funds. We reinforce our values by talking about them regularly and making them part of our daily lived culture, starting with the interview questions that we ask, centering them in our annual performance reviews, and continuing through every aspect of our working lives.

As we also align our values with our external work, last month, Sacred Spaces launched the Keilim Policy Toolkit, which guides Jewish organizations in the development of policies and procedures in creating safer, more respectful, more equitable environments for those who work at or access Jewish organizations.

Keilim is the Hebrew word for vessels or tools. Policies are the vessels that carry our values and help us to enact those values in everything we do. As we align our policies to our values, so do we cultivate an organization that asks each candidate and staff member to define integrity and how it manifests in their work, preparing them for the culture we aim to create at Sacred Spaces.

Photos provided by the author

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WFF Alum Judith Belasco (Class 2) is the Executive Director at Sacred Spaces.