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How My Jewish Upbringing Drove Me to Work for Safe, Respectful Workplaces

How My Jewish Upbringing Drove Me to Work for Safe, Respectful Workplaces

Woman wearing a kippah turned away from the camera with her hand and forehead resting against the Western Wall

My career path wasn't always clear, and certainly not straight, but I recently discovered that I can draw a direct line from my current role as inaugural national director of Ta'amod: Stand Up! to the guiding Jewish values of my upbringing.  

Raised by parents who marched on Washington, protested during the civil rights movement, and advocated for public school reform, the language of activism and equity was commonplace in my house and directly impacted my upbringing. I have vivid memories of my mother’s League of Women Voters’ meetings, as they led the charge to finish desegregating the Yonkers, N.Y. public schools (which were shockingly behind as late as the mid-1980s). 

Having been deeply influenced by her own Jewish camp and youth group experiences, when my mom was ready for us to join a synagogue, she enrolled me in the local Reform preschool. Through synagogue life, religious school, and NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, I found my place to explore my authentic self and develop my unique Jewish identity. I now had the language of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedek tzedek tirdof (“Justice, justice you shall pursue”) and social action (the early iteration for social justice) to apply to all of the guiding values in which I was raised. 

When I was 13, I collaborated with some friends and led a walk-out protesting the Rodney King verdict. A year later, I was blessed to enroll in an incredible all-girls’ high school where I found my voice and learned that not only was it OK to raise it up but that it was imperative to do so. 

Those experiences further shaped the feminist lens instilled by my mother and sharpened my attention to, and participation around, social and political issues. I found myself leading educational assemblies and justice-based extracurricular groups. My confirmation speech was about reproductive rights.

Clearly, a theme was emerging. As I developed, the expression of my Jewish identity and appreciation for Jewish values grew too, propelling me through my career path.

After starting my career in theatre I became, like so many of my colleagues, an accidental Jewish professional. Several years after my foray into the Jewish communal space, I took a position that changed my entire worldview around gender conditioning and Judaism.

As the New York director for Moving Traditions, I received a deep, complex education about the evolution of how we as a culture have come to define gender. I understood how the subtle, toxic messages – that girls should be nice, quiet, and valued by their appearances, and boys should be powerful, conquering, and defined by professional success – have infiltrated the entire way we experience the world.

I spent years working with a cutting-edge curriculum that helps teens unpack these rigid definitions through a Jewish identity lens. I can see now that this work was the ultimate reflection of my own journey in understanding how activism, gender equity, and Judaism intersect as powerful paths to justice. 

The journey that lay ahead unfolded through my connection to the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. My involvement as a lay leader exposed me to a network of incredible women leaders doing exactly this – the work of gender equity in the Jewish community as the vehicle to developing a more just world.

Today, I am proud to serve as the founding director of Ta’amod: Stand Up! – the go-to address for safe, respectful Jewish workplaces and communal spaces. 

Since our inception only 14 months ago, we have been able to develop the only Respectful Workplace training curriculum rooted in Jewish wisdom, a resource bank for individuals and organizations to find professionals, resource sites, and vetted referrals to related professional providers in the field.

Most recently we launched the Ta’amod call line, powered by JCADA (a longtime support and advocacy organization addressing power-based violence) and are now able to support individuals who have witnessed or experienced gender abuse, discrimination, or harassment in the Jewish world. Ta’amod exists to serve all people involved in the Jewish community regardless of denomination or practice – our core values are universal.

The line is a resource for anyone who has had an experience in the Jewish community, regardless of their own religious or spiritual identity. Everyone should feel welcome and safe.

Judaism calls us to the wisdom of kavod habriyot (dignity for all beings). The work of bringing safety, respect, and equity into the whole of the spaces and workplaces where the Jewish community dwells is sacred work. These are the building blocks of all the work of social justice, no matter the focus. May we all find our path to our unique role in the actualization of these values through whatever our personal journeys may be. 

The Ta’amod Call Line is for individuals who have experienced or witnessed abusive behavior, discrimination or harassment in the a Jewish workplace or communal space. It is free, anonymous, and confidential. Learn more.

Nicole Nevarez is the inaugural national director of Ta’amod: Stand Up!, a multi-pronged initiative dedicated to ending gender abuse, harassment, and toxic culture in the Jewish communal space. Ta’amod brings this work to the community with a lens of creating respectful culture rooted in Jewish values. A Jewish educator, trainer, and facilitator, Nicole provides independent coaching to individuals and consulting to mission-critical organizations to support efforts to create positive internal culture. Nicole believes that when we do the work to reflect on ourselves and our organizations, we have the power to impact deep systemic change. She is married to Rabbi Jason Nevarez, and while they currently live in Westchester, N.Y., they will very soon be San Diego-bound. 

Nicole Nevarez
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