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

May 12, 2020Nicole Nevarez

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 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 a 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 of 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; I learned that not only was it OK to raise my voice, 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 grew, the expression of my Jewish identity and appreciation for Jewish values developed, propelling me through my career path.

After starting my career in theatre, I became 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 for their appearances while boys should be powerful, conquering, and defined by professional success – have infiltrated the way we experience the world.

I spent years working with a cutting-edge curriculum that helps teens unpack these rigid definitions through a Jewish 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 – working toward gender equity in the Jewish community as a way to develop 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, 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.

Ta’amod provides consultations, conferences, and workshops that focus on creating a safe, equitable workplace for all employees. Our conferences examine topics such as psychological safety, power, and identity in the workplace through a Jewish lens. Ta’amod exists to serve all people involved in the Jewish community regardless of denomination or practice – our core values are universal.

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

Learn more about Ta'amod's services, which can be tailored to your organization's needs.

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