Kesher Israel Sexual Misconduct Policy

Section 1.   Purpose           The purpose of this document is to:  (1) establish a policy for Kesher Israel Congregation that defines and prohibits sexual misconduct; and (2) establish a procedure to address complaints relating to alleged violations of this Policy Prohibiting Sexual Misconduct (“Policy”).

Section 2.   Introduction     Sexual Harassment, Sexual Malfeasance and Sexual Misconduct are antithetical to Jewish values and ethics, to the values and ethics of this Congregation and to an ethical society at large. These policies apply both to misconduct directed against adults and especially to that against children, who are especially vulnerable and less able to protect themselves. One goal of these guidelines is to protect our children by helping to prevent sexual abuse against them.

Rabbis and cantors are vested with authority, which they must exercise with care, judgment, compassion, and dignity.  Those who hold positions of leadership in the Congregation must be scrupulous to avoid even the appearance of impropriety; their actions should be beyond reproach and they should avoid any behavior that might bring shame to themselves, to their families, and to the synagogue.

The nature of the relationship between a professional and a congregant is often unequal, and the exploitation of such authority for self-interested ends constitutes a breach of trust implicit in that relationship.  The work of the rabbi and cantor, in particular, often of necessity involves conveying empathy, connection and warmth, which can sometimes create dilemmas in the navigation of appropriate relationships.  It is the professional – not the congregant – who is primarily responsible for establishing and preserving appropriate boundaries. Other leaders of the Congregation, such as board members, officers, and key volunteers also hold positions of trust that they must exercise with care and not abuse.

Section 3.   Definitions

3.1.             Board.  The Board of Directors of Kesher Israel, as defined in the Constitution of Kesher Israel.

3.2.             Constitution. The Constitution of Kesher Israel in effect when a complaint has been filed under this Policy.            

3.3.             Complainant.   A person who has lodged a written or verbal complaint under this Policy. A Complainant may be the alleged victim or someone who has allegedly witnessed, or has knowledge of, a violation of this Policy.

3.4.             Congregant.     A member of the Congregation, his or her family member or any other person receiving services from a Professional or Lay Leader.

3.5.             Congregation.  Kesher Israel Congregation.

3.6.             Employee.  A person employed by the Congregation in a non-Professional capacity.

3.7.             Executive Committee.  The Executive Committee of the Congregation, as defined in the Constitution.       

3.8.             Officer.   The President, Vice-Presidents, Financial Secretary, Recording Secretary, Treasurer, or such other person defined as an “officer” of the Congregation under the Constitution.

3.9.             Lay Leader.      An Officer, a member of the Board, and any other member of the Congregation, including an adult or adolescent volunteer, who exercises authority on behalf of the Congregation.

3.10.           Professional.   The Rabbi, Cantor, Baal Koreh, Baal Tefillah and any other person who is hired by the Congregation to provide religious and/or educational instruction or services for the Congregation or who serves as an independent contractor or volunteer in any such capacity at the recommendation of the Congregation directly or through its Board.

3.11.           Respondent.    The person against whom an accusation of Sexual Misconduct has been made.

3.12.           Sexual Harassment.     Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or  physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature (regardless of whether such verbal conduct is in person or is by telephonic, electronic or written communication), where:            

  1. the conduct interferes with work, study, prayer or other aspects of synagogue life by creating an environment that is subjectively and objectively intimidating, hostile or offensive to a Congregant, guest of the synagogue, Professional, or Employee.  It includes, but is not limited to, unwelcome sexually-oriented humor or language; unwelcome questions or comments about sexual behavior, preference or orientation; unwelcome physical contact, inappropriate comments about clothing or physical appearance, or unwelcome and requests for social engagements or interaction;           
  2. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a condition of participating in the communal life of the synagogue; or
  1. Rejection or acceptance of such conduct is used as a basis for prohibiting or limiting (i) participation in synagogue activities or (ii) the receipt of synagogue services or as a basis for making employment decisions.

3.13.           Sexual Malfeasance.    Sexual contact between a Professional, Employee or Lay Leader and a Congregant.  Among other things, it includes contact of a physical nature between adults in an unequal relationship that may involve inappropriate touching, embraces or assault, kissing, touching breasts or genitals, verbal suggestions of sexual involvement or sexually demeaning comments, or sexual intercourse.  It also includes activity such as dating during the course of a counseling relationship between a Professional and a Congregant.

3.14.           Sexual Misconduct.     Sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:

  1. sexual contact of any nature with a minor or legally incompetent person;
  2. Sexual Harassment;
  3. Rape or sexual contact by force, threat or intimidation;
  4. Sexual Malfeasance; or
  5. Generally unwelcome behaviors or unwanted attention of a sexual nature, including winks, leers, suggestive comments, crude/vulgar language, pinching, tickling or unwelcome hugs and kisses.

Section 4.   Guiding Principles and Assumptions

4.1.       Sexual Harassment, Sexual Malfeasance and Sexual Misconduct are antithetical to Jewish values and ethics, to the values and ethics of this Congregation and to an ethical society at large.

4.2.       This Policy and its procedures are designed and should be applied to promote fairness to (1) the Complainant, (2) the Respondent, and (3) the Congregation. Criminal standards of evidence do not apply to the proceedings described below, and the investigations and hearings described in this Policy are not bound by the rules of criminal or civil courts.

4.3.       All allegations will be taken seriously, investigated, and treated confidentially.  Information will be shared only on a need-to-know basis for the purpose of conducting an investigation or as required by law.  The anonymity of the Complainant’s identity shall be preserved to the extent possible, but neither anonymity nor absolute confidentiality can be guaranteed.  All of those involved in the process of investigating a complaint will be instructed to respect and maintain the confidentiality of information received during the process.

4.4.       These guidelines are not designed or intended to avoid civil or criminal charges that may be made by the Complainant.  If civil and/or criminal charges are threatened or filed, an investigation will still be conducted.

4.5.       All Employees, Officers, Lay Leaders, Professionals and others authorized to act on behalf of the Congregation will cooperate fully with any governmental authority (e.g., Department of Public Welfare, police, District Attorney’s Office) charged by law with investigating allegations of sexual abuse.                        

  • To the extent authorized by the Child Protective Services Law, 23 C.S. §§ 6301 et seq., all cases of suspected child abuse shall be reported immediately to the appropriate governmental authorities. All Complainants will be urged to notify governmental authorities whenever criminal conduct is alleged.

4.7.       No single individual should ever determine that an allegation is not serious enough to investigate.

4.8       Those responsible for investigating an alleged violation of this Policy should withhold judgment about what occurred until the Congregation has completed its investigation.  Statements or actions that impugn the integrity or motives of the Complainant should be avoided.  Similarly, judgments about the guilt or innocence of the Respondent should be avoided until the investigation has been completed.

4.9.       Both the Complainant and the Respondent should be informed of the process the Congregation will be using to investigate the complaint.  Both should be informed of the procedure used to investigate a complaint, as well as the identity of a person to whom questions about this process may be directed. 

Section 5.         Terms of Policy

  • It is a violation of this Congregation’s Policy for any Professional, Employee, Lay Leader or Congregant to engage in any form of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Malfeasance and/or Sexual Misconduct.

5.2.       A Professional, Employee, or Lay Leader who is attempting to be caring and supportive of a Congregant must recognize that the manner in which such support is conveyed can be misinterpreted.  Individuals who occupy such positions  (especially a rabbi or cantor) must be especially sensitive to the danger of such perceptions and to avoid behavior that a Congregant could reasonably misconstrue.  All Professionals, Employees and Lay Leaders should be sensitive to appropriate locations, hours, and the nature of their interactions and physical contact with a Congregant.

5.3.       No Professional, Employee or Lay Leader may engage in, or attempt to engage in, sexual activity with a minor or legally incompetent adult.

5.4.       No Professional, Employee or Lay Leader may engage in, or attempt to engage in, sexual activity with a married or partnered Congregant, or any person who the Professional is counseling or aiding in life cycle events, conversion or other like situations.  Such sexual relationships are forbidden, even if suggested or welcomed by the Congregant.

5.5.       If a Congregant misinterprets the concern of a Professional, Employee or Lay Leader as the expression of romantic or sexual interest, it is the responsibility of the Professional, Employee or Lay Leader to state that such a relationship is not possible.

5.6.       Neither a Professional, Employee nor Lay Leader should meet routinely with minors unattended, unless the door to the room remains open and the activity is in plain view of third parties at all times.  The following additional steps should be followed during and after instructional sessions with minors:

  • Another adult should be present in the room during private lessons.
  • If that is not possible, efforts should be made to teach with at least two students in the room.
  • If one has no choice but to work with a child individually, it should be done in an open area where there is a flow of human traffic.
  • Professionals, Employees and Lay Leaders shall avoid physical contact with a child when alone with the child.
  • A Professional, an Employee or Lay Leader and a child should not be sitting less than a foot apart when alone.
  • Barring written parental consent, children should not be given rides home alone by a Professional, Employee or Lay Leader after instructional sessions; if it is unavoidable, the child should sit in the back seat.
  • Children should not be given private lessons in the home of a Professional, Employee or Lay Leader or of the child when no other adult is present.

5.7.       The Congregation shall not knowingly permit interaction between a minor or legally incompetent adult and any Professional, Employee or Lay Leader with a civil or criminal record of child sexual abuse or who has admitted prior sexual abuse or who is known to have a paraphilic diagnosis (e.g., pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism) as defined by the American Psychiatric Association.

5.8.       The Congregation shall conduct criminal background checks of all applicants including Employees and Professionals as well as volunteers who supervise or teach children on behalf of the Congregation.

Section 6.         Procedures for Investigating a Complaint

The procedures set forth below are designed to promote a prompt and fair response to Congregant complaints of Sexual Misconduct.  The Congregation recognizes, however, that each situation is unique.   Accordingly, it may be appropriate for the Board or Executive Committee to deviate from the process described below, as circumstances warrant.

  • Whenever an Officer, Board member, Professional or Employee of the Congregation believes in good faith that Sexual Misconduct has occurred, he or she must notify the President or his/her designee immediately.

6.2.       If the allegation involves suspected child abuse, the President or his/her designee shall notify the appropriate authorities immediately, as set forth in the Child Protective Services Act [included by reference].

6.3.       As soon as practicable, but in no event later than 72 hours after first receiving notice of the alleged Sexual Misconduct, the President shall convene a meeting of the Executive Committee (or of such other standing or ad hoc committee as the Constitution of the Congregation may provide) to report such allegations and to initiate an investigation.  The Executive Committee may designate a special committee to conduct an investigation (“Special Committee”), which shall report to the Executive Committee.  [References below to Executive Committee in the context of conducting an investigation may be replaced with Special Committee if a Special Committee is appointed.]    A person accused of Sexual Misconduct may not participate in any Executive Committee deliberations on the matter or in the investigation.

  • Minutes of the meeting should be maintained, along with a log of all telephone contacts. The minutes should be maintained in a secure and confidential manner and should be password-protected on the computer.
  • Depending on the nature of the allegation and the composition of the Executive Committee, the Executive Committee may elect to solicit the assistance of counsel, human resource professionals, clergy, or psychologists/psychiatrists in conducting the investigation.
  • If the meeting is convened because a Complainant has lodged a complaint under this Policy, the Executive Committee should arrange to meet with the Complainant as soon as possible.  If no Complainant has come forward with a complaint but the President nevertheless becomes aware of credible information concerning Sexual Misconduct, the Executive Committee should encourage the person perceived to be a possible victim to come forward so that the Executive Committee can determine if an investigation is warranted or, if criminal conduct may be involved, to notify appropriate authorities.
  • Prior to the meeting, efforts should be made to provide the Complainant with a copy of this Policy and to determine if the Complainant needs assistance or support to participate in the process.
  • At the initial meeting with the Complainant, the Executive Committee should, at minimum:
  • Review and explain this Policy;

(b)        Ask the Complainant to acknowledge in writing that he or she has read, understands, and has received a copy of this policy;

(c)        Determine the extent to which the Complainant wishes to remain anonymous or to keep information about the alleged Sexual Misconduct confidential, and explain the synagogue’s policy toward anonymity and confidentiality [see section 4.3, above];

  • How, when and to whom the person’s identity and accusations may be revealed throughout the process needs to be clearly discussed with the Complainant before an investigation commences.

(d)        Ask the Complainant to describe what allegedly occurred in as much detail as possible;

(e)        Ask the Complainant whether he or she is aware of any other person who may have had similar experiences; and

(f)         If the investigative process moves forward, name a single point-of-contact for the Complainant.

6.3.6.  After the meeting, the Executive Committee should, at minimum:

  • Determine whether to contact legal counsel and the Congregation’s insurance carrier;

(b)        Encourage the Complainant to contact appropriate authorities if, for example, the allegations involve possible criminal conduct;

(c)        Prepare a written summary of the information supplied by the Complainant at the meeting.  The summary should avoid speculation, characterizations, and the drawing of conclusions; it should be as factual as possible (i.e., who, what, where, when, etc.).

  • Share the written summary with the Complainant and ask him or her to make corrections to the document and to sign it. A failure to sign the document or to pursue the matter further should be noted in the file.
  • Determine if there is sufficient credible information to pursue further investigation. If the Executive Committee  determines that the information is not credible or that the information does not constitute a violation of this policy, it should notify the Complainant of its determination and advise the Complainant of its right to appeal to the Board.
  • Even if the Complainant elects not to pursue formal disciplinary charges against a Professional, an Employee or a Lay Leader, the Executive Committee should continue its investigation if, on the basis of the complaint and initial investigation, it has continuing concern about the fitness of the Professional, Employee or Lay Leader to remain employed by, or to remain in an unpaid position of authority with, the Congregation.

6.3.8     After the Executive Committee has completed its initial investigation (see 6.3.5, above) and has determined that further investigation is warranted, it should meet as soon as practicable with the Respondent.

6.3.8.1.       To promote direct communication between the Executive Committee and the Respondent, a Respondent’s request to be represented by counsel should not be honored. If the Respondent refuses to participate without counsel, the Executive Committee should advise the Respondent that it will render its decision on the basis of the information provided by the Complainant and such other information as the Executive Committee may secure through independent means.

  • At the initial meeting with the Respondent, the Executive Committee should, at minimum:
  • Review and explain this Policy;
  • Ask the Respondent to acknowledge in writing that he or she has read, understands, and has received a copy of this Policy;

(c)        Ask the Respondent to describe the nature of his or her relationship with the Complainant and to respond to the allegations as well as such other information as the Executive Committee may possess as a result of any preliminary investigation it may have conducted.  A copy of the Complaint and written summary of the interview with the Complainant should not be shared with the Respondent.

  • After the meeting with the Respondent, the Executive Committee  should, at minimum:

(a)  Prepare a written summary of the information supplied by the Respondent at the meeting.  The summary should avoid speculation, characterizations, and the drawing of conclusions; it should be as factual as possible (i.e., who, what, where, when, etc.).

  • Share the written summary with the Respondent and ask him or her to make corrections to the document and to sign it.  A failure to sign the document should be noted in the file.

6.4.       At any stage of the investigation described above, the Executive Committee shall determine if the Respondent should be suspended with or without pay pending further investigation.  If the Respondent is a Lay Leader, the Executive Committee shall determine if the Respondent should be relieved of his or her responsibilities pending further investigation.  The Executive Committee shall report the action it has taken to the Board of Directors.

6.5.       Upon completion of its investigation, the Executive Committee shall convene to determine what action, if any, it should recommend to the Board of Directors.   A special meeting of the Board of Directors may be called for this purpose.  The confidentiality of the Complainant shall be preserved in accordance with this Policy.  With regard to Professionals and Employees, such action may include a verbal warning documented to the file, a written warning, a suspension with or without pay, termination, or such other action as the Board deems appropriate.   With regard to Lay Leaders or Congregants, a Board action may include removal from positions of authority, loss of Congregational membership, or such other action as the Board deems appropriate.

6.6.       If criminal charges relating to a sexual offense are filed against a Professional or an Employee, he or she shall be suspended immediately; if such charges are filed against a Lay Leader, he or she shall be relieved immediately of all Congregational responsibilities.