Jewish Federation Partners With Sacred Spaces to Protect Youth From Abuse

At the heart of the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, the Jewish Federation has helped lead the community’s response to COVID-19.

Now, the Jewish Federation is taking a proactive approach to a problem with the potential to worsen during the pandemic: how to safeguard children from maltreatment, including sexual abuse. A new partnership with Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Sacred Spaces will illuminate the problem with “Safeguarding Youth from Abuse: A Community Introduction,” a 90-minute webinar at 8 p.m. Nov. 17, open to everyone in the Jewish community.

“We will provide an introduction to safeguarding children and teens from maltreatment in Jewish communities, including an overview of the key issues and critical information to help community members recognize grooming behaviors and early indicators of abuse,” says Dr. Shira Berkovits, President and CEO of Sacred Spaces, who will be leading the webinar.

The Jewish Federation will be sending out a survey to the community—including teens in grades 9-12—to ascertain the Jewish community’s knowledge, preparedness, and comfort on the topic of safeguarding children from abuse. The survey will be open for two weeks and will help inform future webinars that will be conducted with Sacred Spaces. Participants who respond to the survey can opt in to a raffle where they can win 1 of 4 $25 Amazon gift cards.

“Our local youth-serving organizations have paid a lot of attention to security from external threats, thanks to our Jewish Community security program at Federation,” says Rabbi Amy Bardack, Director of Jewish Life and Learning for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

“Now, the Jewish Federation, in partnership with Sacred Spaces, is creating a community conversation because internal threats, from the people who already have access to children, are just as important to protect against. It is our hope that through this series of webinars, and a survey, our community partners will be able to implement protections quickly and easily, ensuring that our community remains safe from all threats, inside and out.”

It’s never an easy thing to talk about, but it’s incredibly important.

“We have never had a community-wide initiative to learn best practices in prevention of child abuse in the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” explains Bardack. “Safeguarding children from maltreatment is a priority for every youth-serving organization, and many here in Pittsburgh are committed to continuing work already begun. Several youth-serving organizations approached Sacred Spaces to see if they could expand their safeguarding efforts to serve as models for organizations throughout the country. We decided that as Federation we could convene all our local organizations that serve children – professionals, parents, and lay leaders—to learn best practices to ensure child safety.”

Ultimately, disseminating this knowledge can only make the Jewish community of Pittsburgh stronger.

“It takes a community to safeguard youth,” says Berkovits.

“This webinar is intended for all community members. We need a shared understanding of the safety risks our youth face–both from outside and inside our youth-serving organizations, as well as the safeguards available to us, so that all community members can model safe behaviors, help identify instances of concern, and intervene responsibly.”

About Shira Berkovits of Sacred Spaces

A behavioral psychologist with a research background in creating large-scale organizational change, and an attorney specialized in criminal law, Shira has spent years studying the intersection of psychology and law as related to sexual offending in faith communities. Bringing a uniquely Jewish lens, Shira partners with Jewish leaders to build healthy and accountable institutions, whose culture and daily operations foster sacredness and reduce the risk of harassment, abuse, and other forms of interpersonal harm. In her role as CEO of Sacred Spaces, she has worked with Jewish communities across five continents to prevent, handle, and heal from institutional abuse.

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