Mishkan Community Norms and Values

Building a Culture of Respect, Positivity and Empowerment  

Mishkan Chicago’s mission is to lead people toward greater purpose, connection and inspiration, breathing new life into Judaism. The open exchange of ideas, freedom of thought and expression, as well as productive debate– in Hebrew, mahloket l’shem shamayim– are central to this mission. A community that encourages robust debate also has a responsibility to not let powerful voices drown out marginalized ones. We strive to create a diverse environment that is built on dignity and mutual respect for all participants and Mishkan staff members, that is anti-racist, free of bias, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, and intimidation of all kinds. We are dedicated to creating a safe, brave and welcoming experience for everyone participating in our community or events, regardless of age, race, disability, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, marital status, national origin, parental status, physical appearance, color, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. Please read more below about how we hope to create an empowering culture of respect and positivity together. 

This document was crafted by our staff, Board, and is an ongoing, living conversation with our Builders. If you have suggestions please contact Rachel Cort at [email protected].

Guiding Principles & Communal Norms

Love Thy Neighbor / ahavta l’reyekha kamokha: You don’t have to be friends with every single person you meet, but you do have to treat everybody with respect, especially people with whom you may disagree. Treat people with respect and dignity whether you are in Mishkan community space or just hanging out with other Mishkanites, whether you are close friends, recent acquaintances, have personal history, or disagree vehemently on important issues. When in doubt about whether a person deserves your kindness, be kind. 

Be Anti-Racist / lo t’gazni: We commit to doing the hard work of rooting out racism and white supremacy, to questioning our own assumptions, biases and privileges, and to supporting the dignity and equity of all people, specifically Black, Indigenous and People of Color. As our ancestors remind us: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

Consent / shmirat ha’guf: We are a community in which hugs and European kisses and people putting their arms around the shoulders of the person next to them during a song are commonplace. And yet, please ask for and receive consent before engaging in personal physical contact of any kind with another community member or staff (this includes hugs and even light touches on the arm). Remember that what might seem natural for you could be a boundary violation for another person. Please also be aware of “close-talking” or crowding others’ physical space, and know that consent for one kind of touch isn’t blanket consent for all kinds of touches. When in doubt, ask! (ie, saying “Can I give you a hug?” before giving someone a hug). 

Use Your Words / tokhekha: In a diverse community people may say and do things you find objectionable. Don’t seethe, or go around complaining about a person behind their back– say something to them! Tokhekha is compassionate rebuke, and is a commandment in the Torah! Drawing from your own experience, offer the reasons why you were made uncomfortable. Often these kinds of mis-fires can be generational or from a person’s lack of exposure or experience with something you can’t believe they don’t know… See if you can build a culture of learning and growing here, in which you’re helping people learn from your experience in a kind and respectful way.

If Someone is Making You Uncomfortable, the Following Phrases Can Help Communicate Your Boundaries:  “Can you please take a few steps back?”  “You are making me uncomfortable.” “I don’t want to be touched.”  “No, thank you.” Sometimes having phrases ready can help you diffuse an uncomfortable moment and help someone else be aware of their impact on you. In an ideal world, we are a part of a community in which everyone feels empowered and in a position of power to say these things to one another. It might take some courage to say these words in different situations, but the communal norm we are working toward is one in which no one is above tochecha–rebuke– when they are doing something that makes others uncomfortable. Very often you will be clueing the person with whom you’re speaking into a dynamic of which they were not aware.  

We recognize that we live in a world that is very far from ideal, however, and that you might not feel able or comfortable to use these words in the moment when someone is making you uncomfortable. Look for a friend, a bystander or a Mishkan staffer for help if you need it. We also recognize that the individual making another person uncomfortable is ultimately the one responsible for checking and reforming their own behavior. 

Guidelines and Best Practices Involving Children: What is appropriate when it comes to nurturing touch varies with the age and developmental stages of the child and the context of the interaction. Appropriate forms of touch can include a hand shake, fist bump, high five, side hugs, hugs, placing a hand on the child’s shoulder or back, and comforting a distressed child by picking up the child or having the child sit on your lap. 

Adults must ask a child for permission before touching (even if you know them or their parents, including staff and clergy’s children, unless in the case of clear and present danger to that child, the adult or another person. (E.g. Can I pick you up? Would you like a hug?) Adults should ask permission from guardians before touching infants or very young children, unless in the case of clear and present danger or in the case of a very distressed child. 

Respect People’s Different Backgrounds and Levels of Jewish Observance: Some people write on Shabbat, some people don’t. Some people drive and take public transportation on Shabbat, others walk. Some people believe the Torah was given by God Themself on Mt. Sinai, others believe it was compiled by inspired people over hundreds of years. We value the diverse space that brings together people of wildly different background and observance and don’t assume anything about people’s prior knowledge or practice. Please respect others in their practice, and when in doubt or you’re curious about a person’s approach or background, ask if you can talk to them about it, in a friendly way. Chances are you may learn something and have a great conversation.

Think Before You Speak / shmirat ha’lashon*: One general principle we find helpful before speaking: Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? When you comment on someone’s physical appearance (“Wow, is that a new haircut?”) they may take it as a compliment, or as unwelcome commentary. Not that you need to walk on eggshells, but do be aware of how your words may sound to a listener, especially one you don’t know well. We also recognize that these guidelines about speech do not and should not apply to someone who is speaking out about or seeking help for abuse or harassment. We support anyone who is coming forward and seeking help. 

Abuse: Mishkan does not tolerate harassment or abuse of any community member, visitor, volunteer, contractor, educator or staff, irrespective of whether such abuse is physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, spiritual or any other form. Mishkan has the right to report any person abusing or suspected of abusing someone else to the proper authorities for further investigation. Mishkan’s senior leadership (founding rabbi and executive director) also have the right to ask community members and visitors who have demonstrated abusive behavior to take a break from the community.

Respecting Our Staff: Mishkan staff are professionals who work very hard behind the scenes to make this community possible, and they should have work environments that are free of harassment and abuse by community members and volunteers. Harassment or abuse of Mishkan staff members will not be tolerated and if this behavior occurs, there are a range of consequences which may be imposed.

Property / nezikin: Community members agree not to knowingly cause damage to the facility, equipment, materials or other property that does not belong to them, whether in Mishkan’s space or in spaces we rent for programs. 

Love Thy Neighbor Online (aka don’t be a troll): As community members at Mishkan, you help create intentional space both in real life and online. Be as kind and respectful in your online/social media communications as you would be in person. It always helps to state why something you feel passionately about matters to you- to bring your stake and story into the conversation and not state opinions as if they are facts. Love Thy Neighbor applies online too, and if you have the opportunity to defuse arguments online or remind others to be kind and respectful, take it!

Practice and Receive Teshuvah: In the event of interpersonal conflict, misunderstanding and hurt feelings, Mishkan’s leadership encourages the resolution of conflict by using the principles of teshuvah– a system of admission of wrong and reconciliation between parties, and which emphasizes accountability and making amends. When all parties agree, this may include facilitated meetings between parties experiencing conflict, or for a person to be afforded the opportunity to apologize to the person they hurt. We believe that Teshuvah is one of the systems of accountability that enables people to learn from mistakes, correct behavior and then continue working alongside one another and building a stronger community, and one in which love and forgiveness are spiritual practices. Teshuvah and forgiveness may not be appropriate in all cases or situations. For example, in cases of harassment or abuse, please see the guidelines below. 

Dating in the Community: If you are dating someone in the community, remember you’ll continue to see them at Shabbat and community events even if the relationship doesn’t work out. Keep things on good terms by treating each other with respect and honesty, and using direct communication. 

Assume Positive Intent / dan l’chaf zechut. We operate from the premise that most people– staff and community– are doing their best with the information and experience they have. Before arriving at the conclusion that a person’s behavior has malicious intent, consider the ways in which what happened may be the result of misunderstanding– informational, generational, cultural, etc, and if possible return to the “Use Your Words” suggestion to ask or give feedback.

What to do if you Witness Harassment or Abuse
If you witness harassment or abuse in Mishkan spaces or between Mishkanites, consider the following actions–

  • If you feel comfortable, intervene directly to defuse the situation. Once diffused, inform Mishkan staff verbally or in writing of the incident, so that Mishkan’s executive leadership can further gather information and implement disciplinary action if need be.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable to intervene directly, find a staff member immediately to intervene, or alert Mishkan staff at the soonest opportunity that you witnessed harassment or abuse. 
  • If there are no Mishkan staff around and if safety is an immediate concern, use your judgment about whether or not the situation requires police or security intervention. 

Learn about our Safety, Respect + Equity Reporting Policy.

Thoughts or comments? We’d love to hear them. write to [email protected].