Julie Guilfoyle
Mental Health Therapist, Writer and Victim Advocate

Open Letter to Rick Jacobs on The URJ’s Failed Ethics Reforms

“You have no idea how much power you have to give us hope or to destroy it… Please don’t put me on that path again unless you really mean it this time.”

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One victim’s redacted (and slightly edited for publication) open letter to Rick Jacobs and the URJ’s “VP in charge of ethics reform” regarding her experience of twice having contact with the URJ regarding her abuse and their failure to adequately respond. This is her experience with the URJ’s ethics reform, “Restorative Justice” & T’shuvah failures. She details what victims need to see in order to heal and regain trust in the URJ. This letter is in response to this request from the URJ:

03/14/23 I am truly sorry you have not received the response that you have sought. Please let me know how I can help. I have no interest in silencing you. If you could share 1-3 requests of how we might assist or support, that would be helpful.

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Open Letter to the URJ:

I don’t even know if I can write this because, to be honest, I don’t trust you. I warned (another victim) not to trust you because you twice made promises to me and then turned your back and walked away, never looking back! But she needed to trust you, and even though I warned her, she believed you. I have NEVER heard a thing about the “Restorative Justice” program that I was twice promised, even though I have emailed about it multiple times. I have never experienced healing circles. I have never heard any solid plans for you to hold the synagogue accountable, even if it is after the CCAR investigation is done. I have never heard any details of plans to change the bylaws to make sure that synagogues are safe, and there has never been a public announcement that you have any intention to do so. It has been nothing but crickets…..twice!

You have no idea of the damage that you heaped onto the damage that was already done by the rabbis, then the synagogue, then CCAR! Your empty promises and silence do more harm after more harm. It has been 18 months for me and longer for others. There is no excuse for this. If you are too busy to do this job, then assign it to someone else.  Someone needs to make us a priority. We have been mistreated, abused, silenced, and ignored, all while watching Rick Jacobs stand up and praise himself and the URJ for their wonderful “Restorative Justice” work! Really?!? His speeches and back-patting are a slap in the face to all of us. His Yom Kippur message was delusional and infuriated quite a few of us. He couldn’t have given that speech if any one of us was in the audience or if he had to look us in the face while he said those things, and you know it. We are brushed under the carpet again and again and then he places his podium on top of us and stands on us while talking about how much he is doing and and then says a prayer for us! How arrogant, tone-deaf, and insensitive.

What I want is way more than two or three things. I want a real plan with details. I want to stop being ignored and be made a priority. I want to stop worrying that my friends are going to commit suicide because they are despondent about the absence of anything that resembles justice or T’Shuvah. I won’t even go into what I want from CCAR because that circus is not fixable. I used to think that you need to be involved in all of their ethics cases but they are so dysfunctional it wouldn’t help. I think you need to take a stand and say that your synagogue investigations are just as important as their rabbinic investigations, and at least you probably have intentions to do more than protect the rabbis. Stop kowtowing to them. They need you more than you need them.

I want to know what is being done to change the URJ bylaws to address criminal or unethical actions within synagogues. I want details and a timeline. I want you to make a public announcement that you are doing it and that you will be holding synagogues accountable for unethical and abusive behavior.

I want all meetings regarding the reform process to be announced and open to the public. If private items need to be discussed, you can call an executive session.

I want Rick Jacobs to publicly apologize and acknowledge that we continue to be harmed.

I want all victims to be released from their nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. If you are confident that you are doing the right thing, then let them say how they feel about your efforts!

I want the law firm that did the investigation to independently review this process every six months, publishing a list of goals, timeframes, accomplishments, and failures. You clearly can’t hold yourselves accountable to get things done.

I want to know what the plan is to deal with my old synagogue, even if it is to be done later. I want details. I want a guarantee that after CCAR is done, they will be “investigated” and that a corrective action plan will be put in place. I do not think that the people who have intentionally and knowingly put my and another person’s lives in danger, bullying us knowing that we were both suicidal, should be allowed to be in leadership in URJ spaces. I expect the URJ to take that seriously.

Both times that we met, I stressed how we had no support. Both times you promised support. The first time you promised a rabbi for me and another person, and then you disappeared. I emailed again, and your ombudsman said that you would get a referral for me, but nothing.  The second time I was promised healing circles. There has been nothing. I am still not ok.  ome days are better than others, but I still have no support. We were exiled from our URJ synagogue and from our support system for blowing the whistle and doing the right thing. We continue to be exiled, and the synagogue continues its abuse (retaliatory actions of deleting us from synagogue newsletters, as recently as last week), but the URJ will do nothing and provide no support.

I have yet to hear from the Restorative Justice program. I have asked multiple times. I am out on a limb by myself with no community and not feeling like the URJ cares at all.

I want to meet again, be involved, and be kept in the information loop. I need to know that what we have been through matters and that it will make a difference somehow. I need to hear what you are doing to make changes. It would matter if we could see the progress, but all we see is empty promises.  

You twice got my hopes up, that there would be some justice, and I was very distressed and not ok when you walked away. It put me in a really bad place both times. I will not be holding my breath this time, nor am I keeping my mouth shut anymore.

I don’t know what you said to (another victim), but whatever it was, it mattered, and she is so much better. You have no idea how much power you have to give us hope or to destroy it. Please keep that in mind.  

I don’t know why, but I still want to believe in you. There were times that, I swear, I thought you were really upset by what I was saying when I was talking about my abuse. I thought I could see it. I hope I was right. I have finally started doing a little better, and my mental health is improving, but only because I have given up hope that there will ever be any justice, and I am trying to move on. Being on that rollercoaster of hoping and then being devastated again and again was too hard and was destroying my sanity and my life. Please don’t put me on that path again unless you really mean it this time.

Thank you:  An Invisible Synagogue Abuse Victim

Victims have recently appealed to the Ohio and New York Attorney General to investigate and institute corrective action for both CCAR and the URJ. They are asking for ongoing external oversight. The New York Attorney General has recently investigated and issued corrective action for the Catholic Church in New York for similar issues. Multiple victims have recently filed complaints, compelling Ohio and New York to do the same with the URJ and CCAR. Both Agencies are New York based nonprofits, but the current investigations of CCAR and the URJ’s actions were originally initiated in Ohio.

If you know of a CCAR or URJ case or issue that you would like the Attorney General’s office to review, use the links below to file a report, or you can email: 

Ohio Attorney General                                              

New York Attorney General

Two petitions are currently on One with nearly 900 signatures and one with nearly 400 signatures.

About the Author
Julie has been working as a therapist with abuse and trauma victims for more than 25 years. She began her career working in the areas of child behavior, child abuse, and abuse investigations. She worked as a forensic interviewer and served as an expert witness in abuse and trauma. She trained CPS workers on forensic interviewing, investigation, and interviewing ethics. She brings a unique view to women's issues, victimization, trauma, and ethics. She has recently developed an interest in Jewish ethics. Her background in abuse issues, advocacy, ethics, and investigations work drives her pursuit for justice, fairness, and transparency in the world of Jewish ethics.
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