On this coming Friday night, Jews around the world will invite the poor and the needy to join them for their Passover seder. We will also make sure that the four sons are present at our tables. I was thinking that I would like to do something radical and invite some folks that I disagree with, so that I could learn from them and make it clear that in my book, we’re really on the same team. This year, I would like to invite Simone Zimmerman and M. Dove Kent to join me, I just hope that they would be open to it.
In our tradition, we know that Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai would argue with each other on almost everything, including issues of marriage and divorce, yet the incredible thing is that their children would marry each other! They knew how to disagree and stay deeply connected to each other — they knew that they were part of the same story.
I was intrigued with the decision of the Bernie Sanders camp when they recently chose Simone Zimmerman to serve as the Jewish Outreach Coordinator. Yet I was truly struck by the flurry of anger that surrounded her appointment and subsequent removal. As many others, I was also appalled by the crass and unprofessional manner in which she attacked Netanyahu in her facebook rant in 2015. This entirely uncivil way of presenting one’s opinion, to my mind, rendered her unfit to be a representative of and to the Jewish constituency, much the same way she claims that Bibi does not represent her. It is not her beliefs that disqualify her, it is her crass but direct approach which distances and alienates, rather than invites and engages.
Although I disagree with her analysis of the Gaza War, I would be happy to argue with her about it. It is essential to me that she know that in such a debate, we are ultimately on the same team. It is wonderful that we have different visions of how to achieve peace and dignity for all the inhabitants in this region, but we have to remember that this is what we both want.
Would she be willing to sit with me and have the conversation?
I am not going to analyze her positions here, nor explore if she is the appropriate person for the job. Her biography would make her an ideal participant on Nesiya, the teen leadership program that I run, and I respect the work she is doing, but what I do want to explore is the bigger picture that she — and the conversation surrounding her represents.
I was particularly disturbed by one of the many articles written in the wake of her suspension. The one by M. Dove Kent in Haaretz was particularly concerning. After describing the trend of young Jews who are distancing themselves from Israel and the Jewish Establishment, Ms. Kent suggests that a ‘conspiracy theory’ of the Jewish Establishment is stifling the voices of young activists. Rather than being engaging, Ms. Kent gives us a blaming and fearful perspective, thereby entrenching further dislike, distrust, discord and disconnect between Jews. And this is between Jews that claim to care deeply about Israel!
Have we really lost the ability to disagree and stay engaged in the conversation? Couldn’t Ms. Kent make a case without relying on only attacking?
On Friday night, we will read that Jacob went down to Egypt, forced by Gd (anoos al pi hadibur) and speech was exiled. Along comes Seder night on Pesach and we begin to fix it: peh sach — a speaking mouth. We need to talk to each other and tell the story. Our story. We will go out of our way to invite the poor. We make sure that all of the four different types of children will be at the seder. We open and include, but how open are we to hearing something that I don’t agree with? How inclusive am I of someone who believes differently than me?
I pray that at the seder this year, we internalize the deep importance of inclusion and engaging with opinions that are different from our own. Chag Sameach!