On November 8th 2014, a Conservative Rabbi from the Jewish Theological Seminary came to speak at my shul in New Hope, PA. The Rabbi is adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is also the author of the recently published book, “From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace.” Our topic of discussion was “Talking about Israel: How Jewish Ethics of Speech and Listening Can Inform our Conversations.”
The event started out amicably with a series of questions posed to small groups: “What do you fear about Israel?” “Do you feel connected to the State of Israel as a Jew?” “How are Israel-U.S relations?” etc. Each member of every group was allocated two minutes to discuss their own feelings, shpiel and sensitivities to the questions posed.
The questions were intended to jumpstart discussions within groups of turbulent topics. Israel-U.S relations, demographic trends, religious-secular divides and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Once every member of the group had completed the exercise we convened as a community, a kehillet, to express our reactions to others congregant’s spiels.
What surprised me about the activity was not only did the exercise begin amicably, but it ended amicably also. The old saying goes “In a room with two Jews there are three opinions.” However, when it came to Israel, our opinions were all really, very consistent when compared to Israeli politics. Some congregant members leaned differently on Israeli and American policies, but all who attended saw some form of civic duty to Israel by attending and learning from the discussion. Most importantly, the discussion highlighted the importance of civility when discussing Israel in our shuls.