Elchanan Poupko

Can Paul Ryan Play Tennis with Nancy Pelosi? Israel Says Yes

What if Paul Ryan would decide to go for a tennis game with Nancy Pelosi? The chances are they would not be able to show their faces to those who sent them to office. Just a few years ago, then-House Minority Leader Republican Eric Cantor, made headlines after saying the Joe Biden — a democrat — was “awesome.” This highlights how the deep partisan divides in the US get very personal. Former President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union that members of Congress who will be friendly to him in person would never do that in public. Here in the US, politics get personal. And so, we can all learn from Israel. In Israel, even the fiercest political rivals, play ping pong with each other.

In the Israel Parliament — the Knesset — politicians get together frequently and play ping pongsoccer, and other competitive sports. Why? To make the point that personal friendships and civil discourse matter.

This probably comes to many as a shock. After all, of the many Western democracies out there, Israel is known to be the one where tones get high, people can strongly disagree with each other, and politics are debated passionately. And yet, Israel also has the ability to allow for warm civil interaction.

This kind of civility is what American needs most these days. Sadly, the political divided that is plaguing our country, is taking its toll from all of us. So many Americans feel they can’t share their opinions with others, personalize political differences, and feel more divided than ever before. This sad reality is bearing on our social lives, family lives, and economic stability.

In my recent TED talk on the topic, I noted that getting out of this crisis of political polarization needs to start at the grassroots level. We need to be able to see each other as people. We don’t need to agree with each other, we do need to validate each other. No matter how far off someone’s political opinion feels to us, we should still be able to play basketball with them. No one should have to choose between their political beliefs and their friends, their convictions and their family.

So can Paul Ryan play tennis with Nancy Pelosi? Sadly, the answer is no. But it should not be that way. We should be able to look at our representatives having personal relationships with their counterparts and be okay with that. Why? Because it’s good for us. It’s healthy for our democracy. And if we can be content with them doing it, we are more likely to do the same in our own lives. So let’s be American, and let’s play ball.

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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