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Curiosity Fosters Growth

Image from FJC

Throughout these past months, as I have been reciting the Kaddish in memory of my dear mother, I have been reflecting on her life and the values she instilled in me and my siblings. One of her defining attributes – cited by many, and especially needed in today’s day and age – is sakranut, curiosity.

Whenever we would discuss something, Mama would always present the other side of an argument, decision, idea, etc. By doing this she challenged us to expand our horizons and to always consider and value other perspectives, experiences, or thoughts, a practice that is unfortunately lacking in our society today.

I was recently privileged to attend a symposium which focused on Viewpoint Diversity in our community. Convened by the Maimonides Fund, colleagues learned from each other and from respected thought leaders as we considered the increasing polarization of civic – and communal – debate.

Rabbi David Wolpe, senior advisor at Maimonides Fund and outgoing senior rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, anchored the discussion in core Jewish values, including machloket l’shem shamayim – argument for the sake of Heaven.

As a people, we have spent thousands of years discussing and debating everything, and, most importantly, learning how to listen and respect each other’s opposing viewpoints. The Talmud itself embodies this as each page is filled with different and almost always conflicting opinions and interpretations of each line, phrase, and word. Jonathan Haidt, another featured speaker and author of “The Coddling of the American Mind,” observed how social media has destroyed our ability to see the other side and to open our minds to opposing points of view.

Unfortunately, this lack of civility has also been part of our Jewish history. This past Sunday on Tisha b’Av, we mourned among many tragedies, the destruction of Jerusalem due to sinat chinam (baseless hatred) between our brothers and sisters. Look what happens when we forget a basic tenet of Judaism: respecting diversity in civil discourse.

At Jewish camps across North America, the observance of Tisha b’Av helps convey critical lessons in character development, where chanichim (campers) and madrichim (counselors) create intentional communities away from home each summer. By fostering an environment of belonging, diversity, learning, and curiosity, Jewish camps help to model our Jewish future.

This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, a Shabbat of comfort. Following the darkness and reflection of Tisha b’Av, we enter the light of renewal, comfort, and growth. We need relief from the negativity, polarization, and exhaustion. Let us bring the joy and light from Jewish camps – intentionally modeling curiosity, discovery, and growth – into our communal discourse and spaces. Our world needs it.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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