Discussions Can Fix World Jewry Relations

Hillel Fuld at The Frisch School. Courtesy of Hillel Fuld.

World Jewry relations is nowhere near where it could and should be, and there’s no time like the present for Jews to become more unified, especially in light of the recent surge in antisemitism. The conflicts between Jews range from  denominational differences, ethnicity, political affiliation, daily observances (or lack thereof,) gender, and so much more. I’m not saying the Jewish people should become one homogenous group, that’s not realistic. But open dialogue would be a nice start, right? It will help us understand each other’s truths and experiences beyond the surface level.

Before We Begin

Now before I get ahead of myself, let me disclose that I’m far from being an expert in theology. Many might say I should stay in my lane, because I myself am a Muslim, yet here I am talking about Jews not getting along when Muslims also generally don’t get along. I get it, I get it. So why am I diving into this particular topic? Because this is something I’m feeling in my bones. I was raised amongst Jews in a Jewish neighborhood, spent the majority of my career working with Israeli companies, and enjoyed the most rewarding friendships with Jews since the day I was born. I find myself identifying in many aspects as a result, and you might catch me speaking/writing as if I am one. Just bear with me, please. I’m coming from a good place with the best intentions, and the purest heart. 

Farhana Rahman speaking in a Southern NCSY Shabbaton event. Courtesy of Uri Pilichowski.

The Value Of Proper Jewish Learning, At Any Age

Speaking from my own experiences, there’s so much more value to proper Jewish learning, than simply establishing one’s Jewish identity. When I say “proper,” I’m referring to impactful lessons and discussions that truly inspire because they are done with context. I’m talking about approaches that make elements of the Jewish way of life (from both a religious and cultural standpoint) more doable and relatable in the modern world.

All religious-talk aside, it’s safe to say that Jewish learning provides a unique set of values, which serve as the basis for moral decisions, and transferable marketable skill sets. By nature, it fine-tunes people into becoming resistant to social pressures, and trains them on how to respond in complex situations in a practical manner. It creates a sense of social responsibility to help those in need, and to take part in social change efforts. Creativity is encouraged, to explore ways to better the world. Intense text interpretation serves as an exercise in logical reasoning, to promote a higher level of cognitive functioning. Critical and analytical thinking skills become enhanced, and let’s not forget the added oratory and linguistic benefits that come from engaging in intelligent and meaningful conversations that really matter, while becoming more familiar with an ancient language.

The ability to truly listen to the insights of others and communicate better may seem basic, but in actuality, it’s a lost art. This is what is needed to create meaningful dialogue between world Jewry, to strengthen relations from within before combating antisemitism coming from outside. Needless to say, it’s a collaborative effort.

Courtesy of Partners in Torah

A Bridge To Open Dialogue

There are many initiatives out there that help promote judgment-free dialogue on topics ranging  from philosophy, to history, to feminism, sexuality, gender roles, prayer, and seemingly archaic observances. While it is great to have safe spaces for such discussions- let’s face it, most people wouldn’t step foot into these places — for a variety of reasons, be it time, cost, stigma, or potential expectations. And so we are stuck with limited understanding, misconceptions, the feeling that it’s us versus them. But that’s not good at all. It weakens Jews as a whole.

Thankfully we live in times where there are also digital options for dialogue. These are options that don’t limit people to chats or video calls with people who are just like them. They can partner up one-on-one with other Jews for Jewish learning (also known as chavrutah.) For many, especially post-pandemic, it satisfies the hunger for meaningful human interactions and makes learning more accessible. 

Partners in Torah is a unique free program that matches people worldwide to discuss Jewish topics or texts and launch their own personal journey. They have already matched over 76,000 people in 29 countries for one-on-one study partnerships, either by phone or video conferencing, allowing people to dialogue from the comfort of their homes. Some study partners have been learning together for well over a decade.

I first heard about Partners in Torah when the esteemed Moe Mernick joined as their COO mid-2019. It further caught my interest when my mentor, Hillel Fuld joined as their Strategic Advisor soon after the start of the pandemic. I then realized that there was no time like the present for world Jewry to make use of such an initiative, to join forces and learn from one another.

Hillel Fuld and Moe Mernick (Courtesy of Hillel Fuld)

I’m proud to say that I was far from the first to come to this realization. It turned out that since the onset of COVID-19, there have been thousands of people from all over the world who joined Partners in Torah for personal enrichment. Sure, the program may have “Torah” in their name, but during the pandemic, many people worldwide found themselves joining simply to meet other Jews, make new connections, and explore a variety of Jewish topics together at their own pace. Multiple celebs and influencers also got on board during the pandemic to engage in much-needed dialogue, including the likes of Jamie Geller, and Nikki Schreiber. The famed Mayim Bialik joined Partners in Torah many years ago and studied with Jew in The City founder Allison Josephs.

I guess Partners in Torah’s mission statement says it best. Their goal is:

To make Judaism and Jewish wisdom as accessible as possible for Jews around the globe. No judgment. No hierarchy. No commitment. No cost.

Also, we aim to bring Jews of different backgrounds together in an atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual respect and put an end to polarization among Jews. We stood together at Mount Sinai — as one person with one heart — and were equal partners in Torah. Okay, so we got a little sidetracked. And we’re trying to get it back together, to unify the Jewish community — two people at a time.

Partners in Torah was established in 1993, and I wish I would have known of it from day one, to point others that have been seeking connections and guidance towards their direction.

Beginning The Journey Of A Thousand Miles

Bridges need to be built between Jews of all backgrounds, and dialogue is the first step. 

No more pointing fingers at some groups for doing more/less xyz than others. No more shaming. No judgements. No guilting into drastic life changes. Just as you may claim that they don’t have a grasp of the full story, they may have the same to say about you. Let’s respectfully talk it out, and explore the topics that affect and intrigue us together. Engaging with fellow Jews in an atmosphere of camaraderie, mutual respect, and mutual learning is the best way to foster a sense of belonging to the greater Jewish community. 

May Jews of the world join forces, embrace all that makes them similar and unique, and emerge out of these testing times stronger than ever before.

 

About the Author
Farhana Rahman has been representing socially driven Israeli startups for over 5 years, and has been in the PR/Marketing industries for nearly 10 years. She currently works for SeeTree, a technology and service in the AgriTech space as their Marketing Director. Farhana always makes time to assist startups in an advisory role with initiatives surrounding product launches, marketing campaigns, and social strategy. Additionally, she finds enjoyment in giving presentations on those topics in company events and roundtables. In the rare instances Farhana is not glued to her mobile devices, you will find her cooking gourmet feasts for her parents, playing mindless games with her brother, or running (Netflix) marathons with her husband.
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