Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Talking about Israel in our Shuls

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.

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel and as the student rabbi of Beth Boruk Temple.
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