May 25, 2022
This week, communal leaders from the Federation and Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) are meeting for the first sessions of the Dialogue Across Difference, a series of gatherings that seeks to build a culture of civil discourse, shifts how we disagree and debate, and plants seeds for creating a more vibrant and inclusive community.
For this endeavor, the JCRC is partnering with Resetting the Table, a nonpartisan organization that works with communities like ours to learn the art of having constructive conversations about contentious issues.
The need is clear.
This week, the horrific murder of 19 children and two teachers in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, reignited our country’s long, divisive debate over stopping gun violence. This heartbreaking event highlights the urgency of relearning how to effectively communicate with each other and talk, not at each other or past each other. We need to learn to honor and respect our shared and different experiences and values in a way that will allow us to put aside long-held stereotypes and move past stalemates to find common humanity and a safer tomorrow.
This polarization that afflicts our broader society is also present in our Jewish community. Debates about controversial topics easily descend into demonization, diminishing trust and becoming so fraught that many end up steering clear of engaging entirely.
This is the case with one of the most important issues of our time—Israel, our Jewish homeland and a focus of Jewish identity and peoplehood. The goal of our JCRC’s work with Resetting the Table is to foster civil discussion and debate about Israel, to move the conversation away from both avoidance and acrimony, neither of which is productive.
To achieve its goal of empowering people to have nuanced conversations about Israel, the JCRC’s Israel Affairs Committee proposed bringing in Resetting the Table for a series of Dialogue Across Difference workshops. At these gatherings, participants will gain clarity into their own perspectives, air shared viewpoints and differences of opinion, and master skills for discussing those differences as a pathway to understanding and learning. They will strengthen relationships and foster habits of collaboration that build trust and enable us to move forward, together, on addressing community priorities.
Bringing Dialogue Across Difference is just a first step in working to help our community embrace one of the JCRC’s core values, Elu V’Elu, or an openness to multiple perspectives. This Jewish approach asks us to recognize that there are multiple sides of an issue, be open to hearing views that are not our own, and grapple with complexity. I look forward to being on this journey together with you—we will be better and stronger for it.
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs