Three sessions in particular focused on the actual process of dialogue, offering thoughtful presentations on how to ensure that we have open, engaging and inclusive dialogue about Israel in our home communities.
One, which I missed, by which was recorded in one of Rachel Barenblat’s blog reports, here, reflected on how delicately many rabbis feel they need to tread when speaking about Israel in their congregations and communities, and offered models for creating safe space and open dialogue that can help everyone feel more connected to Israel by not shutting down and shutting out voices that we may disagree with. The session began with Rabbi David Cooper who, among other things, talked about Project Reconnections. He referred to a metaphor that he uses often when talking about the work of this intra-communal dialogue project – that many Jews, when talking about Israel, tend to fall into one of two camps – either ‘prophets’ or ‘guardians’. Prophets are those who ask "if we are only for ourselves, who are we," and guardians ask "if we are not for ourselves, who will be?" (Both of these questions come from Hillel.) "If we rabbis are going to take a role in trying to harmonize the prophetic side of our congregations and the guardian side of our congregations, it's going to be up to us to do it, and I recommend that we do that first, before we begin to share our own individual positions about Israel/Palestine." Once we've created space for dialogue, then we also have a space to speak, as long as we do so with humility. And if we rabbis will not promote a culture of dialogue, who will; "and of course, if not now, then when?"
I find this metaphor very useful, because I am especially interested in ways of thinking about having dialogue in our communities, and creating safe, open dialogue both within Jewish communities, and with other faith communities. It is important that we not be afraid to hold different opinions, and to share multiple perspectives gathered from many places. For most of us who are not experts, how else do we remain truly informed so that we can make informed choices about what kinds of initiatives to support? Aside from my own personal leanings on the issue of peace in the Middle East, I went to J Street to listen and learn. And, from that experience I can share and teach, and wish to help create safe space for open, respectful community dialogue about Israel and the Peace process.
To that end, Rachel Barenblat’s report on a session entitled ‘How do we stop talking to ourselves’, which I attended, was one that I found particularly helpful for articulating what we can be doing to broaden the conversation within our communities and across different communities. Three young women, working in different kinds of dialogue projects, both in the USA and facilitating dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, offered hope through the sharing of their grassroots experiences. Such projects may not offer the political strategies and motivations that are needed to advance the peace process at an international level, but every grassroots project that helps to shape and shift the culture and perceptions held of ‘the other’ by each side of the conflict can only benefit the larger goals.
Another excellent review of a session where the emphasis was on building relations with others so that we can have genuinely open conversation across different communities that is respectful and safe focused on dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. I attended this excellent session, which is also recorded in detail by Rachel Barenblat here. This session focused on interfaith dialogue in the USA that does not shy away from discussing the Middle East, but does so in a way that builds bridges and understanding between people.
Time and time again, the message was clear. We must build meaningful connections and relationships with those who see the world differently to us. In so doing, we see each other as fully human, and begin to genuinely care about each other. This creates a safe space into which we can express our beliefs, hopes, fears, and ideas, and remain open to listening to others. We may not convince or persuade others to adopt our positions, but perhaps the path to peace, beyond the political level, between two peoples who one day wish to live side by side, can only come when we are open to hearing each other’s truths.