Sadly, we now live in a world in which those who engage in political debate often spend more time shouting at each other and insulting opposing views and opponents, than actually listening to and learning from each other. In the American Jewish community, this lack of meaningful dialogue is particularly acute when the topic is Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. This problem has erupted in a major way in many college campus Hillel chapters. At the University of California-Berkeley, the Jewish Student Union recently voted to deny membership to J Street U, marking a low point in refusing to engage in meaningful dialogue with fellow Jews about Israel and its conflict with Palestinians. However, not all Hillel chapters have been so closed minded. Indeed, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel recently welcomed the establishment of a J Street U chapter.
Fortunately, there is an organization which is dedicated to providing a safe forum for Jews to engage in safe and meaningful dialogue about Israel & its conflict with the Palestinians. The Jewish Dialogue Group trains facilitators to convene groups of Jews to engage in safe and meaningful dialogue about Israel & its conflict with the Palestinians. It has no agenda to sway participants to one point of view or another. Rather, its agenda is allow Jews to understand each other better and to learn from each other. To that end it has published a Manual for Facilitators, Constructive Conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which you can read and download for free, or purchase a printed copy. It has also recently published a, Guidebook for Deliberation about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is also available as to read or download for free, or for purchase in print.
Last year, my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, convened a number of facilitated Jewish Dialogue sessions, and I was pleased to be able to attend one of them. The session provided what it promised, a safe and meaningful dialogue where participants not only learned each other’s views, but of equal importance, learned more about their own true feelings because they were able to express them safely in ways that may not have been available to them in the past.
Based on the success of my own congregation’s dialogue sessions, last fall, I made the decision to try to broaden Jewish Dialogue in Madison to the entire Jewish community. I felt that the best way to do so was to obtain co-sponsorship of all the major Jewish organizations in Madison. I am pleased to report that after many discussions, the Jewish Federation of Madison, UW-Hillel, Temple Beth El and the Beth Israel Center, have all agreed to join Shaarei Shamayim in co-sponsoring 3 Jewish Dialogue sessions in late April and early May.
The sessions are free, but in order to participate, one must register by April 1st. So, if you are Jewish and you live in the Madison area and can attend a Jewish Dialogue session on April 23, April 30, or May 1st, please register by April 1st. I assure you that if you participate, you will grow from the experience and learn important skills about how to engage in safe and meaningful dialogue, something our world sorely needs at present.