“Listen” – Respectful dialogue in the Jewish community

There hasn’t been enough respectful dialogue in the national Jewish community lately. The Iran Agreement hit us hard, with way too much namecalling of “traitors” and “warmongers.” We are all concerned and worried – and sometimes that fact gets lost in the conversation. I think we did a better job here. We tried to be respectful, to talk appropriately, and to share viewpoints calmly. To get to our Statement on Iran we consulted, we discussed, we debated, and we ultimately reached a consensus.

But we can do better. And we’re only at the beginning.

We’ve been examining the issue of respectful and appropriate dialogue in our community. How do we constructively talk with one another about sensitive, provocative issues? How do we talk about Israel? About Iran? About our own fears and passions?

Last week we convened our new Board of Advisors for the first time. Led by the inspiring (and local GMW resident) Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the NEW United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, our leadership studied Torah together and learned about the respectful celebration of disagreement.

We discussed מחלוקות לשם שמיים – disagreements for the sake of Heaven, between Hillel and Shammai, and Korah and Moses. What are substantive and content-based arguments and what are not? How can we talk passionately but kindly? And how can we come closer as a community, rather than allowing the debates to divide us?

What are the principles of dialogue?
How do we listen?
What are our concerns?

Rabbi Wernick pointed out that the Shema teaches us that disagreement for the sake of Heaven is not about arguing. It’s about listening – with all our heart and all our might.

We need more of these conversations over the months ahead – in our community and around the country. We’ll seek to develop this process further, with our partner synagogues and agencies, and with our community leaders.

Not just to argue and debate, but also to listen.


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