Rabbi Melissa Weintraub is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumna and the Co-Founder and Co- Executive Director of Encounter, an organization dedicated to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to healing internal Jewish rifts that have formed in its wake. Melissa can be reached at email@example.com.
Iris Feinberg, is an alumna of the Atlanta 05 Wexner Heritage Program. Iris is a community volunteer and business person in Atlanta and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After yesterday‘s Jerusalem bombing and the recent Itamar attack, many of us are feeling pain and outrage at the brutality and loss of innocent life. When we are experiencing rage and despair, it is easiest to revert to cyclical patterns of stereotyping and over-simplification of an entire group or situation. It is common to surround ourselves with like-minded people, and dismiss those who think differently than us, even within our own families and communities.
In the face of our horror and heartbreak, can we maintain civil, constructive conversation and uphold the dignity and humanity of all parties involved?
Encounter collaborated with Ori Salzberg from Bible raps to produce a music video about creating a more respectful and empathic conversation about Israel. We hope you will find it inspiring and pass it on, especially in this moment of heightened tension.
Encounter is an organization equipping Jewish leaders with the tools to transform conflict between Jews and Palestinians as well as between Jews and other Jews. On Encounter programs, Jewish leaders—Orthodox and Reform Rabbis; lead supporters of AIPAC and J Street; national- religious settlers and anti-occupation activists—all sit down in front of the separation barrier and grapple together with what it means. In the past month alone, we brought many of the highest- level Jewish leaders – from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations, Jewish Agency, ZOA, Religious Zionists of America, UCSJ, etc. – to meet with Palestinian civil leaders in the West Bank. Last week, we worked with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs to train nineteen Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Directors and lay leaders in how to create civil discourse in communities across the country, particularly around Israel.
Encounter‘s Wexner roots run deep; in addition to being founded by two women who met through Wexner (Co-Author of this piece, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub and Rabbi Miriam Margles, WGF Class XIV), Encounter proudly counts dozens of Wexner Heritage and Wexner Graduate Fellow alumni among our most involved volunteers, leaders, and past participants, including Iris Feinberg (Co-Author of this piece, and Wexner Heritage alumna from Atlanta) who participated in the filming of this video. From the outset, our programs were informed by the Wexner model of bringing together multipliers from across the sectors, denominations, and political orientations of Jewish life to converge in rare dialogue.
Encounter is more specifically a response to the increasing volatility and destructiveness of the Israel conversation within the Jewish community. Many of us as Jewish leaders are avoiding the Israel conversation altogether, antagonizing those who disagree with us, or else congregating with and preaching to our own small choir. Meanwhile, those outside our self-affirming enclaves appear more and more irrational and unintelligible. Across the country, relationships in families, synagogues, and local and national Jewish communities are unraveling as a result.
Our premise is that we‘re losing a tremendous amount as a community as a result. Destructive communication is generating hurt, loneliness, anxiety, disconnection, resentment, and fear. We‘re turning people off who are standing at the gates of the Jewish community – particularly the next generation – who are looking inside and saying ?not for me.‘ We‘re draining energy away from more important communal priorities. And perhaps most importantly, we‘re losing the profound, creative problem-solving that comes only from mining everyone‘s collective wisdom, rather than group think.
So what can we do about it? We believe we need to go beyond mere tolerance or aloof civility, to focus on building an infrastructure to delve deeply into our differences rather than avoid them. That means creating institutional programs and policies that prioritize collective exploration and inquiry into our opposing ideas. It means adopting a lens that every person in the room has wisdom that we need to access to make good and informed decisions, and making sure no wisdom gets lost. It means exploring and seeking to understand everyone‘s views and values — with vigor and without restraint – in pursuit of the most intelligent solutions to entrenched social problems, like Israel‘s elusive quest for security and peace.
We are excited to partner with you to build more constructive Israel engagement in our community, and to forge a path of transformation and healing.