As the Wexner Israel Fellowship (WIF) year draws rapidly to its end, I remember one of my greatest laughs from the beginning of the year. We happily spotted the Kosher meat section in one of the supermarkets, just to discover that on one side of it rested sachets of clams and on the other side packages of bacon.
Could I learn something from this kind of peaceful co-existence?
At Harvard I felt I occupied less space in the public domain and this created more space for others: I heard their beliefs, and got a sense of their identity. Rather than promoting the truth – our truth, of course – I practiced being a more inclusive and better listener than I am at home.
I experienced in a very real way that this posture enables peaceful co-existence and forms a basis for a healthy civil society. It facilitated mutual enrichment and a thriving intellectual and cultural exchange, opening new horizons without compromising our beliefs.
This was the atmosphere I felt not only at the Kennedy School throughout the “Wexner experience”, but also in meetings with Jewish leaders and activists, in our congregation in Brookline, and in the international student body at Harvard.
I believe that one of the greatest challenges we face is to advance this capacity in the Israeli society. Vibrant, energetic, and democratic as it is, Israeli society is less open to differing views. Bringing more varied perspectives to a debate requires carving out the proper space for that view around the table.
Living in the Middle-Eastern neighborhood requires one to cling steadfastly to his beliefs. There is a joke that in the Middle Eastern reality, a people or country that is not invited to a regional dinner should suspect that they will appear on the menu instead. Tolerance or acquiescence to contradicting narratives is usually interpreted not as a sign of maturity and strength but rather a sign of weakness. Also, the need for unity in the face of ongoing external challenges doesn’t afford us the space to accept disagreement.
Yet, in order to unleash the full potential of Israel and to enhance the vitality of public life in Israel, we can and should be more accepting and inclusive.
The burden is on our shoulders – let’s start working!
Lior Bruker, a Wexner Israel Fellowship alum (Class 25), serves as the Director of the Strategic Planning Department of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). In his previous position, Lior headed the Policy Research and Analysis Office of the IAEC. Prior to joining the IAEC, he had served as a research officer (as a Major) in a variety of posts in the IDF and Military Intelligence. Lior holds an MSc in Life Sciences from the Weizmann Institute of Science and a BSc in Chemistry from Tel-Aviv University. Lior is married to Nira, an educational counselor, and they live in Modi’in where they raise their three daughters: Noa, Ma’ayan and Avi’ya. Lior can be reached at email@example.com.