I was at a luncheon last week, and a woman at my table shared how difficult she found it to have a conversation with her teenage grandchildren. Their politics were so different from her own that she didn’t even know where to start. Another woman chimed in that these days people have such a hard time reaching across the aisle that they don’t even bother trying. She found it hopeful that the grandmother was at least willing to start a conversation. I also found that hopeful.
As you are reading this, I’m heading to Israel, where I’m completing a leadership development onboarding program designed to help CEOs of Jewish organizations confront the unique challenges and opportunities facing the American Jewish community.
I’m looking forward to being in Israel again, but it’s with a deep understanding that Israel today can be polarizing, especially along the generational divide. I thought about this as I listened to the woman talk about her grandchildren. One of the current topics of conversation both here and in Israel is the relationship of American Jews to Israel. As Jews, we are all part of the same Peoplehood, but our national and religious identities often divide us, and the conversation between us can prove to be difficult.
There is an old joke that if you put 10 Jews in a room, you will get 12 opinions. But that joke only works when everyone feels free to voice their opinion, and that’s often not the case anymore. Today, many people either don’t know how to be part of a dynamic conversation or are afraid to speak up. Or maybe it’s just easier not to try when you see shades of gray but others don’t. It’s precisely because we’re not all on the same page, however, that the exchange of ideas and opinions, no matter how difficult, is critical to understanding each other and moving forward.
The JFFS Rose Project was founded for that reason. Through the Rose Project, we are working to give people the tools to have these difficult conversations with civility, whether they are about national politics or Israel. This fall we will launch iEngage, a county-wide initiative designed to give learners the skills to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with their fellow Jews across the political spectrum. The goal is to inspire values-based discourse that fosters understanding of different perspectives and mutual respect.
This Shabbat, I encourage you to think about those conversations that you are hesitant to have—in any area of your life. If you’re uncertain about having the conversation, then you can imagine that other people are too. Think about all the people you haven’t spoken to because the conversation seems too difficult or you don’t know where to start. And then think about the possibilities if you are at least willing to try.