Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kehillah Conversation #3: Israel

Report on Kehillah Conversation #3: Israel

The third Kehillah Conversation took place on February 9 after Kiddush, and was attended by about 45 members. A perfectly appropriate D’var Torah by Rabbi Julia Appel during the service drew upon her experiences in Jerusalem and Bethlehem with people coming from widely diverse backgrounds; this was a perfect way to set the stage for us by emphasizing the value of respectful listening and dialogue with each other as we engage with Israel. She also invited us to not allow the mystique of “expertise” to intimidate us from freely expressing our personal feelings in grappling with the difficult issues that Israel faces.
Our conversation was launched by Eric Caplan, who provided an insightful opening statement pointing out that discourse on controversial Israeli policies often reveals underlying assumptions and fears that need to be addressed (rather than be left unspoken) in order to build meaningful understandings. Neil Caplan moderated the discussion which, he hoped, would provide the shul leadership not only with a sense of the range of opinions that exist in our community, but also, eventually, practical ideas to help guide them in decision-making on these often contentious issues.
Some of the opinions expressed emphasized the following:
·         The need to continue our shul’s longstanding tradition of welcoming a variety of opinions rather than promoting one “side” only – whether on the Israel-Palestine conflict, religious-secular tensions, or social justice issues.
·         Several participants spoke of not wanting to jeopardize the precious “safe space” the shul provided for people to expound on their different and sometimes sharply conflicting views.
·         The importance of keeping a long-range perspective on guests and topics, rather than expecting a one-to-one ratio of presentations from the right and left of the spectrum.
·         Members would benefit from more and continuous learning about historical, legal and political aspects of Israel’s position, as well as activities that deepen of our understanding of the Palestinian and Arab “other”.
·         The need to clarify which organizations and individuals can be endorsed or supported officially by our shul, and which can be invited for educational purposes without such official endorsement.
·         The question of setting “red-lines” under which our synagogue’s engagement with Israel should operate, including the question of whether “love of Israel” as a country needs to be a pre-requisite for participation.
·         The desirability, but also the drawbacks, of drawing up written guidelines for acceptable Israel-related activities, to orient the leadership and members.
·         The need for more discussion and sharing of views among our own members in the spirit of respectful conversation.
·         Possible outcomes of this discussion include: (a) a task force working on the formulation of guidelines, (b) intimate kumsitz-type gatherings to learn more about each other, (c) follow-up conversations about our programs that satisfy or displease various members (including ex-members), (d) engaging in one or more “compassionate listening” training sessions, and learning other skills for effective dialogue, (e) an effort to attract more members to Adult-Ed sessions to view and discuss the Hartman Institute’s excellent iEngage DVD series, “Engaging Israel: Towards a New Relationship”.

Our fourth Kehillah conversation will take place on Wednesday, May 1 on the topic of Simplicity and Money Issues. All shul members are warmly encouraged to participate. Your comments on this or any past or upcoming Kehillah conversation can also be emailed to the Rabbi at: rabbiron@dorshe-emet.org or to Rosana at: president@dorshei-emet.org

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