In the beginning of 2018 I set on what I thought would be an audacious move to introduce the community to people and ideas outside of their ordinary frame of reference. My community is proudly conservative, both religiously and politically, and stand by the traditional Zionistically instilled narrative of the state. Every war was the David vs Goliath story. The Israelis were, and are, the only true peace seekers in the region. Gaza deserves what it’s getting. They vote liberal and hold traditional views on marriage, the sanctity of life and the economy.
My intent, despite accusations to the contrary, was to open up the community to prominent perspectives in contemporary Australia and learn how to embrace differences of opinions without blacklisting the people who hold those positions.
We invited non-Orthodox clergy to discuss and debate issues of the Jewish future and intermarriage. We invited a Palestinian refugee to share his story of despair and victimhood. We debated the topic of morality in a God-less world and the merits of euthanasia for the terminally ill.
The push back from the community was constant. Each opponent selected a different topic to boycott. The protests from the observant members focussed on the issue of the engaging and platforming of progressive Jewry. Hawkish Zionists opposed legitimising Palestinian rights to the land. Some attacks were on point, others were personal.
Overall the community embraced the initiative. Attendance for every one of the 10 events exceeded expectation and drew from a broad audience, beyond the communal limits and the bridge.
While the program, titled “THEM”, was well received, in many ways it has been a disappointment.
The current political climate is one in which Liberal leftists will tolerate speakers who present ideas even more progressive than their own, but they are intolerant of conservative opinions. Similarly conservatives invite presenters with views more orthodox than their own, but seldom from progressives. “THEM” was an attempt to break this mold; learning to tolerate those with whom we vehemently disagree.
My disappointment lies not with the program itself, but with the lack of reciprocal tolerance I have experienced.
I have hosted two non-Orthodox clergy, but no Orthodox Rabbi has been invited to address a progressive audience.
This is true for all my speakers, (with the exception of the Palestinian who reciprocated an invitation to address a Palestinian audience, which landed up containing only 5 Palestinians and a number of Palestinian-sympathetic Jews.)
Liberals claim to be tolerant, but their intolerance is no less toxic than that of the right; it’s just directed differently.
When Facebook feeds confirm our belief system but does not challenge them, where is the platform for sharing dangerous ideas? How can we engage different philosophies, both on the left and the right?
A basic rule of mediation is that both parties need to accept their part in causing the breakdown; no one is completely exonerated from responsibility. Everyone has contributed to the dysfunction, even if not everyone has contributed equally.
When one party admits fault the other has the option to similarly take responsibility, or they can exploit that acknowledgement by allowing the other to claim sole responsibility.
I’m an Orthodox Jew with conservative views. I’m open to explore alternative narratives that challenge my own; I haven’t found an opposite partner who feels the same.