Differences Don’t Have to Divide Us

Study session in libraryJEWISH VALUES ARE a topic close to my heart. I believe that no matter how we identify as Jews or as members of the Jewish community, it is our Jewish values that both ground us and motivate us to act as a positive force for others and ourselves. Values such as Respect (Kavod), Compassion (Rachamim) and Justice (Din) are foundations for our lives and the path we walk in the world.

Talking about Jewish values can be tough sometimes because we all have different experiences we bring to the table that color how we interpret these values. When you and I think about or discuss Tolerance or Peace, our understanding can be very different. These differences in perspective can be particularly apparent when we talk about Israel.

There was a time not all that long ago when Israel was a topic that united the Jewish people. Today, as Israel commemorates its 70th year of independence, it is a topic that increasingly divides us. This is true of a number of challenges Israel faces, chief among these its conflict with the Palestinians.

On my recent visit to Israel, our first stop was at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The Hartman Institute is a non-partisan, pluralistic center of research and education where students from all walks of life—from rabbis and Judaic scholars to the interested general public—can wrestle with the challenges facing the Jewish people. I think incredibly highly of the Hartman Institute and its goal to encourage difficult conversations through the lens of Jewish texts.

I am so pleased that Jewish Federation & Family Services—through the JFFS Rose Project—will be bringing one of the Hartman Institute’s Jewish values programs, called iEngage, to Orange County in October. And it is especially gratifying that as of this writing, ten Jewish organizations in Orange County are signed on to participate in the iEngage program.

The county-wide initiative they are participating in is called “Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” It takes the common values that we share and explores their meaning to different people. The program is designed to give learners across the political spectrum the skills to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an environment of civility, respect, and above all, understanding of different perspectives.

Whether or not you are a member of a congregation, we welcome you to be a part of this transformative program, which includes multiple sessions over the course of approximately nine months. We all champion Jewish values, but because we don’t all interpret them in the same way, it is crucial that each of us has the tools to speak to each other with civility, even when we may vehemently disagree with one another.

The iEngage curriculum is not intended to bring us to a common position but to elevate the discussion to a shared regard for our differences. I am proud that JFFS is creating a space to help us all better understand who we are, how to talk to others, and how to promote peace and understanding.

Further information about iEngage will be coming soon. For questions, please contact Lisa Armony at Lisa@JFFS.org or 949-435-3484 ext. 376.

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