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Federation program facilitates difficult conversations about Israel
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Federation program facilitates difficult conversations about Israel

Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary
Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary

In the wake of October’s shooting in Pittsburgh, when controversy arose over whether Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau recognized the Conservative synagogue as a Jewish house of worship (much of the confusion was the result of a mistranslation from Hebrew to English and Lau’s quotes being taken out of context), Lisa Lisser, a lay leader and Jewish educator, saw the entire exchange as a symptom of a problem between Israeli Jews and diaspora ones: their inability to effectively discuss their differences.

“What we’re seeing is that we’re not speaking to each other, but at each other, sometimes in very threatening ways,” said Lisser, who lives in Short Hills.

She and three peers are addressing the challenge locally through a series of facilitated conversations about Israel titled “Building a Heart with Many Rooms.” It is being hosted by two departments of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Global Connections and the Community Relations Committee.

The goal is to get people with different perspectives to sit around the same table for a series of difficult, but respectful, conversations about Israel. “We’re not trying to change people’s views, but to get them to understand that people can hold different views and maybe all come by them through a love of the Jewish people and just reach them in different ways,” she said in a telephone interview with NJJN. “We want to try to take some of the fire out of the conversation and talk about why it matters.”

The initiative will launch Nov. 28, with a keynote address by Dr. Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. He has been participating in similar conversations in Israel focusing on questions like who is a Jew, who has the authority to convert people, and who may pray at the Kotel and under what parameters. He will provide an overview of where Israeli and North American communities across the spectrum stand.

After the launch event, attendees will be invited to host and/or participate in follow-up small group meetings in people’s homes. These meetings will be facilitated conversations with protocols and ground rules so that participants can comfortably share their ideas but also hear conflicting views.

Lisser created the program with David Leit, Ariel Nelson, and Craig Levine. All four are graduates of the Wexner Heritage Program — a prestigious two-year Jewish study and leadership development program. All four are also trained in facilitation in a program offered by Essential Partners through the Wexner Foundation.


If you go

What: Dr. Arnold Eisen, Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor, speaking on religious pluralism in Israel

When: Nov. 28 at 7 p.m.

Where: JCC MetroWest, West Orange

Cost: Free, registration required. Visit jfedgmw.org/voicesofisrael

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