Limmud NY, the annual Jewish learning conference which takes place this year in Princeton, Feb. 17-20, regularly attracts a crowd of over 700, who are, by design, from all religious backgrounds and political persuasions. The organizers, in considering the potential impact of the current political climate on the conference, instituted a process to ensure the pluralistic space is not disrupted.
“We were concerned about conversations escalating to the point that people delegitimize others and their point of view,” Limmud NY president Penny Arons, a Montclair resident, told NJJN. “We also worried that, conversely, our participants might avoid difficult conversations.”
Their solution involved several steps, many focusing on how to incorporate respect into the framework of the conference, now in its 13th year. To start, they added “respect” to their list of Limmud core values (which already included “learning, diversity, and community”), and then decided to include the examination into what diversity means in 2017 to their already decided-upon goals.
“Throughout Jewish history, arguments and disagreements have helped to create our rich traditions and cultures — we just believe that in order for these arguments to be ‘for the sake of heaven’ they need to happen in a respectful manner that values each individual and their role in the community,” Arons explained. “At this year’s conference, we’ll actively encourage respectful dialogue, and [we] have provided resources and sessions to help our participants think about what it means to respectfully engage with others who have differing ideas.”
They are also asking participants to commit themselves to civil conversations by signing an agreement, known as the Rodef Shalom (pursuer of peace) Communication Agreement. Developed in 2011 by the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, it offers seven principles of respectful conversation. The agreement is in the program guide and will also hang near the conference help desk for the participants to sign.
“Limmud NY believes that learning together is one of the best ways to build and strengthen the Jewish community, especially when we learn with people who are different than us or people with whom we disagree,” said Arons.