By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
Americans in general, and Jews in particular are in search of ways to express their political passions. As has been documented by this writer and others, there are deep divides within our community but there are also many questions that our constituencies are asking. As communal leaders, practitioners and educators we must find ways to guide, teach and lead.
I am proposing a number of steps beginning with the ideas introduced in this article that are designed to diffuse communal tension as well as increase our collective understanding of the issues and the diversity of opinions that today dominate our conversations.
Mediation and Negotiation: The first task is for communities to recruit individuals who are trained in mediation and negotiation strategies and techniques. Synagogues, schools, JCC’s and our civic organizations have a responsibility to assist their members to work through the issues that today divide and separate us. This is the moment when fellow Jews with different political perspectives are invited to sit together in order to listen to one another in a setting that requires respectful and civil engagement. Drawing on the talents of those trained in the art of mediation we have a unique opportunity to change the tenor of these discussions and promote a different type of political discourse. What motivates us, and those with whom we disagree, to hold to these positions? Is there room for compromise? How do we hear “the other” and what might we (and they) be missing in the course of our arguments? Is there common ground and how might we expand that shared space where we find consensus?
Those who are engaged to work with our community in this effort may be able to model a more constructive form of dialogue. We ought to employ Jewish texts related to the ideas of dissent and consensus as part of this initiative.
Information Briefings: Stepping back, we as consumers of information also require “knowledge” and “facts” which are in short supply. A Jewish People’s University might be in order. Toward that end it would seem useful to re-educate ourselves about American civics. A basic refresher class how our democracy operates would be in order. So many of us may be rusty on the checks and balance system that is in place within our democracy, along with the extraordinary set of advocacy tools that are available to citizens.
For many individuals, who are particularly interested in Israel’s political future and maybe uncertain about the various proposals that are now being considered, why not provide a tutorial on Zionism and the history of the Arab-Israel controversy?
In confronting the current patterns of anti-Semitism, ought we not to have a fuller understanding of the history of bigotry, and more directly, the story of anti-Jewish behavior and how in this nation our community has responded in the past to these challenges?
The issue of immigration represents another complex question facing our country. In studying the history of US immigration policies and practices, we can learn more readily about this nation’s record in dealing with its immigrant populations. A tutorial here as well might be useful. Such an orientation can and will be useful when confronting the current debate over this administration’s proposed actions.
Judaism has a great deal to say on the issues that today divide and separate us. It might be useful to understand what our tradition may lend to these conversations. With its rich diversity of legal opinions, laws and rituals, there are core ideas that reflect our contribution as a faith community to the public welfare.
In this environment helping to create an informed community ought to be a central objective of our Jewish institutions. Our energies should be directed toward educating those within our organizations and synagogues to have a broader appreciation of the facts that define these vital issues.
What is also required is a particular focus on assisting each of us to more consciously understand the viewpoints of those with whom we may disagree.
As noted above, the proposal for a university of the Jewish people ought to provide a framework for learning in connection with these issues that will define our nation’s identity and political character.
Jews are also interested to know how and where they might become involved; an Activist’s Guide Jewish Political Engagement may also be needed at this time. Such a document could provide helpful information on the various political voices that today comprise the Jewish landscape.
These ideas represent only a beginning point, if we are to close the divide that today separates us as American Jews.
Steven Windmueller Ph.D., on behalf of the Wind Group, Consulting for the Jewish Future.