Testimonials from Institutions That Have Hosted Dialogues

Synagogues

�The members of my large, suburban synagogue love Israel with all their heart, but their beliefs about how to secure a peaceful future for Israel, or whether peace is even possible, run the gamut from right to left, fueled with strong emotions. Because of this emotion, people who have known each other for decades are afraid to discuss Israel with each other, for fear of igniting a storm of feeling. The Jewish Dialogue Group facilitated meetings at our shul that were cathartic and healing and allowed us to air these feelings without fear of hurting or being hurt. The discussions led me to see that our beliefs about Israel are engendered by our mutual devotion to the Jewish state and that we tend to forget how much we share in our feelings for Israel. I felt a great burden had been lifted at the close of the session that I attended�I expressed my true feelings and this honesty lightened me. These sessions are healing and the experience has stayed with me. The facilitators were professional and skilled, delivering more than we expected.�

�Deborah Golden, Co-Chair, Adult Education Committee
Har Zion Temple (Penn Valley, PA)


“In synagogue life, where we Jews argue about almost everything, Israel has become a topic we are afraid to argue about. Israel has the capacity to polarize a community, and often folks, sometimes including the rabbi, don’t want to risk expressing their views. The Jewish Dialogue Group created a safe space for my congregants to begin to talk to each other about their most deeply held beliefs and feelings about Israel. People who have known each other for years but who never felt comfortable sharing with each other about Israel were able to listen and share in an atmosphere protected by trust and confidentiality. I look forward to bringing this experience to more and more members of our community.”

�Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg
Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek (Chester, CT)


“Tensions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simmered for some time at our congregation. People were uncomfortable engaging directly with each other, preferring instead to avoid or to talk only with like-minded constituencies. The gift of JDG and their skilled facilitator is that through their road-tested structure, we were able to serve the aching need of our congregation to come together in the same room, inside our synagogue walls, and be heard by one another without devolving into hostility or avoidance. To handle the large turnout (130 people!) the facilitator trained 16 congregants to lead small groups. The result was an event in which there were some very honest, heartfelt exchanges and surprising discoveries. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and we achieved our goal of providing a communication model that we can use going forward. Our event served to remind us that while we may continue to disagree on this and other tough issues, the synagogue can be a place of respectful dialogue.”

�Marty Rosenheck and Kirsten D’Aurelio 
Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (Evanston, IL)
 

“We had two choices when we decided to launch an Israel dialogue project at our synagogue for the express purpose of bringing the critical but sensitive issue of Israel to the forefront of our congregational life. We could try to reinvent the dialogue wheel and risk chaos and communal divisiveness. Or we could have JDG introduce us to time-tested, structured protocols that provided clear guidelines for civil discourse to earnest but inexperienced dialoguers. We choose the latter, which I believe is why our ongoing dialogue has been successful. Jewish Dialogue Group facilitators provided the necessary knowhow.”

Ira Rifkin, Israel Affairs Committee Chair
Congregation Kol Shalom, Annapolis, MD


“I am co-chair of the Adult Education committee of the Jewish Center of Princeton. This past spring 2007, Mitch Chanin of the Jewish Dialogue Group, with assistance from Barbara Foxman and Wilma Solomon, facilitated two sessions of constructive dialogue among Jewish Center congregants. The sessions were both well-received and helped the congregants come together and discuss their shared values and differences as they look at Israel and the situation in the Middle East. The sessions were so helpful that congregants want to see the process continue with the goal of broadening our program offerings at the synagogue and reaching out to others in the community.”

�Tirza Wahrman, Jewish Center of Princeton, Princeton, NJ


 

“Because several of us believe that structured dialogue can help to improve inter-personal communication in our congregation, we wanted to experience a session led by the Jewish Dialogue Group. The Israeli/Palestinian issue has been very divisive in the past, and we do not talk about it in the synagogue. Therefore, we decided to start with a less controversial, but still important, topic — namely, the role of tikkun olam and social justice activism in the synagogue. In a single session we quickly became comfortable with the facilitators and process. Participants expressed their feelings about tikkun olam, learned from each other, and suggested how we might revitalize our program. Now we may be ready to dialogue about the Israeli/Palestinian issue.”

�Gabe Groner, President, Keddem Congregation, Palo Alto, CA


“In August 2006, Kol Tzedek Reconstructionist Synagogue held a community conversation on the Israel-Lebanon war that used the framework of the Jewish Dialogue Group (JDG). The group recognized differences, while not trying to convince each other of their viewpoint. Individuals were able to express deep emotions and fears in a safe environment. Overwhelmingly, participants expressed gratitude for a safe space in which to express themselves and explore their perspectives. These dialogue sessions have served as a great way to begin an important conversation that we know will take a long time.” (Read the complete testimonial.)

�Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herman, Kol Tzedek West Philadelphia Synagogue


“When we invited the Jewish Dialogue Group to come to Congregation Beth Or and help us address a very difficult issue (the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial resolution on the Iraq War), it was impossible to know just how effective they would be at facilitating a dialogue that was fair and constructive. I was tremendously impressed by the outcome of the session that they planned and facilitated which, due to the sensitive and professional way in which they ran the event, was able to be a forum for our congregants who may disagree passionately with one another on this issue to hear one another speak with open and trusting hearts. Jewish values were at the center of the experience and it was a true manifestation of the commitment to ‘eilu ve-eilu‘ as our tradition instructs us. I am grateful for their presence in the community and look forward to hosting them at Beth Or again.”

�Rabbi Craig Axler, Congregation Beth Or, Maple Glen, PA


“Mishkan Shalom contracted with the Jewish Dialogue Group to help Board members and Tikkun Olam Committee members engage with one another around our experience, frustrations and dreams for Tikkun Olam at Mishkan. Mitch and Elissa’s wise leadership was professional and exceedingly ethical as they guided us through a very structured discussion. They provided us both with the tools and the space to talk honestly with one another. Mitch and Elissa encouraged us to listen openly about our intellectual and heartfelt hopes for Tikkun Olam in this community. It was a deeply moving and regenerative experience for those of us gathered in the room.”

�Rod MacNeil, President, Congregation Mishkan Shalom, Philadelphia


Colleges

“Divided between five clubs concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many of us in the Jewish community at Brandeis felt the need for a cooperative dialogue to quell some of our outstanding tensions. We were excited to have the Jewish Dialogue Group facilitate such a dialogue session, and the outcome brought an air of harmony that exceeded all of our expectations. During the dialogue session, students who supported organizations ranging from AIPAC to J Street to Jewish Voice for Peace quickly became friends, and remain so today. By recognizing each of our passions for the same goal�a just resolution to the conflict�and realizing that we shared many of the same fears, we were able to dispel the anxieties towards one another that existed before the session. The progress we made during the dialogue has led us to run joint programs and to collaborate in publicizing each other’s events in order for students to learn about different narratives of the conflict. Indeed, what used to be an atmosphere filled with suspicion on campus has become an open place to discuss varying ideas, and we are now always delighted to see one another and to sit with one another at the Shabbat table.”

�Brian Reeves
Brandeis University, Class of 2011
 

“When I arrived at Swarthmore and began asking students about the Israel conversation on campus, the refrain I heard over and over was: ‘We don’t want to touch it  it’s way too hot.’ Immediately after the Jewish Dialogue workshop, that refrain disappeared. Through the careful, thoughtful, and respectful facilitation of Mitch Chanin and Reba Carmel, students discovered that they had a great deal in common, and that they were genuinely curious about one another’s experiences, opinions, and questions. Students also felt safe enough to share their anxieties and areas of ignorance, ambivalence, and ongoing learning. Today, the students who participated in the dialogue are actively pursuing new ways in which to open up the conversation, and are seeking to make bridges beyond the Jewish community in the effort to develop meaningful, respectful Israel discourse on campus.”

Kelilah Miller
Rabbinic Intern, Swarthmore College Hillel


“I want to express my appreciation to the Jewish Dialogue Group for providing a caring forum for meaningful conversations among JTS students, faculty and staff over the past few years.  As you know, several of our JTS students were so inspired by these dialogues that they decided to participate in your facilitator training workshops. I am so pleased that your great work will continue to have an impact on other communities. Thank you so much for your time and energy. I look forward to engaging the Jewish Dialogue Group to facilitate more conversations at JTS in the future.”

Sara Horowitz
 Dean of Student Life, The Jewish Theological Seminary
 

“Sarah Lawrence College is a small very liberal school in the suburbs of New York with a very diverse Jewish community. Our students are passionate and inquisitive about modern Judaism and our relationship with Israel. Throughout the school year, we engage the student body in an open and honest conversation about the issues facing Israel and the Palestinians. The Jewish Dialogue Group program that we recently held was an integral part of this discussion for the Jewish students on campus. The dialogue was organized to create the best possible environment for each of us to delve into our personal beliefs about our shared passion. The structure and guidelines provided by JDG helped us to be calm, respectful and open-minded about listening to each other, as well as speaking about ourselves. Even though our Jewish community is very close, having the JDG guide us in this discussion, helped some students to open up in a way they never had before and to make us even closer. Having the Jewish Dialogue Group come to Sarah Lawrence was a very positive experience for our community and I hope we can continue using the tools that they gave us.”

�Mira Shore, Co-Chair, Sarah Lawrence College Hillel


 

“Mitch Chanin, Director of the Jewish Dialogue Group, came to the undergraduate Peace and Conflict Studies class that I teach at West Chester University to facilitate a dialogue on the Iraq War. The students responded with remarkable enthusiasm to the experience of hearing each other on such a hot topic. After a semester of role-plays and exercises designed to bring to life concepts like the value of listening and the challenge of determining the other’s interests, the students commented that the JDG dialogue format applied their learning and increased its usefulness. Students who watched the dialogue found ways to apply aspects of the format to their analyses of international and other public conflicts. Those who participated were energized, and all commented on Mitch’s patient, respectful, even-handed, and seasoned skill in responding to a set of highly unpredictable contributions to the conversation. The dialogue was a highlight of the semester for the students and for me.”

�Rebecca Subar, mediator, negotiator, teacher, organizational development consultant


 

“The series of dialogue sessions facilitated by the Jewish Dialogue Group provided a safe and thoughtful space for my students to explore their feelings and thoughts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also modeled a process for intentional listening which was revelatory for the students; they were surprised that they were able to hang in and listen to ideas and opinions very different from their own.

“The facilitator, Mitch Chanin, was innovative in his ability to think flexibly in custom-designing the series of dialogues to meet the particular needs of the student group. Building on the sound foundation of fundamental principles of dialogue, he was able to create a dialogue curriculum shaped around specific readings. He is a skilled and cooperative collaborator with university faculty, coming to the table with great patience and resourcefulness.

“The students were eager to apply their ability to listen to other situations outside the group and outside the classroom, where they listened to friends, family members, and classmates with a newfound confidence as a basis for their own continued creative exploration of how the conflict affects their relationships with other Jews.”

�Dr. Billy Yalowitz, Associate Professor, Temple University/Tyler School of Art
Co-director of the Arts in Community Program


 

Organizations

“The Women Cantors� Network is a diverse group of North American and international women cantors. Our feelings about Israel are passionate and range widely; if two Jews have three opinions on any other topic, two Jews have twenty opinions on Israel. The Jewish Dialogue workshop at our recent conference helped us to break down the barriers of dogma and better understand each other�s fears, questions and passions around Israel. The JDG facilitators were well prepared; their framework for dialogue allowed our discussion groups to maintain an atmosphere of caring and mutual respect. We emerged feeling that there is now an open channel for us to support each other as we continue to navigate our varying relationships to Israel. JDG enabled us to productively approach what had felt like an almost unapproachable subject.”

�Jessi Roemer, Cantorial Soloist, Philadelphia, PA
Rebecca Schwartz, Cantorial Soloist, Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, PA (Conference Co-chair)
Arlyne Unger, Hazzan and Education Director, Beth Tivkah B’nai Jeshurun, Erdenheim, PA  (Conference Co-chair)


“We were excited to include a special dialogue session about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, open to the whole community, in this year’s National Havurah Committee Summer Institute. Nearly 50 people attended. Israel and Palestine is definitely a challenging discussion for the NHC community to tackle, and the JDG made it possible to begin to even have that discussion. As a truly diverse community, one that draws on people of all ages, backgrounds, and from all regions of the country, creating a space where all can be heard safely is a truly important aspect to the NHC Summer Institute. In a place where our core value is that all are both teachers and students, the Jewish Dialogue Group made it possible for participants to learn from each other on this really challenging topic.”

�Russ Agdern, Co-Chair, National Havurah Committee Summer Institute 2009


 

“The Jewish Dialogue Group created a safe space for Corps members to use Israel as a case study for how to discuss politically volatile issues in a productive way. This workshop gave them the skills to be able to talk about difficult things, like Israel, within their community  things they had wanted to discuss for months, but weren’t quite sure where or how to begin. These newly acquired tools will allow them to begin all sorts of conversations that are difficult yet necessary to create and sustain community.”

�Amy Ravis Furey, M.S.W, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps
Program Director, New York City
 

“The Jewish Dialogue Group facilitated two dialogue sessions for AVODAH corps members in Washington, DC over the past couple of years. Watching our corps members have very honest discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really highlights the great work that the Jewish Dialogue Group is doing. This is an issue that can easily divide a group, however I have only seen the opposite from our corps members. Despite their initial trepidation, they shared their ideas and experiences openly and appreciated each other’s opinions. After these initial conversations, they felt that they had a good foundation to build on. Corps members told me in subsequent weeks that they have continued the conversations they began during these programs. The JDG facilitators who led the programs were extremely thoughtful, professional, and supportive. JDG does fantastic work and I hope that more organizations and individuals in the Jewish community take advantage of this terrific resource!”

Josh Neirman, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps
Program Associate in Washington, DC

 

 

“The Jewish Dialogue Group has led conversations for Renaissance Group members who are passionate about Israel. We first began working with JDG because we wanted to deepen the conversations our members were having with each other. JDG facilitators did a great job leading conversations about experiences and commitments, rather than politics. The structure of a JDG experience really helped everyone present feel like their opinions and experiences were equally valid as everyone else’s.”

�Addie Lewis, Former Director of the Renaissance Group
Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
 

“When we began to train our first cohort of Fellows as part of the Grace Paley Organizing Fellowship, it became clear that we could not omit workshops on Israel/Palestine if we were to prepare leaders to organize for justice in the Jewish world, even though our social justice work is New York City based. We felt that we needed to model having respectful, productive conversations about the possibilities for justice. Israel’s attacks on Gaza in early 2009 only intensified our need for a conversation.

The group was cautious about entering into a conversation about this issue, afraid that the months of work building trust with each other would evaporate with one admission of political perspective. The Jewish Dialogue Group’s facilitators were skilled at encouraging each participant space to express themselves, to share the time and learn from each other, and to build on the trust that existed in the group. The participants were pleased and relieved with how smoothly the dialogue went. They felt empowered by getting the chance to speak their minds, and even gained respect for their fellow participants.”

Rabbi Alissa Wise, former Education Director
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (New York City)


“Hosting a dialogue for grad students through the Jewish Dialogue Group was a great opportunity to bring together a group of people who may not have otherwise met but who discovered a lot of commonalities in the midst of their differences. The participants overwhelmingly had positive experiences, and the dialogue gave several participants an entry point into the grad student community.”

�Miriam Steinberg, Director, Jewish Graduate Student Network (Philadelphia)


“At Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House, our community shares a commitment to social justice and progressive domestic views, but on Israel, though everyone wants to make the situation better, there are much more divergent views on the potential causes and solutions to the conflict. We have people working for the pro-Israel lobby and folks who organized a “die-in” to protest Israeli government action in the Lebanon war. Israel is often the elephant in the room, an issue that just feels too painful to talk about. But, whether critical, supportive, or just confused – as Jews, we can’t escape our relationship with the Middle East.

“The Jewish Dialogue Group and the Public Conversations Project opened the door for honest, needed conversation. By establishing ground rules and setting the goal of understanding one another, not convincing, we were able to create a safe space where people could speak their minds and hear one another. For many of us, the issues became more complicated when we heard the experiences and perspectives of those with whom we expected to disagree. We haven’t created world peace, but talking and listening compassionately seems a good first step.”

�Margie Klein, Coordinator, Moishe House Boston: Kavod Jewish Social Justice House