Disagreeing over much more than we thought possible

June 8, 2021

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Recently, and this is why we’re sharing these reflections, in work with Moishe House we saw the promising intimation of a different strategy. The task in this context was for Makom, the Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency, to help Moishe House residents become better informed about and better equipped to facilitate conversations and programming for young adults about contemporary Israel, in all its (yes) complexity.

The 16-month program included six days in Israel and did not eschew complexity. On the contrary, it doubled down on it. Not only was a full day spent meeting with Palestinians in the West Bank and with Israeli Jews in Judea and Samaria, but participants were introduced to many additional issues that complicate life in Israel. They explored the tortuous electoral and political process here, Jewish-Arab relations within the Green Line, issues of race that affect Ethiopians and Mizrachim differently and similarly, the intertwining of religion and power, and more.

This wasn’t an “Israel beyond the conflict” strategy, typically a suspect piece of footwork to bypass the difficult stuff that gets in the way of loving Israel. Rather, it was a multidimensional introduction to Israel’s challenges experienced on the ground, showing that no one issue can be understood in isolation from another. Just like any real country with real human beings living there, Israel is a complex – we’d prefer to say multidimensional – reality where everything is connected to everything else. How can we possibly understand the turmoil of the past few weeks without also addressing Israel’s political system? Israeli fears of Iranian domination? Jewish-Arab relations within Green Line Israel (the Makom/Moishe House trip spent time in Lod with both Arab and Ethiopian leaders)? Explorations of the relationship between religion and land, religion and politics?

Evaluation interviews with participants before and after the program suggest that far from being overwhelmed by multidimensionality, participants were liberated by it [see Rosov Consulting’s full evaluation report here]. In these trying times, in particular, participants are contacting us to express their appreciation for this approach. They refer to their day spent in Bethlehem, but also to the explorations of Israel’s political system, cultural tensions and more.

The Moishe House team’s operating assumption was that a one-off gathering of strangers might require careful rules of engagement. But a cohort that was spending a 24/6 intensive week together in Israel, and then later gathering for another weekend retreat, could assume they would know each other well enough to be “uncivil.” Over the course of its work with Moishe House, the Makom team began to work on alternative “community norms” that can provide both safety, but also encouragement to take risks, what we called “Stretch Statements”.

Pre-program evaluation showed how participants felt blocked – by their own lack of knowledge and their negative experience of disagreements – from creating their own programming to substantively and meaningfully engage with Israel. Rosov Consulting’s research is now showing that the participants’ immersion in a multi-dimensional approach to Israel has unlocked their previously articulated paralysis. Participants have been developing and delivering their own peer-focused programs that embrace this uncertain yet enticing vision of Israel engagement. Nor have participants shied away from Israel programming in this period: They are no longer afraid.

Read more at eJewish Philanthropy.

Updated: Jun. 20, 2021