These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

‘Encounter’ing and Machloket

Posted on April 17, 2012 by Jackie F.

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I made aliyah in August 2009, after completing my MPA at Columbia University, knowing that I wanted to come to Israel and use my degree to make a positive difference in the future of the Jewish people. Today I do that through my studies at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and work at Encounter, a non-profit organization aiming to transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through face-to-face understanding.

The Encounter November 2010 Trip for people with Israeli citizenship was a poignant experience for me. I came out of the trip truly believing in the Encounter model and its Communication Agreement to help people’s listening skills and communication techniques develop when confronted with difficult issues. The Encounter model makes a space for listening and processing over time – while allowing people to keep and/or adjust their own beliefs and perspectives – I would call my personal beliefs “responsibly Zionistic”.  Meaning that I proudly moved to Israel to live and be a citizen in the Jewish State that I love, but I recognize there is a lot to improve here and I do my best to contribute to a better future here for all of Israel’s citizens.

One of the main questions I am still grappling with though is: How do we have a machloket (debate or dispute) Jewishly? How do we have a productive, positive encounter with disagreement? How do we do this with meaning – not comfort – with interdependence – not stagnation? Encounter has helped me to start to answer some of these questions.

We start to do this by open, resilient listening by genuine curiosity and by engagement in sharp disagreement in a safe space. By bringing a more authentic self to the conversation – we build a more authentic reality. We push each other to truly search for meaning in what it is to be Jewish and in what it is to bring Jewish values to the world. We can’t be ambiguous in our language – it can lead to ambivalence. When we are uncomfortable we are growing. As long as we speak thoughtfully and respectfully – even when in disagreement – we will be able to act decisively, yet graciously, when taking steps to move forward to a more positive and just future. We will be able to bring G-d into the world through the attributes of compassion, mercy and forgiveness – for after all we were made for the sake of the image of G-d and to be G-d’s legs in the world.

I have gone on to be a peer facilitator on an Encounter trip for Israeli citizens and have now joined the Encounter staff. This journey I have been making with Encounter – and in my Jewish learning at Pardes in Jerusalem – is helping me to humble myself and make myself vulnerable yet brave in machloket. I have found inspiration from everything from learning the great debates of the Rabbis of the Talmud to listening to Palestinian narratives.

My experiences have helped me to have the courage to grow, challenge and explore. They have helped me to bring Torah out into the world with a more meaningful, comprehensive understanding – from listening to everyone and knowing my own limits. It helps me take words and make them decided action bringing relief to urgent human needs, even if in the smallest measure. Even if just by giving another the space to be heard.

 “Go[on an Encounter trip]. It is one of those rare experiences that can truly change your life.”

-Ruth, Former Associate, Nathan Cummings Foundation