Testimonials from Dialogue Participants
"I feel comfortable talking about a lot of things, but I always felt uneasy discussing my views on Israel with fellow Jews before the Jewish Dialogue Group facilitated a conversation at our Hillel. JDG's well-designed materials and talented leaders helped me to not only express my own thoughts on the conflict, but also to reach a better understanding of other positions. I can't overstate the value of this program—lots of people know how to speak to others, but JDG can help you talk with them."
—Dan Ross, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2009
Education Chair, University of Pennsylvania Hillel
"I am a rabbinical student in my final year, have lived 2 years in Israel, and listen to the news. I have concluded that being able to LISTEN and speak with Jews, much less Muslims in our tense, unhappy world today is the most important work we can be doing. I was fortunate to be able to participate in a session with the Jewish Dialogue Group. Speaking as a former social worker who has participated in a great amount of group work, I can say that they were totally professional, and arranged to the last detail to make us feel as comfortable and safe as possible in order that we might listen, and speak our minds. Seeing others in the image of God is tough work, and it is incumbent upon us to work hard at it. The way we deal with each other over difficult issues is the beginning of the problem or solution to world problems. I highly recommend participating in a dialogue group."
—Rabbi Me'irah Iliinsky,
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Class of 2007
"When I first planned an event with the Jewish Dialogue Group I was a little unsure at what it would be like to bring in adults to facilitate a discussion among my college-age peers. During the dialogue I quickly forgot about this worry and was completely involved with the dialogue around me. The facilitators did a remarkable job of unobtrusively but effectively moderating the discussion. I didn't feel like I was participating in someone else's event, but rather I felt that as students we were empowered to direct our own discussion.
"The atmosphere created by JDG was unlike any I've felt before. I am usually wary of discussions because true dialogue is rare and while debate is common. JDG's style was a breath of fresh air compared to my experiences. I also realized how accessible it is to transfer the same approach to daily life."
—Tal Raviv, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2009
"As I grew up in an active Jewish community, attended a Zionist summer camp and participated in many Jewish youth groups, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been an important issue in my life. As a Peace Studies and Philosophy student at Goucher College, I have been able to study not only the conflict itself but also methods of conflict resolution, and, as a result, have geared a lot of my extracurricular activities toward community-wide conversations about the conflict.
—Jill Bratt, Goucher College, Class of 2010
"I was very nervous to attend a dialogue about the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Although I agreed to participate, I was apprehensive about what the experience would be like. Sometimes the most difficult discussions I have had about Israel are with other Jewish people. I thoroughly believe that because the Jewish Dialogue Group was responsible for facilitating the conversation on my campus, I was able to speak up for what I believe in and not feel ostracized by other participants who didn’t have the same views as I do. I am appreciative of the JDG’s professionalism, and I look forward to participating in many more dialogues under the auspices of the Jewish Dialogue Group."
—Katy Swartz, Smith College Class of 2013
"The most satisfying, enriching and valuable aspect of my experience with this dialogue was my own ability to come to terms with the disparity of opinions in my personal Jewish community. I learned something that I never tire of learning. I learned, once again, that if I sit down with people, I can come to understand them. This is no trivial or unimportant realization, and it comforts me deeply." (read the complete testimonial)
—Elisheva Goldberg, University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2011
"In preparation for Visions and Voices, an educational seminar in Israel designed for first-year students of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, the Jewish Dialogue Group visited our institution to expose us to the experience of dialoguing about divisive issues pertaining to the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Our work with the JDG allowed participants of the seminar to not only get to know each other on a much deeper level, but we also truly embraced the notion of mutual understanding during our trip to Israel. Once in Israel we were exposed firsthand to the many complex and nuanced issues of the region, including the status of Israeli minorities, the plight of the migrant workers and refugees, the settlements in the West Bank, and the recent Israeli elections. Due in large part to the dialogue protocol we learned from the JDG, our conversations in Israel during the seminar and back in the USA about these deeply complicated issues have emphasized active listening, speaking considerately, openness to learning about the views of others, and articulate reflection."
The Jewish Theological Seminary, William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education
Master of Arts Candidate in Jewish Education and Ancient Judaism ‘13
"This spring (2007), the Jewish Dialogue Group (JDG) was invited to the Jewish Theological Seminary to help facilitate a dialogue explicitly for students with diverse opinions and beliefs regarding gay and lesbian ordination, and regarding the way gays and lesbians are perceived within Jewish tradition and law. The dialogues facilitated by the JDG were extraordinary and transformative.
"Although this particular topic was uncharted territory for the JDG, they had the experience and expertise to know to keep the groups intimate and highly structured. It became clear to me, as a participant, that this was not simply a two-sided issue, that there were many shades of grey in all of our opinions. Not only were we given the space and the respect to be heard, but we also had to do the same for other people. And that was the amazing part: it became clearer than ever that although some of the other participants held beliefs that I thought were heinous, it was obvious that they were struggling to do what was right (just as I was). And we were able to find some common ground and mutual respect for each other and our positions. The goal was never to convince the other of our own opinions (although that is a very tricky thing not to do), but to listen. So it became a very reflective and reflexive process.
"I changed in these dialogues and I know others' testimonies that they did too. It is through these dialogues, explicitly, that I feel the climate at JTS will become more open, honest and truly pluralistic. We may not agree with each other, but we do not have to marginalize others' voices either. At the same time, we were given the space to safely and respectfully respond to other people's comments and even to challenge and, in turn, be challenged. We all left feeling that the time was productive and healthy. I only wish that more dialogues of this sort were held at JTS--that they continue. I don't know how else real progress can be made." (read the complete testimonial)
—Jake Goodman, M.Ed
Jewish Theological Seminary, Class of 2009
Participants in the Jewish Dialogue Group Fellowship Program
(In the fall semester of 2006, students at five colleges and universities in Philadelphia and New York came together in small groups to talk with each across political differences about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each of the five groups met 7 times over the course of the semester.)
"Before, I would not say anything about my opinion on Israel/Palestine until I knew that a person had views that were similar to mine. Since participating in the Jewish Dialogue Fellowship, I no longer fear having discussions with people who have different opinions than mine. Now I am working to bring students at my campus together who have different opinions to learn from each other and to find common ground."
—Katherine Cohen, Temple University, Class of 2008
"Nowhere on campus have I ever witnessed a group with more mutual respect for one another than the Jewish Dialogue group. It was the first time I could speak comfortably without having to hide or compromise my opinions. I always knew that my fellow members listened to what I said with interest and understanding rather than with judgment. Miraculously, I too was able to listen to dissenting viewpoints without automatically conjuring up a defensive response. We were all in pursuit of a mutual understanding; not in pursuit of imposing our views, and I do wholeheartedly believe that we, as a group, reached our goal."
—Paul Bloch, Haverford College, Class of 2009
"If I could walk in someone's shoes in order to better understand where they are coming from, I would choose my oldest brother. While it would seem that I would know exactly where my own sibling is coming from, since we were raised in the same home, I am flabbergasted at how different we are and the difficulties we have in understanding each other. Our biggest barrier in relating to each other is how we feel about Israel.
"Last year I spent a period of 4 months involved in a Jewish dialogue group which brought together Jews of all different practices and beliefs to discus our views in regard to Israel. I hoped that this experience might provide me with the tools to engage with my brother in civilized discussion about these topics where we were diametrically opposed. In this group, the participants spoke about our personal connection to Israel, how our Jewishness influences our views, and how we justify our stances on particular controversial issues surrounding the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The group was meant to be diverse in collecting together Jews of many different backgrounds and opinions. We spent our time trying to relate to each other, respectfully listening to each other, and engaging in serious dialogue where listening was the major goal rather than debate. It was such a valuable experience and I really thought it would benefit me in my relationship with my brother." (read the complete testimonial)
—Danielle, Columbia University & Jewish Theological Seminary, Class of 2007
"I want to thank you for helping to bring such an eye- and mind-opening experience to Temple , and other universities all over. Thinking back to the beginning of the group, I can honestly say that I learned a lot more about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people than I had originally expected to. I think that everyone should be part of an experience like the JDG at least once in their college careers."
—Sara Sokolow, Temple University, Class of 2009
"While I can't think of a time that I have been afraid to discuss my views on the Israeli–Palestinian issue, I can't think of a time that such a discussion did not turn into an argument. This program helped me accomplish the very important, and underrated, skill of listening. I was able to move beyond seeing the person I was speaking to as an opponent, one whom I was simply trying to convert to my way of thinking. I looked forward to the sessions even when it meant going back to campus after an already long day at school and work (being a courier at the time, a long day typically meant riding 40 miles on my bike). The Jewish Dialogue Group provided an atmosphere in which its participants felt free to voice a wide range of opinions about a highly charged topic while at the same time fostering a sense of understanding."
—Tom Ballingall, Temple University, Class of 2008
"The Jewish Dialogue Group was an excellent opportunity. It allowed me to voice my own opinions in an open and safe environment, while also learning about the viewpoints of others. As I heard what other people had to say, and realized that we shared many similar views, I became more comfortable with my own opinions. The group also provided me with skills and techniques to help me carry out difficult and controversial conversations. Another positive aspect of the experience was the cohesiveness that our group shared, helping everyone to feel safe as we discussed very difficult topics."
—Melissa Pottash, Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2009
"I enjoyed our dialogue group about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict very much and I feel I got a lot out of it. It didn't change my thinking but it gave me a place to do that thinking out loud -- to be heard and valued for my thoughts and to likewise look at the thoughts of others in an atmosphere of caring and respect. That was the most important thing for me. People's feelings on this subject are so heated that over time I think most of us have just learned to keep our thoughts to ourselves and feel rather lonely in our stance to what's happening in Israel -- whatever “side” we're on. What was clear in getting to listen to people I already felt connected to within the respectful framework Devra created was that the thinking of each one of us comes from our heart -- from a place of deep caring for ethics, for Israel, and for the Jewish people. That changed the whole 'disagreement' landscape that it has looked to me like we’re in. It no longer looked like there were two 'sides.' It looked like it was a hard issue around which each of us was struggling for insight and comprehension and useful thoughts about the way forward."
—Susan Simon, Congregation Bet Haverim (Atlanta, GA)
"Dorshei Derekh's Jewish Dialogue was a gentle, safe place to both articulate thoughts and feelings about Israel's contemporary situtation—some of which are painful to even give voice to—and to hear where others are on this issue.
"I especially appreciated that the group was intergenerational; that there was an Israeli among us added an extra dimension, as well. There is a fairly enormous divide on these issues. Older members remember a beleaguered Israel which stood for progressive values, a haven for victimized Jewish refugees and socialist idealists; younger members have only experienced Israel as a world military power which snuggled up with the Bush administration, a long-term occupier. This is a large chasm to cross. Kol ha-kavod to the Jewish Dialogue Group for facilitating our initial dialogue. We are hoping to follow it with a bookgroup, first reading The Lemon Tree."
Minyan Dorshei Derekh/Germantown Jewish Centre, Philadelphia
From a 5-part dialogue series at Society Hill Synagogue (Philadelphia):
"The Jewish Dialogue Group gave us the tools to listen with respect to each other on this painful and emotional issue. With the guidance of the leaders, we experienced several breakthroughs, seeing that there were more pieces of this problem that we had in common than issues that divided us. We hope to use this model in other circumstances within the congregation where we can put these valuable tools to work again."
—Fran Gallun, former president of Society Hill Synagogue
"The process was surprisingly effective. We learned listening skills that enabled us to truly hear what others had to say, even if we disagreed with them, on an issue about which we all care deeply. And we came to recognize thet there were many areas of agreement. This led to mutual respect, some changes in positions held, and a desire to share what we had experienced with other members of the SHS community."
"Many of us have formed strong opinions about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When the sessions began Michael and I had recently returned from Israel. Being part of the Jewish Dialogue Group gave me the opportunity to listen to others who did not share my particular views on the problem. Even more, it afforded me the chance to see that many of us care deeply about Israel's future. I appreciated the chance to share with my fellow congregants and get to know them better."
"These monthly sessions began as a venue for people to express and listen to differing views about the Middle East, but they've evolved into something much more: a therapeutic way of working out any kind of disagreement in a mutually respectful manner-at home, business, anywhere!"
"One of our first charges was to understand which issue had the greatest source of controversy between us. It ended up being the barrier/wall/fence. Five months later this issue which had separated us, in essence, brought us together. Over this period of time we have built up a trust in each other, an ability to listen to opposite views, and an emotional tie which was greater than the controversy which had originally separated us."
"Before I went to a dialogue hosted by the Jewish Dialogue Group, I was certain I would absolutely hate it and had a thousand preconceived notions about what I was walking into. My views aren't exactly 'mainstream' and I'm used to exerting a lot of effort defending my positions, usually amidst the gaping mouths and horrified looks of people with more 'acceptable' views. At the dialogue I attended, there was not one person in the room who shared even a tenth of my beliefs about Israel, and yet I never felt judged or felt the need to go on the defensive. The structure, which felt strange at first, ended up giving us freedom through its restrictions; we were able to express ourselves in an open, honest way, and to ask questions of each other that we probably would not have in any other circumstance. We all have these conflicting views in our heads about Israel and it can often feel overwhelming. We feel that it's not worth it to share our feelings, because no one will ever know exactly where we're coming from and what shaped these beliefs. It seems so simple, but at the end of the day, we all just want to be listened to. The Jewish Dialogue Group allowed us to hear and to be heard. Trust me, give it a try — it will not be what you expect."
"The dialogue group that I participated in was so full of respect and good listening that I was able to feel deeply and speak from my heart without censoring myself. The two facilitators held the energy of the group creating safety and spaciousness. It was a healing experience."
—Rabbi Vivie Mayer
Member of the Reconstuctionist Rabbinical Association
"I went from seven months of intense organizing in the West Bank to a three month eco-Jewish fellowship. Bringing up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made everyone uncomfortable and I was uncomfortable being in a Jewish space where it wasn't discussed. It was such a blessing to have the Jewish Dialogue Group come and facilitate a discussion. Just sitting and dialoguing one time allowed us to open in a way we never could. We had the opportunity and space to be real with each other about our backgrounds, our experiences, and our hopes for creating a healthy Jewish space and community. People suddenly had the invitation to leave defenses behind, and go past intellectual and rehashed arguments. We finally dug deeper -- to the core of where we hold feelings about the conflict that fuel our actions or our apathy. After the dialogue, people were more eager to discuss the situation and our role within it. We could enter these conversations as more respectful listeners."
—Ilana Lerman, Alum of ADAMAH: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship
"I found the dialogue to be incredibly valuable, especially as it took place in Jerusalem in July—physically and chronologically in the middle of my most complicated encounter with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The dialogue helped me process all the thoughts and concerns that had been flooding my mind. I learned a tremendous amount about my own values and beliefs. It was the first time I was asked to confront them so sincerely and substantively. Furthermore, because of the mediation and structure of the dialogue, I was able to ask other Jews questions about Judaism, Israel, and antisemitism that I had always thought to myself but had never felt comfortable asking in informal conversations for fear that they would turn too heated. The dialogue gave me a better understanding and acceptance of Jews whose opinions differ radically from mine. And it gave me the desire and ability to continue to learn more about the rest of the Jewish community."
—Sophie Manuel, Brown University, Class of 2011
participant in 2009 dialogue in Jerusalem
"My participation in the Jewish Dialogue Group over the past few years has made a big difference in my life. ... I am no longer as frustrated by people who have a different position from me. When I engage in dialogue with people who do not hold my position, I try to understand more deeply what they think and why." (read the complete testimonial)
—Ora Kesselman (Philadelphia)
"It is often so difficult to talk with anyone about Israel for fear that the conversation may take a direction that will be painful, infuriating, depressing. And it's pointless - not to mention also painful, infuriating or depressing - to listen to ones fellow Jews scream at each other out of intense frustration when they encounter opposing views. So in spite of a deep attachment to Israel and strong feelings about how peace may be achieved, I'm someone who tends to avoid such conversations unless I'm reasonably certain that the person with whom I'm speaking more or less agrees with me (and really, what does that accomplish other than a useless feeling of self-satisfaction?). It didn't seem possible that the Jewish Dialogue group could actually promote Jewish dialogue in which I could participate.
"But that's what happened a few weeks ago in a small group setting at the JCC in Manhattan. Because of the extremely well thought out and well articulated methodology created by this group I was able to listen to others with whom I did not agree without wanting to jump in and "get my points across". Rather, I listened closely and carefully, confident that I would have the same opportunity to express myself. And through that listening I came to a better understanding of my deep feelings and was able to express them calmly and clearly when it was my turn to speak. This is a wonderful model to help Jews speak with each other across the many divides in our community."
—Rabbi Carol Levithan
Rabbinic Director & Senior Director of Adult Programs
Jewish Community Center in Manhattan
"Never have I had the opportunity to be so honest with myself about how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict touches me on a daily basis as when I participated in a dialogue session with JDG. For the first time, I was able to give voice to the web of emotions and intellectual commitments that both entangle me and motivate me as I jump between my educator roles in synagogue and university life. To discover that other Jewish professionals were willing to listen—and even find themselves with similar questions—this was incredibly eye-opening and exciting."
PhD candidate, Columbia University MEALAC Department
Israel Educator, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, NYC
"Last spring I was invited to attend the Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia ... That night I expressed my feelings in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere. It felt liberating and revealing. In expressing myself I became more aware of my own feelings."
"I recently attended a Jewish Dialogue group. It was the first time I ever spoke about my feelings and issues regarding Israel. Since then I have been inspired to read more about current events in Israel and discuss the situation with a few friends. I would definitely attend another group as I feel just the one session made a difference for me."
—Jill Stone, North Brunswick, NJ
"After attending two sessions of the Jewish Dialogue Group, I began to uncover the importance of understanding and articulating how the political situation in Israel makes me feel personally. All too often, I think our instinct is to try to bolster our position with more and more facts, thinking that the facts will win someone over to our perspective, the "right perspective." When in reality, just as significant (if not more) than articulating factual information is expressing how you feel accurately. The dialogue format is also a powerful tool that is applicable to many avenues of life—learning to dialogue productively without argument and with mutual respect is invaluable."
"I really enjoyed participating with a group of Jews in an exercise in which we were able to gently, warmly, and openly share our agreements and disagreements with each other about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Not that anyone's mind was particularly changed at the end, but the dialogue allows for all of us to remember that we are all humans figuring out ways to care for Israel."
—Rebecca Budner, Portland, OR
"For me, participating in what has become an ongoing, albeit infrequently meeting Activist Dialogue Group has been transformative - and a source of amazement, support, and surprise. Each meeting provides very palatable bite- size experiences that reconfigure my internal world. Each encounter is an opportunity to stretch my interpersonal, spiritual, and emotional muscles.
Here’s my ultimate admission: As a result of my experience with the Jewish Dialogue Group, the world is more interesting, less black and white. My conversations on Israel-Palestine are more satisfying. I am more tolerant of difference. My activism is more thoughtful and less reactive. I see and hear more clearly. Actually, I like myself better – and as a result, I like everyone else a bit more, too." (read the complete testimonial)
—Susan Landau, Philadelphia
"My participation in the JDG process has been a wonderful opportunity to share candidly, in a safe, confidential environment and from the heart, which while rare these days, is paramount now more than ever, for maintaining a cohesive community. This unique forum provides just the right blend of compassion and critique for those grappling with these challenging and oftentimes divisive issues. The most significant outcome for me has become gaining key insights from this group regarding both the perspectives and the reactions of all the dedicated participants including myself, as together we search for greater communal understanding and multiple points of connection."
Now the real journey has begun
Yet we eagerly persist
Carefully, we carry on
—Rafi Levin, Philadelphia