My interest in interactive communication was revealed to me at a young age when I tried to have a conversation with a friend using two cans connected by a string. Perhaps some of you will remember doing the very same thing. Though my home-made phone hardly worked, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to communicate with another person intimately across the divide of space. In some ways, the can
contraption of my youth is the spiritual godfather of modern communications
devices. Though the ubiquity of wireless phones has introduced a steady stream
of meaningless conversation into our daily lives – often belonging to strangers
with loud voices, these phones area also portals for engaging and important
communication that bridges spatial divides.
Engaging and proactive conversations are the ones I treasure, personally and professionally. Indeed, the underlying goal for the many conversations we have in our work at United Synagogue, especially in areas of public policy or interfaith work, is for our words to build bridges across the many divides of life. In our conversations, the purpose is not to convince the others to change their minds or beliefs, but to foster an understanding of what speaks to others’ hearts. The goal is illumination, to share sincerely held, heartfelt stands and beliefs.
When the conversations are good, that is what happens. But sometimes, as with the tin cans and string, the communications effort fails.
Two weeks ago, in the middle of Sukkot and the start of the long (at least for government workers) Columbus Day holiday weekend, members of the Jewish community who have been in dialogue with counterparts in many Christian denominations through the venerable effort known as the Christian-Jewish Roundtable were shocked to learn that many of the Protestant partners in that conversation had sent a letter to Congress, asking for a formal review of Israel’s human rights violations with an eye towards ending aid to Israel. There is a plethora of descriptions of the content of the letter itself [See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121017/us-jews-protestants-israel/ for but one of the stories.].
For the Jewish groups who had participated faithfully in these discussions -- USCJ included -- news of the letter came as a shock and felt like a betrayal by partners who had seemed committed to speaking frankly, earnestly and sincerely across the divide of religion and political belief. It was not just the content of the letter to Congress but the fact that it was sent three weeks before our next scheduled Roundtable discussion, on the eve of an important Jewish festival.
The childhood yearning I had for friendly conversation persists.
I hope that – despite this setback – we can return to our interfaith roundtable and speak as friends.
Paul Drazen is the Director of Special Projects and Special Assistant to the CEO at USCJ.