Blog  Respectful and Inspiring Engagement on a Hot Topic

Respectful and Inspiring Engagement on a Hot Topic

by Bobby Harris, Camp Director

bobby debate

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Bobby Harris, & Jeremy Ben-Ami

Thanks to two leading local Atlanta Reform congregations, The Temple and Temple Sinai, I, along with 500 other people, had the unique opportunity to listen to an open discussion about the Israel-Palestinian conflict between two incredible Jewish leaders, thinkers, and activists who are deeply committed to Jewish values, the State of Israel, and a strong Jewish future– Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street and Rabbi Daniel Gordis of Shalem College. The size of a Venn diagram that would show where these two men agree is very small, and yet, contrary to the overwhelming majority of other lectures and events that I have attended about this provocative topic, the mutual respect displayed toward the “other” two nights ago was very large.

Rabbi Peter Berg spoke about the “echo chambers”  in which so many in our society live.  We surround ourselves with people, news stations, and websites that only serve to reinforce our own points of view (i.e. Fox or MSNBC, the Drudge Report or the Daily Koz, AIPAC or J-Street). To concede that someone with a different point of view or political party has a valid point is frequently interpreted as an act of weakness or betrayal. We  therefore find ourselves, particularly on such charged topics , retreating further into our own political and social bunkers.  When  our various perspectives meet up  in real life, we so frequently end up talking past one another, lacking a basic civility and respect.

That is where this talk was different. I am especially pleased  because I have some very painful memories etched in my heart recalling many other debates, teach ins, and programs about Israel in which venomous, hateful speech was common and followed its way back into the many classrooms, dormitories, and places in my life. I know, in talking with some of our camp counselors, that the same thing happens today. But, tonight it was different. 

I am hopeful that this model of mutual respect will keep appearing in more Temples, student unions, and on many TV networks.

As a resident camp director, one of my main goals each summer is to bring people people together from all different countries and backgrounds and assure that they become a community that can live, work, and learn together based on mutual respect.  I look forward to bringing the program model and the type of discussion that I witnessed tonight back to Camp  Coleman this summer.  Not only will we all learn about what is happening in the Middle East, but we, Israelis, Americans, Europeans with a vast range of different views and perspectives , will learn to do discuss this topic with candor, respect, and a little sense of humor.