“To understand who we are as a people, as a religion, as a culture, and as a nation, we need to discuss Israel,” said Barb Miller, director of Community Building at the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
However, that has become more of a challenge. “The discourse has changed dramatically in the last two years. People feel like they can’t speak to each other; they’re losing friends because of Israeli – not to mention, American – politics,” said Amnon Maggid, community shaliach, or emissary from Israel.
Miller and Maggid have seen a growing divide on a number of Israel-related issues across the Cincinnati and American Jewish community.
“We felt it was really important that we somehow promote civil dialogue, that we encourage conversations in a safe setting,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, Maggid is helping facilitate discussions about any topic related to Israel, which are convened and hosted by community members in their own homes. This is called Israel in Your Living Room.
“Israel in Your Living Room brings a small group of people together and allows them to explore selected topics they wish to better understand or discuss,” Maggid said.
Some of the hot topics they have requested are:
• Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State
• Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel
• Freedom of Marriage in Israel
• The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
• Can you Criticize Israel and Still Support Israel?
• Left versus Right in Israeli Politics / Israeli Political System
• The Right of Return for Who?
• Arabs as Second Class Citizens of Israel
Miller said she hopes these conversations allow people with different points of view to sit together while listening to one another’s viewpoints.” She said the purpose of Israel in Your Living Room is not to push an agenda, but instead to allow people to ask questions, debate constructively, and learn more.
“Amnon, as our Israeli shaliach, can add flavor to the conversation by giving his personal perspective on a wide range of topics,” she said.
Maggid wants people to understand what it means to be Israeli in the 21st century, and he wants to help bridge and engage the Cincinnati community with the Israeli community. “I’m willing to be challenged from the left, from the right, from up, down, whatever. I don’t necessarily have the answers, but I think together we can find some common ground.”
Liz and Paul McOsker of Isaac M. Wise Temple host a monthly chavurah (fellowship group) and invited Maggid to attend an Israel in Your Living Room event just ahead of Israel’s recent elections.
“The value that Amnon added to our discussion was his own knowledge and deep understanding of the Israeli electoral and parliamentary systems,” Liz McOsker said. “As Americans, that’s a pretty hard system for us to understand.”
“I’m not sure if our chavurah would have had this discussion without Amnon,” Paul McOsker said. “We got much more out of it with him facilitating than we would have if one of us had tried to lead.”
The couple said the evening was characterized by a lot of really good discussion and participation – one in which people who had come purely for social reasons became highly engaged in the topic.
Maggid said, “Our shared future depends on all parts of Jewish peoplehood, and I think we need to work on complex issues together. Throughout history, this has enabled us to survive.”