Israeli Chronicles — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
We Need to Talk: Federation Opens Up Conversation about Israel
There are some who feel we are at a critical point in our relationship with Israel, a relationship strained by increasingly divergent political views and priorities. At the same time, Americans are moving toward the extremes and surrounding themselves with like-minded individuals. And the reality is, the conversation has stopped.
This dynamic struck an immediate chord with Israeli Emissary Amnon Maggid when he arrived in the United States this past August.
“My mother is a social activist in Israel,” he said. “More and more, she is being silenced by her friends because she has different opinions than they have. Discussions often get very emotional. When I arrived in the US, I came across people who have had similar experiences, even some who have lost friends over politics. It really resonated with me.”
Maggid is tasked with strengthening relationships between Israel and Cincinnati and educating both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences about Israel. How he does that is up to him.
“During my first few months here, I thought about what my added value to the community would be and what programs I could create to help build bridges between Cincinnati and Israel,” Maggid said. “I discovered if I really wanted to make a change, I needed to bring people together into the same room to talk honestly about Israel.”
We Need to Talk
This year the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is launching an initiative called We Need to Talk, in collaboration with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Mayerson JCC. Through a series of book discussions, roundtables, and speaker events, they will facilitate open and honest discussions about Israel. They will create spaces where people feel comfortable engaging in these conversations.
“I expect there will be some difficult and raw conversations,” Maggid said. “We do not expect people to reach a consensus, but hopefully they will walk away with a more nuanced understanding of the other.”
“We need to talk,” said Director of Community Building Barb Miller. “This initiative is not meant to signal an impending break up, as the clichéd phrase might suggest, but an opportunity to lean in and have productive conversations about divisive issues. So whether you’re around a dinner table, in a board room, or at the gym, you feel comfortable engaging in thorny topics.”
There are several opportunities to participate in We Need to Talk this year.
Community Read and Author TalkThe Israel Center is encouraging book clubs to read the New York Times bestseller Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi. Each book club that participates will receive a free copy of the book and a discussion guide.
Attempting to break the agonizing impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, Halevi directly addresses his Palestinian neighbors in this taut and provocative book, empathizing with Palestinian suffering and longing for reconciliation as he explores how the conflict looks through Israeli eyes.
Halevi’s letters speak not only to his Palestinian neighbor, but to all concerned global citizens, helping us understand the painful choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians that will ultimately help determine the fate of the region. Halevi is an award-winning author, thinker, and commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs. Born in New York, he moved to Israel in 1982 and lives in Jerusalem.
Yossi Klein Halevi will speak on the evening of October 29 at the Mayerson JCC.
Israel in Your Living Room
This program will turn typical dinner party fodder on its head, where taboo topics aren’t off the table but are being served up instead.
Another component of We Need to Talk is an opportunity for community members to invite their friends and Community Shaliach (Emissary) Maggid into their homes, or a local coffee shop, for a conversation about Israel. From the Arab-Israeli conflict to Israeli politics and elections, to the Israeli people and organizations that give us hope for a better future, hosts can select a topic in which to focus the conversation, which will be moderated by Maggid.
“People are looking to find common ground,” Maggid said. “I don’t have the answer, and it’s not up to me to find the answer, but my role is to help lead the journey to look for answers. This will make the community much stronger.”
Anyone interested in participating in the Community Read or Israel in Your Living Room should sign up at jewishcincinnati.org/weneedtotalk, contact Director of Community Building Barb Miller at 513-985-1528 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Community Shaliach Amnon Maggid at 513-985-1535 or email@example.com.
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