by Rabbi Mark Glickman
(Calgary) -“Rabbi, in my circles, Zionism is a bad word. What does the term Zionism mean to you?”
The question came from a member of the Muslim community I’ll call Tariq. I had met him in the context of my interfaith work, and he had agreed to meet with me in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks. Coming to meet with a rabbi at a synagogue was no small matter for Tariq – to be safe, he asked that our meeting be kept confidential. Tariq and I had a difficult discussion, but a good one. We disagreed about a lot, but we both came to a deeper understanding of one another than we’d had before. I was grateful for his willingness to speak with me.
Sadly, these days there’s not a whole lot of talking going on between people who disagree. Instead, at this time of violence and trauma, many of us have retreated to our own corners, refusing to speak with anyone except those who agree with us.
There are so many examples:
- Last Chanukah, Calgary’s Mayor Jyoti Gondek refused to participate in the Chabad menorah lighting at City Hall. In response, many organizations in the Jewish community have disinvited her from all their events. Leaders refuse to be seen with her, and organizations have canceled their participation in any program she attends.
- Jewish leaders, everywhere, often find themselves forbidden to meet with any non-Jewish leaders – particularly Muslim leaders – who have ever said anything objectionable about Israel.
- Although most diaspora Jews support Israel in its war against Hamas, a sizeable minority does not. Thousands of Jews, many of whom are in their twenties and thirties, find themselves unable to reconcile Israel’s war efforts with the universal Jewish values they have long embraced. In response, many Jews and Jewish organizations dismiss these objectors with a wave of the hand rather than invite them into constructive dialogue.
I could cite many other examples, but you get the point. We feel angry these days, not to mention scared and wounded, and in response we storm off in a huff, canceling people in disgust rather than engaging them in constructive discourse.
And what’s worse, the language we use to make these rejections can be downright nasty. After the recent explosion regarding Calgary’s mayor, I casually mentioned to a congregant of mine that it might be nice to invite her to our Temple for some constructive dialogue. “Oh no, rabbi,” my congregant responded, “she can’t come to Temple. She’s treyf (unkosher).”
Treyf? He and others see their adversaries as treyf, untouchable. These are Jews who do this. For a people called to repair our broken world, this cancel culture is quite unbecoming.
And so, I make this plea: Don’t dismiss the people with whom you disagree – speak with them. Don’t storm off when others say objectionable things – stay connected. Don’t add to the divisions separating us – address them. And most of all, don’t build walls – build bridges.
What this means is that we all need to be actively working to connect with our friends and neighbors. It’s easy to connect with others when we agree, of course, but we need to make a special effort to engage with those with whom we disagree. Just as important, as Jews we should all be calling upon our institutional leaders – agency executives, rabbis, and others – to do just the same.
Muslims around the world are mired in hatred toward Jews. Avoiding them will solve nothing – it is only through engagement that we have any hope to end our conflict. Jews disagree profoundly about what’s going on in Israel – dismissing everyone who disagrees with us can only perpetuate our disagreements. People can be difficult, and misguided, and downright wrong in so many ways. We can shun them when they’re wrong, or we can talk – I vote for the latter.
The ancient rabbis described what our tradition calls a “machloket l’shem shamayim” – a disagreement for the sake of heaven: respectful disagreement; positive disagreement; disagreement for the sake of learning and growth rather than for victory and conquest. Now more than ever, these are precisely the kinds of disagreements we need.
By the end of my conversation with Tariq, he and I hadn’t reached anything even resembling a consensus on Israel. But we did gain increased understanding of our respective positions, and we pledged to keep on talking. I thank God for his willingness to do so, and in this broken and conflict-ridden world of ours, I pray for continued strength to do the same.
Rabbi Mark Glickman is the spiritual leader and rabbi at Temple B’nai Tikvah, Calgary’s Reform Jewish Congregation.