Raising the Game on Conversation: A Message from Gil Preuss

Raising the Game on Conversation: A Message from Gil Preuss

This month, Federation is hosting an evening discussion with renowned Jewish thought leader, Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.

The title of his talk is “The Moral, the Political and the Partisan: Jewish Community and Jewish Values in an Era of Polarization.”

Political evolution. Moral responsibility. Mutual obligation. These are topics at the heart of so many important conversations underway in our community and in our country. They also lie at the heart of the new program we are launching in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America: Our Values, Our Aspirations: A Jewish Communal Conversation.

The program will support local leaders in using Jewish thought to shape the discourse about key challenges facing America and the Jewish community, and provide our broader community with important forums for discussion and connection.

Indeed, Dr. Kurtzer’s talk kicks off a series of lectures addressing such topics as U.S.-Israel relations, navigating partisanship, courageous leadership, Jewish engagement in the 21st century, and more.

As Washingtonians, we are accustomed to tackling questions with no easy answers. This is also an acclaimed Jewish tradition. Jewish thinkers are known for their ability to engage in sophisticated debate and find enduring wisdom in evolving and even contradictory teachings.

In this spirit, I invite each and every one of you, as vital members of our community, to bring your ideas—and an open mind—to the table. We have an ancient obligation as Jews and a modern responsibility as citizens to bring our best thinking to bear on some of the most urgent and complex issues of our time.

We also have a responsibility to treat each other with courtesy, dignity, and respect as we do so—something that, as we know all too well in Washington, is more challenging in an election year.

I am not immune to the disbelief and frustration that we can feel when speaking with someone who holds fundamentally different views than our own. I know how hard it is to step outside our own mindsets to consider a new perspective.

I also know that when we let our distrust and our certainty get the best of us, we stand in the way of our own progress. As I wrote about earlier this year, we so often miss the opportunity to truly listen with the intent to understand.

That is why I made a mental note of a bumper sticker I saw recently. It read: Don’t believe everything you think.

At Federation, we are proud to serve as a convener of local leaders who are eager to discuss important questions of Jewish identity. We are committed to deepening understanding, elevating discourse, and strengthening connections within the community by offering all who are interested the chance to learn and grow together. We are excited about this new program and believe that the conversations we share will directly benefit our community here in Greater Washington and serve as a model to others grappling with similar issues.

I am also personally inspired by the passion and determination of our community to work towards progress. We do and should hold strong beliefs. We do and should fight for what is right. We strive to and should stand up for justice and equality at every turn.

As the ultimate complement to our conviction, we should also embrace our capacity for humility. We should acknowledge the possibility that ours may not be the last word and instead listen with respect to those who disagree with us.

We get to determine the kind of community we want to build. Let’s use our most deeply held values to guide our conversations and our actions. Let’s grow our capacity for learning. Let’s continue our tradition of informed debate.

Let’s find the courage and the grace to consider whether we really believe everything we think.

Shabbat Shalom and see you on October 16,