Taylor King got a strange email one day, telling her about an event in a place called “Cloud Space” hosted by an organization she’d never heard of, that was focused on an issue she’d never talked about in public before: Israel.
“I don’t remember who sent it to me. I was a little nervous about the event, not because of the content, but because I’m shy. I’m a writer, not a talker,” she said.
That strange email was an invitation from israel360, a new initiative supported by CJP to engage young adults in Israel programming. What makes israel360 different from other Israel-focused groups? It has no political stance, no agenda and no advocacy bent. In fact, the participants themselves drive their own conversations, led by highly trained facilitators, to come to a new understanding about how to discuss a subject that can often be contentious, even among Israel supporters.
“It’s nearly impossible to have an intellectually honest conversation about Israel within the Jewish community and israel360 is providing that opportunity,” said Ben Rosenbleet, who “stumbled upon” an israel360 convo salon via a JewishBoston.com posting. “It creates a safe space to ask questions or even say ‘I don’t know.’ “
For Taylor, it was refreshing – a roundtable discussion where she was heard and respected. “Everyone has a chance to talk. I don’t ever feel put on the spot.”
A little less than year old, israel360 has held a half dozen, boutique (read: small) events at a hip rented event space on Boylston Street, drawing more than 200 attendees. Taylor has attended three so far. It also has a website – www.israel360.org – and growing social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter.
For first-time attendees, there’s certainly an air of mystery about israel360. After all, few have heard of yet. And the meeting space—a historic building that also houses a cell phone store— isn’t exactly your typical destination for a Thursday night conversation about Israel.
But that’s actually part of the appeal.
“What we want with israel360 is a different kind of engagement on Israel, one where people can feel comfortable having a conversation about their thoughts and ideas,” said Dan Seligson, one of the staffers working on the israel360 initiative. “There are very few places in Jewish communal life where you can talk about Israel and not feel like you’re either talking to people you agree with or that you have to ‘win’ a charged discussion with those who think differently than you.”
israel360 calls it “dialogue without the usual food fights.”
If participants did decide to throw food, the falafel and other kosher snacks would actually fly quite well. But usually, the structured discussions end up being engaging, deeply respectful and, some say, intense.
Convo salons are more or less monthly, with the next occurring on March 7. If you know someone 21-40 who would be interested in participating, write israel360 at firstname.lastname@example.org.