Learning How to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

By Rabbi Carl M. Perkins, Temple Aliyah 

Temple Aliyah was among the first Jewish organization in the Boston area to receive a CommUNITY Israel Dialogue grant to fund consultation and resources from Resetting the Table to support dialogue programs. Rabbi Carl Perkins, spiritual leader of Temple Aliyah in Needham, shares his experience with the program at his synagogue.

I began to pursue bringing Resetting the Table to Temple Aliyah in Needham after a senior leader in my congregation and I had the opportunity to attend a CJP-sponsored Resetting the Table program for community leaders last spring. 

At that program, I was very impressed with Resetting the Table’s co-founder and director, Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, and her ability to get people to listen deeply to one another and to reflect back opposing points of view with care and respect. 

That convinced me that we should try to bring Resetting the Table to our congregation. There is a wide range of perspectives at Temple Aliyah regarding Israel, and although we have cultivated respect and tolerance for that wide range, we don’t often engage communally in discussions about Israel. 

I believed that bringing Resetting the Table here could enable more honest and open dialogue on our range of perspectives, and thereby strengthen mutual respect within our community. No one should need to be reminded of the need for all of us to learn (or to re-learn) how to disagree without being disagreeable. To the contrary, my experience is that people are yearning for guidance in this regard. They want their relationships with their families, friends, co-workers, and fellow congregants to be enhanced, if not “re-started” or “reset.”

Resetting the Table told us that they could accommodate as many as 40 participants -- and that is precisely (and conveniently) the number of our members who signed up. 

The first session, conducted by Resetting the Table’s Deputy Director, Dorit Price-Levine was truly well done. Seemingly without effort, Dorit established authority and credibility and won over the crowd very quickly. Dorit demonstrated talent, experience, and a deep understanding and appreciation of the challenges and importance of this work.

The hours our group spent together at that first session had the effect of humanizing everyone and their positions—even if we still needed more time to practice having those tough conversations. 

A few weeks later, I personally facilitated a second session following extensive preparatory conversations with Dorit and Rabbi Weintraub. Our group spent about two-and-a-half hours practicing the skills we had developed during the first session. The group’s response was positive, and judging from their reaction, I believe that the program has already been constructive.

We may very well be interested in pursuing another Resetting the Table program here at Temple Aliyah as we try to continue to build a community that can more openly disagree about issues we all care deeply about -- without being disagreeable.

To find out more about CommUNITY Israel Dialogue grants program, click here.


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