April 5, 2018
NEW YORK, NY —We are living in a polarizing time and Israel is one of many issues that splits the Jewish community. It was disappointing to read Sheridan Bahar’s recent blog post, “Is American Jewish Social Justice Inclusive?,” in which he described feeling alienated because of his perspective on Israel.
At Avodah, we strive to create a community that allows people to bring their full selves – their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and political persuasion – a place where all young Jews feel welcome. Avodah works to build Jewish leaders to promote social justice in the United States and therefore, we take no institutional stance on Israel. We do, however, strive to create a space where people can have a constructive dialogue about all difficult issues, including Israel. Our community is made up of people who are both strong supporters of Israel, those who are critical, and like the larger Jewish community, everything in between. Unfortunately, in this polarizing time, many people feel alienated because of their beliefs about Israel. It is sad when anyone in our community feels that their voice isn’t valued.
Sheridan’s experience discussing these issues with his peers highlights the struggle the wider Jewish community is having in speaking about Israel. While we are gratified to know that Sheridan is grateful for his Avodah experience, we nonetheless realize that we need to do better in creating a broader space for these discussions, regardless of the opinion an individual holds. We have, until recently, tried to take a ‘hands-off’ approach to alumni discussions on the listserv, to allow people to self-direct these conversations – particularly around issues like Israel, where Avodah has no official stance – but have been thinking through how we can ensure it is a place for constructive conversation that reflects the same values of community and respect across lines of difference that we expect in our programs. We will work with our alumni leaders to learn more and determine what we can do better in the future.
We know that every Jew has a critical role to play in making our country a better place and we’re proud to work together in a pluralistic Jewish environment, united by the common goal of advancing justice in the United States.