Our world has become filled with talking. We have to push our thoughts and opinions out into the world in an effort to convince others that we are right. However, when we are talking we are not really listening. When we are talking, we are often arguing over the heads of others and responding without even thinking about what the other is saying, we just want to be right and be sure the other is wrong. It is as if we are holding up an identity card that immediately shows others what we believe and what our thoughts on a certain subject might be. Others hold up these same identity cards, we walk away and relationships break down.
When we listen, we build relationships and human connection. On Wednesday at Convention, we witnessed that and we lived that. Listening to the incredibly deep changes that Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Ali Abu Awwad have gone through in their lives is remarkable. If they can change so can we. For an Israeli settler Orthodox rabbi to go from never seeing a Palestinian to breaking bread with Palestinians and creating grassroots change is almost unheard of. For a Palestinian to go from a agitator and someone who was shot by an Israeli soldier to say, “I want to defend Judaism and the right Jews have to their land, at the same time I want to defend my own state,” is a profound acknowledgement and acceptance of the other’s narrative and existence.
Hanan and Ali’s words are a reminder that two opposites can come together and make peace. The American Jewish Community has witnessed disconnect and a breakdown when it comes to Israel. If Hanan and Ali, two seemingly bitter enemies, can see the other, why can’t we? We need to create a culture of civil discourse not disagreement. We were inspired to learn today that Civil Discourse is rooted in listening emphatically and actively. When we hear the stories of another and ask people to clarify where they are coming from, we create human relationships. When we listen in order to understand and not respond, we create human relationships.
Our tradition is rooted in understanding. We learn in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:3 that the Sanhedrin was physically set up in a semi-circle so that every member of the Sanhedrin could see the face or the profile of the other. Such a set up ensures the interpersonal relationships would not be interrupted during debate. Today, seeing the face of the other is felt in hearing one’s story and connecting personally. Seeing the face of the other is listening without trying to respond and listening for understanding and emotion.
What happens when we listen? We engage in civil discourse, we hear and see the other, and we build a relationship with a fellow human being.
Rabbi Rick Kellner serves Congregation Beth Tikvah in Columbus, Ohio.