From Young Judaea’s Teens, a Lesson in Dialogue

by Dafna Laskin, Digital Communications Associate at Young Judaea

This summer, participants on our Teen Summer Programs in Israel were invited to Camp Tel Yehudah for a leadership training weekend upon their arrival home. Among many other enriching sessions geared to help them unpack their experience in Israel, one of the activities we decided to run was a workshop on writing a statement on behalf of an organization.

Like any group of teens just returned from a summer abroad with their friends, the group was chatty, silly, and exceedingly ready to take a nap. Yet the moment we began to discuss the serious issues, these teenagers were focused, thoughtful, and exceptionally engaged. We began by pitching them statements from other organizations, whose politics fall on both sides of the aisle, and asking if these statements reflected the organizations’ missions and values. Then, we asked them to consider what they would put in a statement on Young Judaea’s behalf.

As the conversation began, there was little difference in opinion within the group. The teens agreed on what had concerned them most – their ability to stay in Israel during the crisis, to tour the sights important to Jewish history, both ancient and modern, and particularly to meet with their peers, Jewish and Muslim, to discuss co-existence and the prospect of a lasting peace.

They also agreed on the most important aspects of Young Judaea that they wished to include – pluralism, peer leadership, social action, Jewish values – and how these traits are vital to any conversation about Israel.

Yet when it came to discussing the facts of the conflict, it was easy to see the divergence in personal opinions. Along with a consensus on Israel’s right to safety and security came individual concerns about Palestinian civilian casualties, about government and military action, the response of foreign governments and international organizations, and the implications of this conflict on the future of any peace process.

Over the past few weeks, I have received a wide range of responses to our communications regarding the conflict in Israel. Many of them are simple affirmations of support for Israel, but some of them are pointed criticisms of the Israeli government, and Young Judaea’s stance in supporting Israel. My response is always clear: we do not apologize for supporting Israel, which is to say, its people, its soldiers, and its values. But if you have an opinion on Israel, we want to hear it. If you are looking for a place to participate in open dialogue, talk with us.  If you want to explore your vision of what the State of Israel should be, you are encouraged to do so here, and I can all but guarantee you will find the space to talk about what is important to you.

What I witnessed in our activity was a perfect example of the important role that Young Judaea plays in helping to shape future Jewish leaders. At a time when so few have proven themselves willing to bridge the gaps and participate in meaningful dialogue, Judaeans continue a long history of not simply supporting Israel, but supporting  and pursuing the best possible version of Israel – whatever that may be.