“It’s the personal narrative that really counts…”

by Breanne White, ICCI intern

Tuesday, January 17, a group of alumni from the Jerusalem Young Adult Forum met with members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism at Beit Shumel in Jerusalem. The visitors, who came from 11 different countries, were in Israel in order to strengthen relations between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

Four participants of previous years’ Jerusalem Young Adult Forum spoke about their experiences in the dialogue program. As in previous alumni events, those present talked about the difficulties of participating in such a program, but also how it changed their views and opinions about others. Particularly poignant about this meeting, however, were the questions asked by the visitors. After listening to the alumni discuss their experiences, two interesting questions were raised: first, “With all of your different experiences, backgrounds, and political and religious ideologies, how do you find common ground?” and second, “How do you tell your personal narrative to others?”

The answers emphasized an acceptance of diversity and an understanding of the personal element of each side and each person in the group, but also relayed the personal challenges involved in such a dialogue program. One alumnus stated that it was quite difficult to relay his personal narrative to others because he wasn’t even completely sure of his own identity, raising the point that there are not just two or three sides to any conflict. Each narrative is intensely personal, and no single person is representative of any particular side or position. However, many alumni agreed that the way to finding common ground, surprisingly enough, lies in understanding and accepting diversity and the individual narrative of each person. Two people with completely different backgrounds, religions, and political ideologies can find common ground in the fact that they are incredibly different, but they have a shared humanity and they both have a story to tell.

The most important question came at the end: “We represent Jews in 11 different countries around the world. What would you have us take back to our communities and families? What should we do after listening to your experiences?”

This question was significant because it brought to life one of the main purposes for alumni events such as this one: inspiring increased tolerance and understanding between religions around the world. Hearing the stories of youth and young adults who are willing to put away radically differing religious and political ideologies, at least for a while, and listen to and work with a different side inspires hope and confidence in a future peaceful world and encourages a desire to join in the effort of dialogue and education. The answers given by the alumni reflected this view: “Bring groups from your families and communities here to see the situation for themselves,” “Don’t support only one side–instead, work to understand the validity and feelings of people on all sides of the conflict,” “Understand that everything is much more complicated than it seems,” and finally, “Remember that it’s the personal narrative that really counts.”

This is something that all of us can do in promoting religious tolerance and understanding: remember that each group is made up of individuals, each with a personal narrative, and it is in listening to that narrative that we can find common ground in our differences and see validity in ideologies different than our own.

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