An Opportunity to Listen at the Community RoundtablesJune 28, 2012
We ran an experiment at the recent Jewish Community Celebration – Israel in the Gardens. A section of Yerba Buena Gardens was set aside for roundtable discussions. Members of our community were welcome to sit and share their personal perspectives on our community, and most importantly, to listen to one another. The result was a deeply meaningful experience for each participant as they were able to express their views without being criticized or judged. “I know that for me personally the experience absolutely opened my eyes to views and voices I’ve never really listened to,” said Nathan Pam, Community Roundtable Coordinator.
Over and over again participants expressed a feeling of fracture in our community, and that fissures in the community needed to be fixed. When a particular discussion veered toward Israeli politics, Danny Gal, the facilitator, gently brought the conversation back to how this related to the local community. Suddenly everyone, despite their political views, nodded in unison. They agreed. They were all voicing essentially the same concerns through uniquely colored lenses. We all want a strong, vibrant and flourishing community. We want to feel welcome and to welcome others. We want a connection to a strong, just, and safe Israel. And we want to heal.
“When I invited people to refer to their lives here in the Bay Area they could let go for a minute of their different political views and see what unites them as a community,” said Danny. “It felt like everyone wanted to find a way to keep us together as one community although there are so many differences among us.”
Danny has led similar events on a much larger scale all around the world, including in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Anyone who attended a session at Israel in the Gardens could see how incredibly skilled he is at excavating people’s deepest concerns, airing them out, and somehow, against all odds, getting people to find common ground and understanding. He hosted three sessions throughout the day, each beginning with a series of three questions posed to participants:
- Share a personal story in which you felt proud of being part of the Bay Area Jewish community.
- What worries you or what is your concern regarding your being part of the community?
- What are the practical ideas and actions that you are willing to take to address these challenges?
Each session concluded with a “check-out process,” in which participants were asked to say one word that represented how they felt after the conversation. People said: hope, open, wow, power of listening, together is better, taken, thank you, connected.
For Nathan, the roundtable coordinator, it was refreshing to hear people’s innermost concerns being expressed so openly. “I don’t think a single person left the tables feeling the same way about their community as they did when they first sat down,” he said.