In response to Gary Rosenblatt’s article, “Has Jewish Infighting Finally Hit Bottom” (Feb. 22), I would like to share some of the groundbreaking work that has taken place with respect to this subject here in Westchester County.
During the late spring and summer of 2011, Westchester Jewish Council launched a new initiative called “Building Bridges for Israel” (“BBFI”) with the goal of bringing a group of rabbis together from our community who represent a cross-section geographically, denominationally and politically, to engage in a meaningful dialogue about Israel — to quote Mr. Rosenblatt, “hearing each other out.” After witnessing and becoming frustrated by the growing divisiveness that we were seeing in the Jewish community when it came to speaking about Israel, we believed that it was vitally important to reach out to the rabbis and bring them together to begin a conversation and, despite various differences they may have with respect to government policies, the role of religion or other matters, find a way to put their differences aside and lead our community to stand in solidarity with Israel by focusing on what unites us rather than divides us.
Working with the Westchester Board of Rabbis, we have had five meetings since the BBFI initiative began, and one of our major achievements was a Civility Statement that was written by the rabbis, circulated to all the rabbis in Westchester and signed by more than 100 rabbis and cantors, then distributed to all synagogues and printed in The Jewish Week. We typically begin our meetings by bringing a prominent Jewish leader to do a presentation about Israel, which then facilitates an open and lively discussion. Our guest presenters have included John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, and Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, in addition to esteemed members of the Israel Consulate. Our written agenda always ends with the verse “Hinei ma tov uma naim shevet achim gam yachad” (How pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to sit together). We are very proud that here in Westchester we have succeeded in fostering a forum in which our rabbis can come together, feeling comfortable to talk to each other about Israel in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect, and, even if they agree to disagree about various issues, can walk away feeling respectful of each other’s views and united in their love and support for Israel.
Westchester Jewish Council Building Bridges for Israel Initiative