October 21, 2018

In the new year, moving forward … together

A reporter called us one day last month. He had been reading our columns and saw that we were on opposite sides of the Iran deal debate, yet we were working together running the Jewish Journal. How could that be?

Our first reaction was a kind of bemused sadness: When two Jews who disagree actually get along, apparently that’s news.

It isn’t news to us. Over the years, we have disagreed on many issues — from the Israeli occupation, to Obamacare, to which candidates we support. As we’ve made our points to one another in our offices, we haven’t grown further apart, we’ve grown closer. 

So, at a time when the Jewish community seems especially divided and is suffering from the self-inflicted wounds of rancor and bitterness, we decided to do something we have never done: Write a joint column about how we, as a community, can move forward together.

No question, the Iran debate has strained the community. Some opponents of the deal have accused supporters of being kapos. Several readers accused Rob of only supporting the deal in order to get invited to the White House Chanukah party. One angry reader got Rob’s cell phone number and has been repeatedly texting him a vulgar message.

Behind David’s back, people have accused him of secretly wanting a war with Iran and of being motivated to so strongly oppose the deal only because, deep down, he just hates President Barack Obama. (He doesn’t.)

We may never agree on the deal itself, but we do agree that this divisive and ugly debate has damaged our community. The question is, how do we move forward? Our personal experience holds one possible answer. 

We have very different opinions on politics. We practice our faith differently, as well. But we remain close because we never doubt for a minute that we are on the same side and share the same goals — we simply have different views about how to get there.

And as much as we strongly value our personal views, there are things we value even more as leaders of a community paper.

When we all stand before God this Yom Kippur, let’s do something different. Let’s go beyond our own personal accounting and think of our fellow Jews.

We value well-presented dissent, disagreement and sheer contrariness. Neither of us believes we have all the answers.  We don’t believe the whole truth resides with one political party or ideology. 

Many organizations claim to be a big tent, but the flaps close quickly once the leaders smell dissent. At the Journal, we live for dissent. Diversity is our oxygen. Not because we love conflict, but because we understand that the strength of our community lies in its diversity.

Diversity is the oxygen of the Jewish people and the Jewish story. The freedom and ability to dissent has sustained us for millennia. We are a passionate, opinionated people, not afraid to speak out, even against God. 

Yes, this constant struggle between opposing views can get very messy and emotional. But it’s who we are. It’s our reality. Our views are as diverse as our people.

The minute we turn this diversity against ourselves is the minute we lose. When we use our opinions as a rationale to insult, demonize, hate and disregard one another is when we turn our strength into our enemy. When we so identify with our opinions that we can’t see anything else is when we create our own darkness.

The worst thing we could do at the Journal would be to pick a side, then close our eyes. Regardless of which side we would pick, closing ourselves off from other points of view would represent a rejection of our fellow Jews and a rejection of the Jewish story itself. 

When we all stand before God this Yom Kippur, let’s do something different. Let’s go beyond our own personal accounting and think of our fellow Jews. Let’s imagine a giant tent in the desert that for thousands of years has managed to shelter every Jew on Earth, regardless of color, creed, denomination or political views.

Let’s imagine all the arguing and debating inside that tent and appreciate its diversity. Let’s marvel at the miracle that such a noisy tent could have endured and contributed to the world for so long.

And let’s pray that we can all see the value of keeping this noisy and diverse tent standing, and that our community will have the collective wisdom to keep moving forward, together.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of Tribe Media Corp./Jewish Journal. David Suissa is president.