Resetting the Table
Rabbi Cassi Kail
On a Sunday afternoon, eighteen community members gathered to begin a series of courageous conversations through an organization called Resetting the Table. Participants were diverse in age, perspectives, political leanings, and life experiences. They shared a desire to create meaningful relationships and learn skills for having difficult conversations with people with whom they disagree.
Susan Brooks suggested that we take part in this program in response to our world’s rising political divisiveness. After Susan and I received training as conveners, I reached out to community members to gauge interest. Many of the people who signed up shared stories about relationships that were strained by political divides. They didn’t know how to have meaningful conversations about topics that mattered with the people they loved, and they were eager to gain skills and rebuild relationships.
Our skilled facilitators taught us that there are meaningful and important debates in our world. It isn’t our task to solve them, but rather to begin the important work of storytelling and listening to one another’s narratives. In our first gathering, everyone spoke about the significant moments in our lives and how those experiences inform our perspectives. It is easy to argue facts and much harder to argue with one another’s truths. We spent more time listening than speaking, focusing on the skill of “hitting a bullseye,” or taking the time to utterly understand another’s perspectives and reflect it to them before offering our own. At times this was challenging, particularly when speaking about divisive topics. Expressing our own beliefs in a way that respects others’ views and experiences is not always easy, but it is essential to ensure that everyone is valued and heard.
Our sessions ended with a Dual Narratives course, which explored the birth of Jewish and Palestinian national aspirations and their divergent experiences of Israel’s founding. Many participants who were more sympathetic to the Zionist perspective were asked to read and present the Palestinian perspective as if it were their own, and vice versa. It was an exercise in seeing the world through one another’s eyes—one which had a steady footing in Jewish tradition. On Passover, we are obligated to see ourselves as people who have personally gone forth from Egypt. More than that, Torah repeatedly instructs us to love the stranger because we were once strangers. To be good citizens of the world and community members, the Torah calls us to channel our personal experiences and listen to the words of those who are different from ourselves. This is how we come to love the stranger. One participant in the class later remarked, “I am passionate about Israel and an ardent Zionist. I have attended many lectures and conferences about Israel; I know a lot, but this dual-narratives exercise gave me so much more insight into the conflict. It was uncomfortable at times. I thought, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ but I am so glad I did!” The dual-narratives exercise allowed us to understand the complexity of the situation and appreciate the insights of fellow human beings.
Our Resetting the Table cohort has ended, though Susan and I are working with a facilitator to see how we can build upon the experience. We strive to create more opportunities to share our stories, learn from one another and deepen our connections.