Rabbi’s Review – January 2021

Resetting the Table

Rabbi Cassi Kail


I grew up in a mixed family. My mother was a democrat, and my father, a republican. Conversations around the dinner table often erupted into passionate debate over governmental policies, economics, and religion, especially when we had guests. My house defied the age-old rule never to talk politics and religion in polite company, and I could not be more grateful. Even when conversations became a bit more spirited than anticipated, I realized that I was being given a gift, to hear various intelligent, well-thought-out perspectives from the people I loved most.

As the political divides in our country deepen, even-keeled conversations have become harder to come by. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the ability to have discussions with people with whom we disagree. Too often, they devolve into shouting matches in which no one is listening, and no one feels heard. Many of us surround ourselves with like-minded people or avoid controversial topics altogether. Not only does this drive a wedge into our relationships, but it also causes us to miss out on opportunities to learn from one another.

In the Talmud, Rabbis Shammai and Hillel disagreed on almost every topic. When asked which was correct, God replied, “These and these are the words of the living God.” Both perspectives held kernels of truth. Perhaps that is the reason the Talmud is filled with so many nuances and opinions; to invite us to think deeply and have nuanced conversations about matters that affect our lives.

Understanding this, the L.A. Federation began sponsoring Resetting the Table (RTT), a program that facilitates courageous communications across divides. Temple Beth El was chosen to participate. Susan Brooks and I participated in a cohort for congregational leaders, and now so can you.

RTT is an expertly facilitated program that fosters a safe environment where everyone is heard, uplifted, and understood. Participants have a chance to get to know and develop respect for one another’s perspectives. The conversations that result are nuanced, fascinating, and empowering.

In one class, a partner with whom I was paired expressed different positions from my own. As we asked questions of one another, we realized how much we had in common and gained an appreciation for our differences. I felt the same thrill of excitement I once experienced at my family’s dinner table. It is an excitement I hope to share with you.

An RTT facilitator is working with Susan and me to form a diverse 24-person cohort of Temple Beth El members. We will meet at 3:00 p.m. on Sundays, February 7, 21, and March 7. If you have questions or are interested in participating, please reach out to me at rabbikail@bethelsp.org.