No. 73: The Bronfman Fellowship and the Difficulty of Pluralism

The following is a transcript of Episode 73 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Yehua Kurtzer:

Hi everyone and welcome to Identity/Crisis: a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer, president of Shalom Hartman Institute North America, and we’re recording on Tuesday, October 12th, 2021. About almost 30 years ago, now, I guess it was 28 years ago to be precise, I went on a summer Israel trip that changed my life. I think that story is probably true for a lot of American Jews. In fact, there’s a large industry that believes that travel to Israel and travel in cohorts can have a huge effect on people’s identity and choices. Many of us have experienced and know this to be true. I had a pretty thick and rich Jewish upbringing and background. Modern Orthodox Jewish day school had been to actually a different Israel trip the previous summer. I think that was unusual, but what changed my life about the summer program, the Bronfman Youth Fellowships that I went on in 1993, was a total transforming of the world that I knew to be accurate about the Jewish people.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

I met rabbis who changed the category of what I thought a rabbi was. I became really aware of the own limitations of my own Jewish education and knowledge, especially on a whole bunch of political and other types of issues that many other Jews cared about that I didn’t know to care about. I made lifelong friends as is always the case? I was exposed to a different version of Israel than the one I had experienced on a modern Orthodox trip to Israel and it’s part of my religious Zionist background. And so on and so forth. Bronfman Youth Fellowship has been for close to 40 years now, a social experiment, in taking, a small number of Jewish kids, 16, 17 years old Americans and Israelis, and giving them an immersive experience in pluralism. About a month or so ago, Helen Chernikoff in eJewishphilanthropy wrote a piece about the Bronfman youth fellowships in which he says as follows, a”s a youth fellowship program and alumni network that has been grappling with religious differences, Zionism and other stimulating existential questions since 1987, the Bronfman Fellowship has seen its share of heated discussions. Yet not until this past year, has the staff witnessed such extreme ideological tensions, both online and in person that they were forced to make programmatic interventions.”

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So today I’m talking to my friend and colleague, Becky Voorwinde, the Fellowship’s executive director, the leader of this kind of audacious small, but big effort in the Jewish community to create community and to build Jewish pluralism about what has changed about the current climate of Jewish life that a small experiment in Jewish pluralism is experiencing so much turmoil and difficulty. So first of all, Becky, thanks for joining us on the show today. And I guess just to start us off for our listeners, what is the Bronfman Youth Fellowship? I had said Bronfman Youth Fellowships, but I think there was a rebrand. What is the Bronfman Fellowships? And what’s the big picture of what this small program is actually trying to do for the Jewish community?

Becky Voorwinde:

Yehuda, it’s great to be here and excited to have a conversation like this. The Bronfman Fellowship is a program that really believes in investing in, as you noted, a group of young people who have the potential to be community builders, moral voices, deep thinkers, and cultural creators for today and for the future. And the way that we do that is, as you noted, starting with a small cohort each year, that reflects a wide range of diversity of Jewish life, Jewish identity, and experiences and backgrounds, bringing those individuals together to go on really an existential journey of exploration around Jewish learning and an exposure to building pluralistic community. Being part of a bigger story, really seeing the world and seeing Judaism certainly through a lens broader than their own.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

You’re an alum of the program. So tell us, just as your point of entry, something happened for you on this program that made you at some point, decide to put your career into it. So, and I suspect that that’s probably true for a lot of the alumni of this particular program, it’s not just this abstract experience, it’s actually something transformative; a process, an experience. So maybe give us a little bit of window into, like, what was it for you that the experience with the Bronfman Youth Fellowship kind of changed your horizons about your own Jewish sense of who you were and what it meant to belong?

Becky Voorwinde:

I was on the Fellowship, I think I was, I was a person who was at the nexus of a number of different possible pathways in what my Jewish life might look like. Literally my parents are affiliated with different denominations and have different ways of practicing Jewishness. And I was, was really grappling with those questions when I was 17. Where is my community? Where do I want to locate myself? I think for me, the Fellowship, in particular, was a place that gave me access to another understanding of myself both because I was then situated with peers who inspired me, energized me, asked the kinds of deep questions late into the night that I was yearning to be asking. You mentioned that you went on an Israel trip the summer before Bronfman. And I did as well though. Though mine was not an Orthodox Zionist program.

Becky Voorwinde:

It was a community trip from the north shore of Boston. And most of the other students on that trip wanted to find a way to maybe get a tattoo and get drunk though they were underage. It was a really different kind of place and I didn’t fit there. What I was looking for is really a space to go deep and to imagine other possibilities. The thing that I think has brought me back to it and has continued to keep me engaged as an alumna, and now as a staff member, obviously is really the way that there’s a space to ask hard questions of yourself and others, but also be challenged to have some place for self-acceptance as well. So those two layers I experienced that many times in my experience of alumni life, going to seminars, going to spaces in our alumni community, where I was grappling with something in my life. And I could talk to educators as well as peers who ranged a wide gamut of viewpoints who pushed me, but also supported me to be, you know, in a cliche way, sort of my best self. And that that really was freeing and inspiring. So the people are just phenomenal in our community.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So I want to come back to the key question for today, which is why have certain aspects of a program like this – the work on pluralism become more difficult? It’s a personal curiosity that I’ve tried to explore running a pluralistic institution. Also, the work is getting harder. I do want to come back to that, but I want to start a little bit with something you mentioned, you said like I fit in better there. And that’s kind of one of the weird things about a program like this is that for a lot of the people who participated, I had this experience, you did many others, there’s something about fitting into eclectic groups that works better for a certain segment of the population. And yet this is not merely – the program is not really like how do we create community for the outliers?

Yehuda Kurtzer:

It actually is meant to create social change in some sense. And there’s always seems to be a tension between how small the program actually is. You know, you’re talking about 1400 people over a 35 year period, right? It’s not a huge number of people and it seems just not scalable. So what’s going on in terms of like, why stay so small if part of what you’re trying to do is recreate a culture of a Jewish community and what are the gains and losses that come with the focus on a small group of people, as opposed to a scalable theory of change.

Becky Voorwinde:

Something that’s fascinating to me is the outsized impact that the Fellowship has had on Jewish life. When you think about many of the contemporary Jewish voices that people are looking to, whether it’s in literature, whether it’s in Jewish, organizational life, spiritual life that already you know, again, not so long since the fellowship was started, right, like 35 years ago is not that far away. There’s such an outsized impact on these individuals having made a difference already in shaping Jewish life. And so I am not compelled by the idea that scale or size is necessarily the lever of change. In a lot of the work that we’re doing, that in fact, the depth with which the fellowship experience can penetrate individuals who are capable and talented of giving their talents to the Jewish future is more significant and has a greater ripple effect than the number of individuals. So I do think that that’s a big part of why the model continues to work

Yehuda Kurtzer:

We’d call that elitism, right? I’m not anti-elite.

Becky Voorwinde:

Yeah.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

But is there a possibility, also this will lead into the pluralism conversation, is there a possibility that part of what works for people is that they’re not actually that different from one another. They are preselected, they’re effectively preselected elites. As teens, they’re designated as being elites, and then they can constitute a community that separates them from their peers in the general public. And you can imagine that comes with a whole bunch of risks of what kind of scalable change do you want to create if it can only happen through the context of elites?

Becky Voorwinde:

Well, so I think there are a few things to kind of unwind there because I think that cohorts and the possibility of people being in a group where there’s a shared basis of connection are one of the more profound ways to help people find their voice. That means that for this slice of the Jewish community, the slice of the Jewish community that has the potential to really deeply intellectually and also socially shape Jewish life, a model like ours that is highly selective can have a real impact. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be other cohort experiences offered to teenagers at the same age demographic where again, where people can find quote-unquote, their people. Where people can find a community that meets them where they’re at developmentally at that moment. So the first thing is it’s not exclusive to we should only have the Bronfman Fellowship. We should actually be thinking about many ways to be touching young people at this age and meeting them where they’re at and finding what makes them tick.

Becky Voorwinde:

And I think that’s actually starting to happen more in the way that some of the Jewish funding space is working around the teen effort. So that’s one thing. The other thing, which I think is a real part of our work and a focus that we’ve had over the past number of years, is how to help fellows see their experience as not just a place to then keep it internal to the Bronfman fellowship or to this Bronfman community, but actually to create ripple effects, to see it as incumbent upon them to find ways to shed outwards and share outwards, the experience that they’ve had and to be translators of this experience into the contexts in which they operate on campus and then beyond. And I see that happening though there’s definitely something to be said for people being able to come back at certain important junctures in their life, to a space where they feel known. And the power of that, and the empowering nature of that to then revitalize those individuals who are talented to make a difference and shine it outwards is also something I want to kind of raise up here.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

And we can come back to this later, but what it suggests is that if you’re successful, right, of creating a certain type of norm and culture of what a rich Jewish life can look like across difference in this kind of highly incubated space with elite peers and elite teachers, and a lot of promise, a lot of potential, you could envision that that will translate into a culture in Jewish communal institutional life. And the flip side is if you’re struggling with something in the context of the Bronfman program, it may actually be a little bit of a bellwether for what we’re going to struggle within the community more broadly. Is that right?

Becky Voorwinde:

I would say yes. I think there’s been a lot of times where we’ve seen trends emerge in our community and then shortly leader, we start to read about or hear about that in the wider Jewish space.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Okay. So let’s talk about this breakdown, which, again was covered in eJewishphilanthropy. It was something that I think any of us working in pluralistic spaces professionally have known and felt for a while. I wrote a piece about this in the Hartman journal Sources, “What Happened to Jewish Pluralism?” Bronfman Fellowships emerges at the same time in the late eighties as a lot of other initiatives in the landscape of Jewish pluralism, including the Dorot Fellowship and the Wexner Fellowship and the growth of my own institution, Hartman Institute, the investment in Hillel. There’s a lot of stuff that comes around, but something seems to have ruptured in the context of these pluralistic communities in the last couple of years. So before we get into the kind of diagnostics of that, can you give us a little bit of like a window into how and when that you felt, and you and your staff felt that something was going wrong in the context of a program where again, conflict and difference has always been baked in, but something wasn’t quite working around the culture of conflict or the management of conflict in the context of these programs.

Becky Voorwinde:

The first space that we were noticing this with was actually when we would bring our Israeli and our American fellows together. That was the first space where I actually really saw it. And I think it’s helpful to use that as a starting point, because literally when you are bringing young Israelis and young Americans together, there is a challenge of translation. There is a challenge of speaking different languages, bringing in different cultures. There’s also jockeying for what identity and what a story gets brought to the center of the discussion. You know, even what texts we’re looking at on a source sheet together hold resonance or meaning. And there are also different expectations that folks are walking in with, in this context, right? So we would often see, again, I’m painting some broad strokes, but we would see North American fellows coming into that joint conversation often seeking to debate and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli fellows coming into the conversation blindsided that that was the topic that the North American fellows wanted to engage on.

Becky Voorwinde:

But secondly, often quite apathetic about whether they even needed to be in the room with the North American fellows. Right? So that was, that was probably something we were noticing more heavily challenging already for more than a decade. Then we started to see it in the campus environment. And I would draw a direct line to the time that Hillel brought forward its Israel guidelines around what is and isn’t acceptable to be hosting inside a Hillel as one of the spaces where we started to see really significant conflict on campuses, where there were a sizeable number of Bronfman alumni at the same campus who were engaged sort of quote-unquote across the picket line from one another. And they’re something that we saw and observed was that the pluralism didn’t happen while an Israel week with going on, or while there was some kind of conflict on the campus, but where we still saw the pluralism happening was in the debrief.

Becky Voorwinde:

So we would see that quietly, a group of alumni who spanned a spectrum around an issue like Israel on campus would reach out to a staff member from Bronfman and say, “Hey, can you help us facilitate a conversation here? Or we want to talk to each other to better understand what just happened and why it’s happening.” So even that was a win in my mind because there was a desire to understand where someone else is coming from and maybe, maybe to even overcome kind of it happening again. And then, you know, more recently the place where the biggest breakdown started to happen was as a result of online communication. So in our alumni community, certainly a listserv space, but in our fellows, when we had to go virtual for the Fellowship for part of the Fellowship the issue was communication late at night on WhatsApp groups and people very, very quickly going back and forth, rapid-fire exchanges, not seeing each other’s face, really not being panim al panim, not being face-to-face. And then likewise people, you know, copying and pasting as a transcript, basically, you know, this exchange and, and perseverating over it and kind of unpacking it and Talmud commentary on it and it metastasizing. So that is sort of the more recent version that we’ve experienced most intensely.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

And, you know one other element of that online piece that I’ve just noticed is, you know I’m getting to the point where I now have friends who have kids who have been on the Fellowship program and you have one listserv, right, of 40 years, of two generations. And it changes the nature of my relationships with these, with these kids. They are now officially my peers in the Bronfman community, but there are really different norms around how people interact with the Fellowship as a concept, as well as with online communication. Some of us are digital natives and some of us are not. So all of those features are there. So, okay. So here, this feels to me like the big question, which is, has the nature of the issues that we are in conflict about as Bronfman fellows, as members of any pluralistic community, has the nature of that conflict really changed? is it has the, is it just that the temperature on Israel has gone so high that the conversation on race and racial justice has changed or have the culture around the notion of conflict changed?

Yehuda Kurtzer:

And the answer can be a little bit of both, but I would love to unpack – because like the conservative critique of why pluralistic spaces are incapable of holding together, which is most connected to people like John Haidt and Greg Lukianoff they’ll say you’ve created a climate of safetyism, that you have to warn people off of conflict. And that actually doesn’t train people to be comfortable in conflict spaces. You have to give trigger warnings and content warnings, and you’ve lost the ability to like, just be in it, right? And see what happens. And the progressive critique of these spaces is that trafficking in relationship with people who disagree with you on a bunch of issues is not just a waste of time, but it’s immoral, right? Shouldn’t you be an activist? And that would suggest that, the issues might be the same in 1987 as they are in 2021, but a lot of stuff has kind of fallen apart around the culture of how we think about and teach conflict. So I guess I would love for you to take both sides of that. Like where do you see the real set of issues here?

Becky Voorwinde:

Yeah. You’ve articulated a lot of things that I would also say are challenges. I want to start with the nature of conflict or the nature of what’s at stake. So I think what’s at stake writ large is actually the same thing that’s always been at stake, which is the question of, are you part of my “we?” Do I belong here? Does this space make room for me to belong? And that I think is a consistent thread that when I go back and ask alumni from the earliest years of the fellowship, you know, the people who have sort of the most emotional memories of pluralism not working for them, at the kernel is the question of, do I belong here? Am I? part of this? What’s changed is who is in the room to some extent in the sense that varied identities that didn’t feel empowered or welcomed at all, thank goodness, now do feel more clear and empowered in their identities and are even at 17, already very much in the room.

Becky Voorwinde:

And so, first of all, the question of do I belong? Is my identity invited in here? you know, am I part of this story? It is pulled in new directions around that question, but it’s still very much like salient that that’s the question. I think that tone and pace of discourse have increased. Certainly again, when we’re talking about virtual, but also in the vilification of others. And this goes to your point, Yehuda of kind of defining certain viewpoints as immoral and as harmful as actually harmful of someone’s sense of well-being or safety. But I don’t, so I don’t really fall into the camp of the issue is that we have the Coddling of the American Mind. I don’t think that’s really the core issue here.

Becky Voorwinde:

In fact, I actually think that there’s something to be said for recognizing that real harm and real stakes are at play whenever people who bring different perspectives and identities and worldviews come together and having a sort of respect for the fact that it is it’s really high stakes. And it really is difficult to be in a room with people who may see your way of being as different from theirs or who have the ability and authority to actually shape the future. So in that sense, the one thing I would say around harm or around sort of like people’s reaction to that question is that I have noticed more of our alumni expressing concern that someone else’s views are harming or hurting someone else. And that the quick fix, right? The quick fix when something hurts is to turn off the chainsaw or to, you know, stop the thing that’s causing the harm. So, but that’s really the resilience around managing against harm, doesn’t allow for recognizing that sometimes is going to happen and then just figuring out the moment.

Becky Voorwinde:

What’s the way to create a Tikun, to create a place for repair when that happens? I think that’s more important than trying to do everything you can to avoid harm because you’ll always have a blind spot that you miss, even if you did everything you could to avoid harm.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So in other words, part of your resistance to the language and the culture of safetyism, is precisely because you know, that these environments can be powerful. Precisely because transformative environments and atmospheres can change people’s lives and can redirect them. There’s so much power invested in it. There’s nothing wrong with us naming and acknowledging that powerful transformative spaces can also cause harm and they can be dangerous. But I think it’s interesting, you know, this was a throwaway, but you said chainsaw. And when you said chainsaw, I said, you know, I’m thinking to myself, well, of course, if you know that this speaker is a raconteur, a provocateur who can actually do harm to people, you know, how to kind of take that out and eliminate that. But most of what we’re talking about here, it’s not a chainsaw. It’s something that I consider to be an irritant and you consider it to be a salve.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

It’s something that I know is provocative because it’s edgy, but you don’t. And the minute we’ve introduced the variable of watching out for caution and watching out for harm, we become, we subject ourselves to kind of constantly having to ask about every one of our speakers, whether they’re doing damage right? That there’s something dangerous about them. So I just, you know, because the things I look back on, like in my own experience, you know, we heard from AB Yehoshua and he was totally offensive. He had like this crazy anti-Diaspora speech. And we really got agitated and we yelled at him and enabled us to talk to each other. And then I remember we went to, this was back when you could do this, we went to Deheisha. We went to a Palestinian refugee camp in Deheisha and none of you can see this, but that was an expression of some shock.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

This is 1993. Right. We went to a Palestinian refugee camp and then we met with Elyakim Haetzni who was a leader of the settlement movement. Was it dangerous? Well, yeah, I guess, right? But it was also the only way in which you could have the raw materials to actually understand the full spectrum of political attitudes that were possible in the Jewish community. So how do you really differentiate with a fine-tooth? So how do you and your team figure out, like what’s really dangerous that we have to watch out for, and what’s the stuff that’s going to really create the potent environment of change and growth that this program is supposed to engender?

Becky Voorwinde:

It is funny, the analogy I just used around a chainsaw, you know, it just came to me as I was speaking, but I’m going to stick with it because part of it is connected to the cutting off of something that is essential to your core understanding, fundamental understanding of yourself or the world, or your fundamental understanding of the future of Jewishness. And so I think that some of the examples you just gave, can rile people up politically, but they aren’t necessarily examples that cut to the core of belonging. Because if you had given me those same examples and said that you were a group of Israeli young people meeting with the head of the settler movement and you know a Palestinian refugee camp. And we do some of those things with our Amitim, with our Israeli fellows, that is at the core of somebody’s sense of security of their future you know, sense of where they orient themselves and that has a risk to it, but it also has a fruitful possibility for thinking anew. But I would actually say that for an American cohort, no matter how intensely Zionist that that cohort is or non-Zionist, I don’t know that those are the kinds of examples that are the places where that pain point might be.

Becky Voorwinde:

And frankly, I would say that where the biggest pain points are in the conversations that happen. You know, they don’t have to be late in the night, but they often are late in the night within the cohort. They’re not the “which speaker did the fellowship choose?” They are within the group, within the people that the fellows are trying to build trust amongst. That’s where the biggest pain point can come from is when one feels disregarded, misunderstood, vilified dismissed, ganged up on, I mean, these are all, these are all real things that can happen when disagreement and lack of listening to one another can take shape.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

So one of the things you’ve tried to do over the last couple of years, especially, and this is an argument that you’ve made to me in other contexts is that you know, one of the shifts here is the assumption of, well, we’ll just throw everybody in the pool. And that in itself will be like a rich experience. And what you’ve basically said is no, you actually have to educate towards the tools and methods of behaviors and practices that you want to cultivate. And it’s both shocking and obvious, right? If you want a certain outcome you actually have to teach towards it. So what do you, what are you trying to do? And what are the kinds of tools and practices that you’ve tried to put in place to basically say, if you want pluralism, you actually have to teach pluralism.

Becky Voorwinde:

Some of this is listening and communication skills. We instituted this year, a series of workshops for our fellows, where they have the chance to practice and try out different communications methodologies. Deep listening, nonviolent communication. These are different methods that we didn’t create, but that we were able to utilize looking at Jewish texts that, that explore the idea of makhloket of you know, really kind of the debate for the sake of something bigger. Looking at relational materials and texts you know, in the Talmud some of the relationship stories that really resonate. We gave fellows a lot of room to build their group norms and the way that they wanted to communicate with one another and to revisit those throughout the Fellowship. So we actually, again, kind of going to this question of who holds the authority when it comes to this community, in this group? Giving more space for everybody to be holding authority for the tone, the tenor, the atmosphere of the experience.

Becky Voorwinde:

We also found that our alumni community articulated to us that they were out of practice of being in pluralistic spaces. So we ran and developed a series of workshops that we called, “Where Pluralism Thrives” that really give alumni a chance to come back into a pluralistic cohort themselves and engage in debate and discussion locate for themselves why pluralism matters to them, or maybe why they are more questioning it than they were when they were 17. But I think it’s really important to note that in a world where there’s a lot more tribalism where there’s a lot more you know, kind of echo chambers that people are existing in, it is not easy to hold on to seeking out a pluralistic space and seeking out the sort of energy to listen, ask open questions, be curious and try and like identify the terms of the conversation and locate your own beliefs and also locate someone else’s beliefs in that conversation.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

You know, one of the things that I’ve found tricky over the years in relationship to Bronfman as an alum is, you know, also interacting publicly with all sorts of people and voices in the world. And then either discovering that they’re also alumni of the Fellowship and in feeling this weird kinship towards them, even though they’re on totally different sides of an issue and an expectation that if I’m communicating internally with other people in this network, it’s got to look different than how I argue with them on Twitter, for instance. I wonder whether it’s, I genuinely don’t know whether it’s going to hold Becky. Because, you know, and the other, I guess, the other challenge has been, you know, it’s powerful to have a transformative experience when you’re 17 and then you spend the next 10 years having transformative experiences. And if the pressures around campus life are towards a certain type of political activism, it starts to feel as though, okay, well that was the 17-year-old version, but the more sophisticated version is a culture of activism when I’m 22, rather than pluralism when I’m 17. So I don’t know, how do you, I don’t know, I go back and forth about whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic about the future of this, but how do you see that playing out for either the current cohorts and what they’re going to face and how the fellowship thinks about this as continuing to cultivate an ethos that for which there are so many forces working against it?

Becky Voorwinde:

Well, I’m an optimist and I’m hopeful. And I think that part of what has been really crucial to the fellowships model is a constant evolution of approaches methods of responsiveness. Really, you know, there isn’t, you noted before, like the Fellowship experience feels different in many ways each year, based on what’s happening in the world. And I think we have a responsibility to evolve our approach to our alumni community as well. So that’s just to say that I think everything we’re attempting and trying I see as not clear solutions, but rather as trial and error and working with real human beings. Human beings are super messy and really, really amazing and interesting to work with. I think that our young alumni are in spaces, as you noted, that often the atmosphere of activism, the atmosphere of you should be on a specific side of an issue is heavy pressure on them.

Becky Voorwinde:

But at the same time, what I observe is the number of, you know, kind of what someone might call like odd-couple friendships that continue to persist and blossom and grow despite being on sort of those opposite sides of an issue or a Jewish community practice. And those relationships, I think are one of the reasons that I am hopeful that it is not so easy for somebody to shake off or shut off the pluralism or the experience they had in Bronfman that taught them that we’re part of a shared story, shared society. And that there are also people who you may never fully understand, but who you trust enough to want to get their take on how they see things. And that’s going to make you smarter in the way you think about things, even if you end up on the opposite side of the coin from one another.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Last question, it’s really the big one, right? When the program like this gets started, there’s a lot of theories as to why this culture of pluralism merged when it did maybe post-second world war, anti totalitarianism. That’s part of the American bi-partisan ethos. There are some theories that connect to the 1990 Jewish population study and the recognition that the Jewish people in America were becoming so vastly diverse that we had to find ways to create, as you said, a sense of the, we, can we be part of this together? And it feels that efforts against pluralism are not native to the Jewish community. They’re actually part of the larger cultural climate that we’re in of polarization and partisanship. When you kind of go back to the foundation and say, this is the moral or political, or this is the urgent argument for why we need pluralism. And therefore I’m going to go to work every day to make this happen. I’m going to invest in this expensive endeavor, focused on a small group of people because I think it’s going to change the world. What to you is a core moral or political argument for why pluralism should continue to matter?

Becky Voorwinde:

There are two words that stand out to me, nuance and empathy. Nuance because there is no social issue or political issue that exists or religious issue that isn’t extremely complex and requires a multilayered exploration and understanding of it to even potentially identify new ways of thinking about solutions or to build new ways of dealing with them. And I think that pluralism provides an incredible lab for nuance and for both practicing the skills involved in trying to get at nuance and actually giving space for conversations that can be nuanced and that need not be so binary empath. You know, again, it goes back to this idea of we have a shared reality. Last time I checked, we can’t build a wall around the people we want to hang out with and live with, and just imagine that everybody else can fend for themselves.

Becky Voorwinde:

We do have to be in a shared reality and empathy is one of the best ways to get there because when you understand someone else’s needs, you’re able to see that there’s a value in trying to help support meeting those needs without necessarily letting go of your own needs as well. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I really think that that’s crucial to why pluralism matters to why I care about this work. Open-heartedness, you know, it’s crucial and these kinds of relationships that happen across difference when those aha moments happen, when you can point to your own growth emerged, because you were in dialogue with this other person who challenged you, who supported you, who did both at different points in that journey of relationship, it expands your heart. And that is sort of at the core as well.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

It’s deep. I mean, there’s, there’s the personal enrichment, what we gain as human beings when we’re capable of seeing other people in their full selves, even if we don’t know, we don’t have the categories yet to assimilate them. And then there’s also just a utility argument. If you want to persuade people of the truths that you hold to be true, you’re going to have to find ways for them to be able to listen to you. And so it is being able to toggle between those two and it can, if it works, create powerful community.

Yehuda Kurtzer:

Well, thank you, Becky, for being on Identity/Crisis this week and for all the work that you do. And thanks to the rest of you for listening to our show. Identity/Crisis is a product to the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Louis Gordon with assistance from Miri Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz and music provided by so-called. Transcripts of our show are available on our website typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute can visit us [email protected]

Yehuda Kurtzer:

We’d love to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people find the show. And you can write to us [email protected] You can subscribe to our show, everywhere podcasts are available. We’ll see you next week and thanks for listening.