Have you heard of the term Third Space? Ray Oldenberg coined the term to refer to a space that is neither home nor workplace – a Third Space for community building, civic engagement, and creative interaction. In the context of painful and polarizing conflict, when much of the public discourse is framed in black and white, ‘with us’ or ‘against us’, zero-sum terms, the Third Space is one of complexity, nuance, listening, and human connection.
This latest period of devastating violence and fear in Gaza and Israel has carved out ‘Pro-Israel’ spaces and ‘Pro-Palestine’ spaces in Toronto and around the world, but there have been very few contexts in which people can affirm and advocate for the safety and dignity of both peoples and two homelands. There have been very few spaces in which one can mourn the deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis without the reasons for these deaths explaining away and justifying the loss of life. There have been few spaces in which people can share different perspectives, concerns, and questions without being attacked and demonized. And there have been very few spaces in which people can show how afraid, angry, uncertain, and heartbroken we are, without our loyalties being questioned.
The community conversation we held on July 31st was a courageous, honest, and in some respects, radical building of the DJC community as a Third Space. There were five goals that framed the evening, and frame our vision going forward.
(1) Putting our relationships with each other at the centre. We are building the DJC as a community in which we practice being close and connected to one another in the face of intense feelings and conflicting perspectives. When friendships are regularly ended over opinions and Facebook postings, we are practicing speaking honestly about our disagreements AND being deliberate not to reduce a whole person to their views on this conflict – not dismissing individuals or severing relationships based on someone’s views. Instead of withdrawing and isolating ourselves from others or becoming numb, overwhelmed, and disconnected, we are leveraging our relationships with one another to support staying engaged with community and with the realities in Israel and Palestine.
This practice is as important in your relationship with the DJC itself as it is in your relationships with individual members. It is common for people to leave a congregation because of something the rabbi said or didn’t say, or because of something a member stated at a meeting or on the street, saying “if So-and-So says X, I can’t be part of this community”. It is important for us to remember we are blessed to be a diverse community, and we are a work in progress that includes every single one of you. I only know the experiences and views of members of this community to the extent that you share them. We will only know what programming, action, community announcements, and conversations will serve and grow this community to the extent that you take part in shaping it. Perhaps at our next community conversation we will have as many participants as we do for Kol Nidrei. And what a community we will be then!
In addition, as we reach toward connection and deeper understanding with one another, it is also important to name that these issues sit very differently for our Jewish and non-Jewish members. For many Jews, when Israel is threatened and when anti-Jewish hatred and oppression increase, feelings of terror, hopelessness and helplessness, a sense the world is against us, urgency, and self-protection and preservation become highly charged. For many other Jews, feelings of rage and shame toward Israel’s actions and toward the often monolithic stance of the mainstream Jewish community become highly charged, often stirring a different kind of hopelessness, helplessness or urgency, and a desire to distance oneself from Jewish community or fellow Jews. Each of these reactions is a mixture of both truth and reactivity, important recognition and damaging rigidity, and self-righteousness.
It’s helpful for you, our beloved non-Jewish partners and friends, to understand that, as Jews, our history and heritage have given us good reasons to feel terrified, defensive, and urgent. If we are going to be able take a principled stand that will work toward the thriving of both Jews and Palestinians, we will need you as our allies, loving us, actively working to help end anti-Semitism, and compassionately helping us see when our actions are rooted in fear.
And it’s helpful for you, beloved Jews, to understand that our non-Jewish members need support, love, patience, and appreciation in figuring out their own relationship with these issues, in discerning what it means to them to affirm both Israel and Palestine thriving, and in examining what aspects of their various histories and heritages shape their views and values in both positive and distorting ways. Being active allies to one another is essential for this work.
(2) Creating a safe space to grapple with issues, feelings, and diverse perspectives. Where conflict polarizes and people are often pressed to choose one side against the other, we are building the DJC as a place in which not only diverse views are shared and explored, but where individuals are allowed to have conflicting feelings and commitments, to grapple with a very complex and painful situation, to ask difficult questions without anyone rushing to assert answers. We are working to deconstruct a dichotomous way of thinking and treating others. Many of us also feel shut down, silenced, or afraid to speak about this conflict. At the DJC, we are practicing listening with resilience, genuine curiosity, and respect so everyone who speaks can trust they will be heard. We are also making room to be able to question our own assumptions, to examine whose voices and views we have been exposed to, and what are we ignorant of.
We are making room to be able to examine where we were/are lied to by those who are invested in this conflict continuing. We are asking what we as a community want to learn together and understand further. We are in this together, and we are here to learn with and from one another.
(3) Remembering that everyone involved in this conflict is a person. We are striving to refuse to demonize or dehumanize any individual or group. Statistics can lead us to forget the human beings behind them. Supporting or condemning the actions of one group of people or another can lead to forgetting that they are people. We are striving to remember that everyone involved is a person and to let it break our hearts that this is happening.
(4) Observing your feelings and reactions. Violence, war, displacement, and fear stir a lot of feelings and a range of associations. Whatever your reactions and feelings are about this particular situation, it is likely you have had similar feelings about other situations. When else have you felt helpless or hopeless? When else have you felt like what you are facing is a matter of life and death? When else have you felt overwhelmed or numb and wanted to disconnect? We are practicing paying attention to the layers of our reactions. The more we can clearly observe our habits of reaction, the more we can think clearly about this particular situation and consciously choose how we want to respond.
(5) Remembering this moment of the conflict is part of a larger on-going conflict. The conflict will not be over when this round of violence ends. It will be important to keep talking together, building a culture of Third Space conversation, and to keep educating ourselves. It will be important to engage our collective intelligence to discern how we want to be part of supporting a long-term solution in Israel and Palestine, and how we will be part of ending anti-Jewish and anti-Arab hatred locally and beyond.
It is important to note that building a Third Space does not mean you don’t take a stand for what you believe in or that misinformation, distortions, or bigotry go uninterrupted. I encourage you to take action, to keep educating yourself, to raise funds, to write articles, to engage others in conversation, to be part of the work of other groups. I encourage us as a community to discern what we might want to do together, honouring the diversity of who we are. The more we can commit to practices of a Third Space together, the more our choices in the wider world will be shaped by broadened understanding, by the tools of compassionate engagement, and working toward a just and viable solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike.