Earlier this week, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak with a Pastor at one of Spring Valley’s many churches serving the local community. He had several questions about the intersection of Jewish history, Jewish tradition, and Jewish law, and I was glad to be able to assist him. The Pastor had a strong academic understanding of normative Jewish law, and it informed a wide ranging and sometimes very detailed discussion. We finished our conversation with a commitment to continue our dialogue in the near future.
This conversation got me thinking about some of the data we developed from our community survey several months ago. A recurring comment indicating that the perception our community is less cohesive than it could be is founded on the idea that there were fundamental assumptions, misconceptions, or extrapolations that individuals make about others in the community. This held true for ALL elements of Rockland’s Jewish community.
The Pastor I was speaking with is a product of one of the most storied universities and divinity schools in the entire country. He has no lack of scholarship, understanding, and capacity to research or draw conclusions. Far from it. Indeed, despite these advantages, he chose to reach out - to me and to rabbinic leaders in the community as well. He knew that he approached these questions from a Pastor’s perspective. He also understood that there is no better illumination than dialogue, and that the actions we take or observe are often informed by a myriad of experiences we won’t know of without asking.
There is a lesson here for all of us in Rockland’s Jewish community. We all make assumptions, every day. Often our assumptions are well informed by experience, by education, or by that remarkable internal calculus we call intuition that Malcolm Gladwell described in his book “Blink”. I believe that we can all benefit from challenging our own assumptions, and seeking to better understand our neighbors and friends in the larger Jewish community, or for that matter, well beyond the Jewish community among those we don’t often interact with.
There is no substitute for data, for knowledge. At the same time, the lenses through which we all look at the world are of great value. The trick for us all is to be able to distinguish the way we see things from what we are really looking at, and letting an informed combination of the two guide us in how we get along.
That is certainly what we strive to do at the Federation.