By Joshua Yudkin
With almost 8 billion different humans on this planet, our diversity is essential and inevitable for our survival and success. Physiological, social and spiritual adaptations have created diverse life forms on the planet that have evolved into building a world full of rich and complex traditions and identities. Whether we look at Mexican philosopher and politician José Vasconselos’ “cosmic race” in a “universal era of humanity” or religious scholar and Minister Huston Smith’s affirmation that “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race,” our collective narrative is rich with teachings that celebrate our multifaceted diversity as a species.
Throughout history, there have also been destructive and divisive voices. These voices are, too often, shaping and facilitating our public discourse today. Contemporary cancel culture emphasizes differences and stifles the genuine exchange of diverse, diverging and divine thought. Intragroup and intergroup conflict forces false understandings, choices and allegiances between group members that require nuance and context.
Jewish tradition offers an alternative to the status quo and empirically teaches that disagreement can be a way of staying engaged.
Whether we look at rabbinic debates between Hillel and Shamai or more modern debates about Israel-Diaspora relationships, it is the act of simply engaging, critically discussing and dynamic dialoguing with one another — even with significant disagreement — that has been our foolproof Jewish strategy for survival. The mere choice to engage is an expression of connection and concern.
Our identities are complex and, in the current climate, highly politicized. Each group we select to include in our identity constellation or that is selected for us by others carries connotations that may or may not be how we identify. Some conversations coerce persons to reject part of their identity constellation while others obfuscate authentic and collective experiences. Often we are left without safe spaces to explore our identity constellation, much less practice articulating it.
The group experience is no different. Distinction does not inherently mean discrimination. Affirming and celebrating the diversity of experiences, thought and identity can unite and cultivate sustainable partnerships that transcend intergroup and intragroup disagreement. Through employing intentionality and actively choosing to demonstrate relentless respect for all, we, together, can see ourselves as one: in the words of American songwriter India Aire, “So many different races and religions, and it all comes down to one.”
As one of the most prominent and influential Jewish leaders of the 21st century, Natan Sharansky summed it up best in his newest book, “Never Alone,” stating, “We need better, more sustained, more substantive dialogue.”
As a cofounder and chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Just Conversations young adult leadership initiative, I am proud that we aim to defuse the charged contemporary cancel culture by cultivating a community of young leaders passionate about civic engagement. By focusing on current challenges, we create a safe space for individuals and groups to come together to both explore and articulate their respective identity constellations and find the common ground to act as one.
Sharansky reminds us that our Jewish tradition, values and ideas have kept the Jewish people alive and contributed to the betterment of humanity in so many ways. True Jewish leadership transcends our tribe, encouraging and empowering a dialogue of one so that, together, with other tribes, we can better humanity as one.
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.