Congregations, JCC team up for seminar

Three locations to host curriculum on Jewish values, Israeli conflict

By Aaron Greenberg
Special to the TJP

Six local congregations and the Aaron Family JCC are teaming up to present a 12-week seminar called Engaging Israel: Jewish Values and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Three locations will host the course, designed by the Shalom Hartman Institute, a renowned Israeli educational center.


“This curriculum is not a solutions-based curriculum,” said Rabbi Michael Kushnick. “It does not matter if you are an expert on Israeli history or political dynamics in the state of Israel. This curriculum is going to force us as Jews to think about what values should and do guide the state of Israel and why.”
As such, people with greatly differing views might get a better understanding of each other and engage in civil debate.
“You can ask people of different views to sit together because we’re not trying to solve issues,” he said.

“It’s a slower, more frustrating process, but what it uncovers is really powerful,” said Rabbi Andrew Paley. “If people are willing to suspend their desire to fix and spend a little time exploring their own reactions, I think it will be hugely successful.”
Kushnick and Rabbi Elana Zelony will teach at Congregation Anshai Torah on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. beginning Oct. 10, while Rabbis Nancy Kasten and Adam Roffman teach at Temple Emanu-El on Thursdays at 7 p.m. starting Oct. 19. Paley will lead the program at Temple Shalom on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. starting Oct. 22. Each session lasts 90 minutes.
Adat Chaverim, Congregation Beth Torah and Congregation Shearith Israel are also participating, and members of the six congregations and the JCC will pay $36 in tuition, with other participants paying $150. The deadline to enroll is Sept. 26.
The collaboration came about after Rabbi Donniel Hartman, president of the Hartman Institute, came to speak at Temple Emanu-El. He then met with the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas. Rachelle Weiss Crane, the director of Israel Engagement and Jewish Learning at the JCC, saw an opportunity for a communitywide effort.
“For some time, I have experienced conversations with students about frustration over the polarization among different members of our community,” Weiss Crane said.
The rabbis embraced the idea of using the Hartman program to open civil conversations. The JCC is helping to coordinate as well as handling applications.
“To do it in conjunction with the rabbis of a number of different synagogues as a consortium was very intriguing,” Weiss Crane said.
Rabbi Kushnick
Rabbi Kushnick

Kushnick also noted the importance of learning across boundaries, especially on major anniversaries of the Balfour Declaration, founding of Israel and Six-Day War.
The curriculum comes from the iEngage series, designed by Hartman as a response to “disenchantment and disinterest toward Israel,” according to its website.
Unit topics explore Jewish narratives of peace, attitudes toward the land from both within and without Israel, justice, self-preservation, compromise and more.
In addition to the texts that will be studied, there are videos featuring Rabbi Hartman and author Yossi Klein Halevi. Students will also have materials to delve into at home.
Scholars from the Hartman Institute are expected to visit at least once this year in conjunction with the seminar.
Some of the rabbis spoke of the difficulties congregants have in reconciling what they hear or see about Israel with their Jewish values.
“As liberal Jews who love Israel and have a relationship with Israel, it’s very worrisome to look at even the demographics of where Israel is going right now and to wonder what the future is for a really pluralistic Jewish homeland where we, if we should decide, or our children decide to live out their Zionist dream,” Rabbi Kasten said.
She believes the course can help Dallas-area Jews to “deepen their connection to Israel and understand how they can support Israel in a way that reflects their Jewish and Zionist values.”
Others talked about the way Jews relate to each other, and how it is often strained when the topic of Israel comes up.
“When it’s a third rail, it’s really hard to maintain the importance of Israel and connection to Israel,” Rabbi Zelony said.
She cited the reaction some groups had to word of J Street’s informational table at the Israel Today symposium held at Temple Shalom.
“That concerns me because these are things we should discuss and not shut out. These are conversations we should be having, and I think disagreement is healthy,” Zelony said.
“I’m a passionate Zionist, and there’s so much tension about Israel that if we can’t talk about it, how can we maintain Zionism?”
Rabbi Adam Roffman
Rabbi Adam Roffman

Rabbi Roffman said most Jews support Israel, “but when we talk about what that support looks like, we disagree.
“When I disagree with someone about what Israel should do, or we’re thinking about how we might come to an end in this conflict, I find always the difference between me and someone else is reflected in our stories. And that’s so important. If you don’t understand the other person’s story, you don’t understand their position. Not just about Israel, but about everything.”
Roffman, who is a rabbi at Conservative Congregation Shearith Israel, will teach with Kasten, who is Reform.
“I love the fact that over the course of the class Nancy and I will disagree,” he said. “And I love that people will see that disagreement and have theirs in a respectful way. That will be an essential part of our experience. I really think that’s going to be wonderful.”
Rabbi Paley has taught Hartman iEngage curricula for the past two years with his congregation, including the Israeli-Palestinian course last year.
“It was an amazing curriculum and discussion we had over several months of learning together,” Paley said. “Having a values-based conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was really interesting and powerful.”
The rabbis expressed hope that there will be future sessions or collaboration on other iEngage programs.
“Ultimately, I think the greater goal is when it comes to issues of concern in the Jewish community, we come together and figure it out,” Paley said.
For those who have not received copies of the application, contact Weiss Crane at or Adina Weinberg at

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