By David Cygielman, Moishe House Founder & CEO
Developing and growing young adult Jewish life, leaders and learning has always been our focus but it does not come without challenges. Today, a big obstacle we are all facing is the growing political divide, particularly in the United States. Political division is not a new phenomenon, and we see the effects of this in elections around the world; however, the chasms are growing and the way we express our disagreements has changed. In the United States, tensions have reached new heights and are played out on a public stage through various forms of media.
In research co-authored by Jesse Shapiro, a professor of political economy at Brown University, they found that in 1978, the average American rated the members of their own political party 27 points higher than members of the other major party. By 2016, Americans were rating their own party 45.9 points higher than the other party, on average. In other words, negative feelings toward members of the other party compared to one’s own party increased by an average of 4.8 points per decade.
How do we build community in a world where 84% of singles from a Dating.com survey said that they will not even consider dating someone with opposite political views, while 67% admit to ending relationships due to opposing political views? While it may be one of the biggest challenges we are facing as an organization and a community, it also makes it one of the most important and not something that we can shy away from, regardless of the difficulties. I want to share some of the ways we have been investing our time and resources to make Moishe House an organization that proudly serves young adults from across the social and political spectrums.
Our work and learning is rooted in what we have done over the past several years to build pluralism so that Moishe House can be a place where secular, reform, conservative, orthodox, non-denominational and beyond can thrive. From early on we took the approach that it is not about working to convince anyone to become something they are not but rather, it is about being clear that we don’t just want, but actually need the perspectives of the full spectrum of Jewish observance and backgrounds. It starts with recognizing that pluralism isn’t just a “nice to have” but is crucial for the entire Jewish community’s ability to thrive. We need each other, even if we have different ways of expressing our Judaism. Once we built out the baseline of the importance of pluralism to our mission, we determined that the next phase of hard work would require training, policy and ultimately, infusing it into our culture. This translates into bringing in educators from all denominations, providing additional funds for houses and residents with additional needs for their observance levels, actively recruiting a variety of staff and residents so that today, pluralism is not a long term goal but part of our identity.
The same importance and process is critical in building Moishe House to actively serve young adults from a wide political spectrum. It starts with being clear and consistent in our messaging that Moishe House is a place that not only accepts but needs young Jewish adults from across the political spectrum to achieve our mission. Both conservative and liberal perspectives and backgrounds are absolutely crucial to our work. Without this spectrum, we simply cannot achieve our mission.
Next up is training. There are some excellent individuals and organizations who work in this space. For Moishe House, we have chosen to provide training for staff and residents through the Open Mind Platform. Co-Founded by Jonathan Haidt and Caroline Mehl, they provide our staff and residents with on-going training to build up our skills and education around engaging with diverse perspectives. As they share on their website, “In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Americans discovered that they were more deeply divided than they had realized. Rising cross-partisan hatred has been intensifying an “us versus them” attitude that motivates people to accept the worst possible version of the other side’s beliefs, and the most flattering version of their own.” The Open Mind Platform provides the expertise and training we need in order to ensure that Moishe House has the skill set to do this important work with civility is key to the process. We must be able to come at this work with the goal of growing together and not demonizing others.
In addition to the training, we also must have policies in place for all our Moishe House residents, hosts and staff throughout the world that clearly articulate our commitment to serving young adults across the political spectrum. Despite swimming against the current in the growing political polarizations, if we do not spend the time, energy and resources in ensuring that Moishe House is a place that serves the full political spectrum, we will not fully achieve our mission. Again, this is not easy work. Emotions run high and perspectives surely differ but that only makes the work more important. Taking these steps as an organization will take time, patience, ongoing training, policies and cultural shifts. It is crucial in achieving our mission and everything we do must be in pursuit of engaging hundreds of thousands of young Jewish adults throughout the world. As we continue on this journey, we are happy to share what we continue to learn in this ongoing process, so please be in touch throughout.