Navigating Tricky Israel Interactions At Synagogue

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Dear Miriam,

I just learned that someone who works at my synagogue has views on Israel that I consider inappropriate and offensive. She is not in a role where she has the opportunity to share those views within the context of her work (only in her personal life), but I am still wary of interacting with her, and I’m upset that the synagogue is employing her. What, if anything, can I do about this?


Israel Interaction


Dear Interaction,

A couple of weeks ago, my advice about a difficult work situation was basically to do nothing, so I’m hesitant to repeat myself, especially with a lack of advice. However, I do, in fact, think that doing nothing is probably your best course of action. Since you are wary of interacting with her, go ahead and steer clear. Since you think her views are offensive, go ahead and avoid engaging with her regarding anything about Israel. 

Of course, there are a few things I can offer that go slightly beyond “nothing.” If this person is sharing her views on social media, the synagogue may have rules about what employees can or cannot share in that forum. That is, even if she’s not sharing her views in an official synagogue capacity, there may be guidelines she has to follow in order to stay employed by the synagogue. If, though, the synagogue doesn’t have such rules (and, since I’m not an employment lawyer, maybe even if they do have such rules), laws of free speech and anti-discrimination may prevent the synagogue from taking any action. You can ask someone in a higher-up leadership position to weigh in on this, but know that you may end up looking like the bad guy for pointing this out, and if there’s no recourse, you’ve potentially put people in an uncomfortable situation without any legitimate action steps. 

To be a little more positively proactive, you can encourage other leaders and staff in the synagogue to make space for people with your views on Israel to come together and have a safe space. You can offer to help organize events, discussion groups, or book clubs to engage with issues around what’s happening. This way, you’ll be able to identify your allies, and within a framework where you spend time with the people in the synagogue with whom you agree, you may not have as many difficult feelings about this employee’s views. Maybe you could even find a way to take this a step further and help organize affinity groups for people with a variety of views on Israel to gather within a prescribed context, or for people with no opinion to educate themselves. 

Now, I recognize that what I’m about to close with is the opposite of doing nothing. I appreciate the difficulty of what I’m suggesting; I honestly don’t think you’re going to do it, and I don’t blame you. And yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t say this. So here’s my last suggestion: you could try to talk to this person, face to face, person to person, Jew to Jew, about your differing views. You could try to listen compassionately even to views you find offensive, as long as she agrees going into the conversation to do the same. You may not change each other’s minds, but you may be able to move past needing to avoid her and resenting her presence in your synagogue. 

I know this is an incredibly fraught time, and what you’re describing can tear friendships and communities apart. I know that people in fact do risk relationships and employment to stand behind their views on Israel, but also on other topics. There will always be people with different views from your own, and while sometimes the best course is to avoid engaging, remember that this employee likely finds your views just as upsetting as you find hers. Instead of dwelling in that disappointment, perhaps you can take the opportunity to look for instances of shared humanity, overlapping values, and potential commonalities –  if not about Israel, then about some other aspect of human interaction.

Be well,