Which narratives define the Jewish community in Toronto? Which viewpoints dominate the cultural landscape? This is just a sample of some of the ideas debated and discussed at the Young Canadians’ Intra-Jewish Dialogue’s first event on Tuesday, April 25 at the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto.
The event began with a moderated panel discussion including Dr. Cynthia Levine-Rasky, Edward Prutschi, Adir Krafman and Yoni Goldstein as moderator. Each panelist brought their own flavour to the discussion, beginning with Cynthia’s data about dwindling numbers of American millennials self-identifying as Jewish, followed by Adir’s analysis of internal and external dissent and finishing with Edward’s perspective on people who dissent just for the sake of being dissenters.
The panelists wove personal narratives into their broader points about dissent in the Jewish community. Cynthia spoke openly about not fitting into a category, and her belief that Jews may turn away from the community when they don’t fit into the dominant narrative; for example, people may feel shamed or accused of anti-Semitism for being critical of Israel. While Adir shared that he comes from Israel, he chose to focus on ways in which Toronto’s Jewish communities can be inclusive while understanding that not everyone will fit in. Edward further touched upon the notion of diverse dialogues by emphasizing the dangers of echo chambers, a Facebook reality.
The conversation really took off in the subsequent Q&A portion of the evening (and continued to fly high in the break-out sessions) where the panelists interacted with each other and the audience to a greater degree. One audience-member voiced a number of concerns with the event centred on the panelists, as well as the perceived approach: simply categorizing the issues, rather than dissecting power struggles and examining hegemony and imperialism. This individual indicated a desire to dissent, but wondered how this event encouraged dissent. “What then is the point of this event?” the participant asked. To me, the purpose of the event was to get people talking about the dominant narratives in Toronto’s Jewish community. Do people see themselves as being represented in the Jewish organizations that exist in Toronto, or do they feel like outsiders? This event was imperfect, but it served as a platform to think further about how individual and social identities intersect.
At one point in the evening, Cynthia mentioned the need to consider unequal distribution of power when dealing with mainstream and dissenting narratives. To this, Edward responded by saying that this shouldn’t be considered a numbers game as dissent isn’t about even numbers on each side but rather the thousands listening to the one and vice versa. They both raise valid points. When discussing dissent, we have to look at where privilege and power intersect to create dominant narratives and we must also be conscious of the Jewish traditions: debate and respect for others, especially where our opinions differ.
Blog written by: Anna Press, Intra-Jewish Dialogue Steering Committee Member
Photo credit: Matthew Lipton