Participants of the “Eilu v’ Eilu Leading and Living in Polarized Times” intensive.
Monday, February 6, 2023
HUC-JIR’s Cincinnati campus has long been a place of academic discourse and discovery. Carrying that tradition on for a new generation of scholars, HUC-JIR launched “Eilu v’ Eilu Leading and Living in Polarized Times,” a week-long learning intensive, this January. The intensive, led in partnership with the One America Movement, offered students from different backgrounds and academic programs committed to reducing polarization in their professional and personal spheres a unique collaborative teaching and learning experience.
This program reflects ongoing efforts to reimagine how the Cincinnati campus can serve HUC-JIR’s community, in part as a place for gatherings and learning forums. It was taught by Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin ’16, Director of Jewish Programs at the One America Movement, and Rabbi Jessie Wainer ’16, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim.
Rabbi Provost Andrea L. Weiss, Ph.D., ’93 remarked, “This innovative partnership with Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin and the One America Movement allowed us to add the timely topic of polarization to our curriculum and help students gain critical skills for their work as clergy. The program also introduced students from Los Angeles and New York to the academic and cultural resources in Cincinnati and to some local Cincinnati rabbis and faculty.”
Learning on the Cincinnati campus.
“It has been a true gift to spend three and a half days teaching and learning with ten bright, thoughtful, and kind HUC-JIR students,” Rabbi Schmelkin shared. “They approached all of our conversations about polarization and divisive topics with grace, curiosity, and maturity. The students give me hope for the future and I leave this week reminded how critical it is for clergy, especially future clergy, to gain the skills to navigate division in the myriad of contexts in which it arises. It was such a privilege to be part of the learning and growth of these future rabbis and cantors, and I am excited to see what they do with all of the lessons and new information imparted to them by various rabbis, scholars, and practitioners throughout this past week.”
Students learned about real and perceived divides in the U.S. from experts at More in Common, discussed the relationship between trauma and polarization with Jasmine Ramsey from Beyond Conflict, heard from Rachel Wahl, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, who studies dialogue across divides, and learned from Kurt Gray, Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about how beliefs about vulnerability and harm impact polarization.
Participants engaged in programming.
“Eilu v’ Eilu was an invaluable week of learning with classmates from all years and stateside campuses,” rabbinical student Eden Glaser said. “With sessions both in-person and online, it modeled how well-curated learning can involve experts from all over the country teaching people who are in the same room. I am so glad to have had this opportunity as a rabbinical student as I gained a toolkit that will aid me both personally and professionally for many years to come.”
Participants discussing their learnings.
Throughout the challenging program, the students gained skills to help them navigate division in their communities and grew their ability to manage their own triggers and listen to others, especially those with whom they may disagree. Building on the success of this pilot program, plans are already underway for another January intensive in Cincinnati next year.
Photo credit: Janine Spang