Moving Forward in Our Multi-Party World

There is a long list of things under the header “Things I Wish I Learned in Rabbinical School”

Some things just naturally come with practical experience, things that could never be learned in a classroom. Others are educational opportunities that, if I had my druthers, I would add to a seminary curriculum. One is nonprofit management, which I was able to earn my Certificate in through the University of Washington two years ago. Another is mediation and facilitation, which I am studying right now.

Earlier this year I took the 40-Hour Professional Mediators course offered through the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County. Though I didn’t have the intention of doing formal meditations, I was encouraged to take the course because the skills themselves were applicable to many professions and situations. This was indeed the case, and the training provided me with insight in communication styles, conflict resolution and interpersonal relations.

While the 40-Hour training focused on one-on-one meditations, I also decided to take a follow up course on Multi-Party Mediation, mediation in which there are multiple parties and interests. Congregations are, after all, multi-party organizations and I figured this training would provide me with even more skills to help with my rabbinic work.

So far, so good. I’m in the middle of the training now, and have learned much about meeting facilitation, balancing interests among many people, and how to work through group conflict and process. It is good, and it is challenging.

This was made clear to me earlier this week when we held our second post-election gathering at Temple Beth Hatfiloh. Our first gathering, which took place the night after the election, was a time set aside for emotion and communal support. We sang, we shared our hopes and dreams, we reinforced our communal connections.

There was interest in having to do a follow-up focused more on what we can do. A month after the election—shloshim, the end of the initial 30-day mourning period—seemed like an appropriate time. I had a plan in mind with the hope that we could come out with concrete outcomes and action items.

But all didn’t go according to plan. There were still plenty of feelings to process, there were competing agendas and interests. Everyone came into that room for different reasons. There were reasoned arguments, raw emotion and some charged back and forth. The intention was to create a Jewish space, and to focus on actions as Jews, and people had different interpretations of what that meant. Not to say it was a bad gathering, but there were aspects that I wish would have gone better, and recognize my own desire to create an informal and trusting space was perhaps misguided, and that I should have planned better with more organization, direction and structure.

So I had a worthwhile juxtaposition between my learning and doing this week. And one of the major takeaways from this is the simple observation that groups are hard. Communities are hard.

And we are a community under more duress than we were a few months ago. As Jews and as individuals we feel a bit more vulnerable. And this adds to the difficulty.

The passion and emotion in the post-election meeting from everyone was palpable and really inspiring. I am grateful for it and for the renewed energy to communal action. We did speak of concrete next steps like letter writing evenings, getting involved in more local affairs, reaching out to local faith communities, promoting the Olympia Charter for Compassion and reinvigorating the congregation’s Tikkun Olam Committee, among other things. Things will begin to happen.

And we will continue to have conversations about what it means to be Jewish in this new environment, what we as Jews bring to the table, how do we support ourselves while also supporting other groups that are feeling vulnerable. These are all valuable and important dialogues to have.

A critical piece of this is for everyone to continue to learn, to share, to grow and to seek out new avenues of insight and inspiration. Like this rabbi, 13 years out of seminary, learning about meetings, group process, communal problem solving, active listening, constructive conversations, and fulfilling individual needs in a group setting.

For there is no other way. We are all in this together. We live in a multi-party world.

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I am a Rabbi, serving the Jewish community of Olympia, Washington and the surrounding area.

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