Talking Pluralism at the Wexner Foundation

February 10, 2015

For many years, Rabbi Or Rose of Hebrew College in Newton and Public Conversations Founding Associate Maggie Herzig have known one another and appreciated each other’s areas of expertise and teaching. This year, they finally had the opportunity to teach together. Or invited Maggie to collaborate with him in designing and delivering a series of five seminars at the Wexner Foundation. Wexner is a nonpartisan, interdenominational, pluralistic organization that offers graduate fellowships for extraordinary young Jewish leaders to realize their potential as rabbis, leaders of Jewish organizations and scholars in Jewish Studies. Maggie and Or visited the fellows’ four-day Winter Institute in Fort Myers, Florida.

The topic at hand was Meeting the Challenges of Pluralism through Facilitative Leadership. The seminar addressed the fundamental question: What is pluralism and what does it require of us as leaders? Grounding the work of intra-Jewish pluralism in Jewish texts and traditions, Or and Maggie taught the fellows about a particular kind of leadership that is so often needed in communities and small organizations – leadership that eases, tensions, promotes understanding, and helps all involved to bring their most open-hearted intentions to encounters across differences.

The Fellows learned about theoretical and practical foundations, engaged in a single session dialogue, and worked with case studies. Or and Maggie, with the words of both Diana Eck and Parker Palmer in hand, suggested that pluralism requires more than engagement and more than seeking understanding. It also requires the humility to accept that full understanding isn’t always possible. When attempts to understand reach their limit, when it is nothing short of a mystery why others have the deep convictions they have, there’s more that we can do. We can greet that lack of understanding with awe and wonder, resisting the need to fix the gap or change the person.