IN what is believed to be a first in Jewish adult education in Australia, Rabbi Gad Krebs from Kehillat Masada has created a series of talks, debates and discussions designed to make people feel uncomfortable – at least initially.
Debates between rabbis and a talk by the son of Palestinian refugees are all in the equation.
But there is a method to the madness.
Rabbi Krebs, who is also a psychotherapist, said the idea behind the monthly sessions called “Them – Explorations in Tolerance and Difference” emerged when he identified the high cost to society of lacking engagement with – and even fearing or misunderstanding – “other” community or religious groups and “other” ideas and perspectives.
He said the series purposely “embraces conflict” “and “constructive yet confrontational dialogue” as a mechanism that can result in growth, “by exposing our community to ‘them’ – people and groups outside the general framework of our community”.
“In a world where communities continue to drift apart and polarise one another, I was desperate to create opportunities to engage specifically with people with whom I disagree. I wanted to create a forum that could humanise ‘them’.”
According to the brochure, the events in the series “are intended to be provocative and confrontational – you will feel uncomfortable.”
The first event, on February 22, will be a debate between Rabbi Krebs and Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins from Emanuel Synagogue about the future of Judaism and the Jewish people. “Although we disagree on some things vehemently, it is important for there to be space to meet and engage with these things, as we’re all members of the broader Jewish community,” said Rabbi Krebs.
The next session on March 22 is with Hilmi Dabbagh – co-founder of the Australian Palestinian Professionals Association, whose parents departed the city of Jaffa in 1948 to live in Syria as refugees.
Other presenters in the series are Newtown Synagogue’s Rabbi Eli Cohen, Rabbi Nicole Roberts from North Shore Temple Emanuel and Dr Mahsheed Ansari from the Centre of Islamic Studies and Civilisation, while hot topics include “Islam from the Inside”, “Intermarriage – embrace or reject”, and “Understanding Messianism within the Chabad movement”.
“My aim for this series of events is to [offer] something that hasn’t been seen before,” said Rabbi Krebs.