Learning How to Listen in a Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

Last week I met Len and Libby Traubman in their San Mateo home for lunch to talk about listening. The Traubmans are expert listeners, and they understand the importance of connecting. They are also pioneers because they have the courage to call out a simple truth about people that many of us seem to have forgotten: if you don’t listen to your enemy’s story, your enemy cannot become your friend.

Len is a Jew whose roots are in Russia, Hungary, and Bohemia via Minnesota. His wife, Libby, with roots in pre-Revolution America, was raised in a Midwest Presbyterian family interested in high principles but not institutional observance. Neither of them belong to an organized religious group, yet they are more spiritual than many and work actively with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders in America and internationally.

In 1992, they began what is now the oldest sustained Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group in this country with a simple objective — to facilitate the opportunity for Jews and Palestinians to listen compassionately to each other in order to understand their respective points of view. They thought that something positive could come from real, earnest dialogue between people whose lives had been touched by tragedy, people who are intimately culturally linked to each other yet entirely alienated from one another.

They were right. The process continues almost thirteen years later, as today there are many dozens of similar Dialogues active across America, including on campuses. The Traubmans have distributed educational videos and published Dialogue guidelines, at no charge, to over 2,000 people, representing 825 institutions in 570 cities, 42 states, and 39 nations. CNN, MSNBC, and NPR are among the local and international news agencies who have documented the local Dialogue Group that the Traubmans originated, and they have facilitated first-of-a-kind Dialogue encounters on University campuses, at country retreats, at family summer camp events, and even by invitation for allied military officers. At times, statesmen and politicians at the center of the struggle to bring peaceful coexistence to Palestinians and Jews in the land of Israel have participated. At its core, however, this initiative is about Everyman.

As I sat and listened to Len and Libby tell me their story, I was struck by the fact that, after thirteen years, we are still in the first inning of this ball game of Dialogue between Palestinians and Jews. But the good news is that the Traubmans and history may have found a real moment of opportunity, and that moment is now.

The Traubmans are a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn how to listen, how to bridge the gap between Palestinians and Jews. We need more Dialogue groups in America, and we need more Dialogue groups throughout the world. If you are interested in telling your story and in listening to others, you should contact Len and Libby on the web at ltraubman@igc.org, and certainly visit their website traubman.igc.org.  You never know, something good might come of it.

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