A message from Daniel Spiro, dated July 3, 2015:
Today, I’d like to update you on the meeting of the Jewish-Islamic Dialogue Society of Washington (JIDS) that was held last Sunday at my home. I am confident that the fruits of that meeting will give our organization the jump start we need to enter the second phase of our existence.
Every year since the beginning of 2009, JIDS has held roughly ten dialogues as well as one or two social action events. We have created a lot of good will throughout the area and given Jews, Muslims and Allies an opportunity to enter into a community of friends and “cousins” in which intellectually provocative, hard-hitting dialogue is encouraged. From the time our sessions began until the present, JIDS has deliberately flouted conventional wisdom by confronting the most controversial topics we could envision and discouraging one another from pulling punches. We held numerous dialogues regarding the meaning of divinity, numerous dialogues regarding the Israeli –Palestinian Conflict (including one dialogue during the Gaza War focusing on the Gaza War), and even tackled such divisive issues as the rights of homosexuals. Most importantly, in addressing these issues, we have deliberately highlighted our differences as well as our similarities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a JIDS session inspired by this community of ours and proud to call you my friends.
But that was then, and this is now. Despite the fact that many hundreds of people now receive these e-mails, the attendance at our sessions has begun to decline and we no longer have a roughly equivalent number of Jews and Muslims at our meetings. Clearly, there is a need to rethink the model that we’ve been following. And after engaging in a bit of a soul-searching session last Sunday, here’s what the group came up with:
Going forward, a number of us will assemble on a regular basis (say, every 4-6 weeks) to plan our events. For all of the events that we plan, we will also seek partners from among Jewish, Muslim or other organizations. Our partners will be expected to assume a portion of the “ownership” of the events, which means that they will participate in the planning and/or marketing of the events so that our programs can be experienced by a growing list of individuals. Our events will continue to be open to the entire JIDS community. However, we do NOT expect to continue to offer as many as 10-12 JIDS events every year – or at least not in the near term. Instead of quantity, we wish to emphasize quality. That translates to bigger groups, but without giving up the “soul” of JIDS – in other words, we will continue to be a dialogue society, not a “grey-eminence speakers’ bureau,” and will strive to create an environment that is both thought-provoking and emotionally enriching. We will also look for ways to continue, if not enhance, JIDS’s social action component. But in the domain of social action as well as dialogue, we will look for partners. Potentially, we can forge a role as a catalyst to identify causes that the wider interfaith community can embrace and motivate different groups to join together and fight for those causes.
These are noble principles. But if we are to achieve them, we need a group of 10-20 people who are committed to the success of this organization and are willing to spend the time on a regular basis to help us turn the corner that we have envisioned. Specifically, we are looking for some of you to volunteer to come to meetings every 4-6 weeks and help us design future JIDS events (in conjunction with our partners, which should be no trouble to find, since we do have a good reputation with a number of local synagogues, masjids, and other relevant organizations). For the most part, these planning sessions will take place on Sunday afternoons, and they will be prefaced by short dialogues (no longer than 45 minutes – but long enough to ensure that this organization keeps its soul intact).
So, allow me to make a request to each of you, including (and perhaps especially) those of you who are new to JIDS but deeply believe in Jewish-Islamic dialogue. Please let me know if you are interested in serving as one of the planners who will take JIDS to the next level. We recognize that your schedule might not allow you to attend literally every session – after all, we live in a society where free time has become the scarcest of commodities — but we are looking for people who will place enough emphasis on this organization to attend most of the planning sessions. I am looking for volunteers who are Jews, Muslims or Allies. (An “ally” is someone who is neither Jewish nor Muslim but who supports reconciliation between Jews and Muslims and believes in interfaith dialogue.)
Take care, and I hope to hear from a number of you in the next week or so about your willingness to serve as a JIDS planner.