Malverne Jewish Center host forum on tolerance and peace


The Malverne Jewish Center hosted “From Right to Left and 70 Shades of Blue in Between” on June 6. The event, which took place at the Malverne Public Library, was an initiative to open discourse on opposing views regarding the tensions in Israel and featured guest speakers Natalie Sopinsky and Shira Dicker.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, spiritual leader at the Jewish center, hosted the event with the goal to challenge the audience’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The territory of Israel has over the course of history been a source of tension between Palestinian and Jewish groups. In the past century, motions to define internationally the geographic borders of Israel instigated violent action both from independent Arab groups and the Jewish population. The recent rise in terrorist attacks from these groups makes peace difficult to imagine, which is why Elkodsi invited Dicker and Sopinsky. The two speakers have different views in regards to the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. In addition, they each have unique experiences through their religious upbringing and periods living in Israel.

A blogger and writer who lives in New York City, Dicker said she had a conservative upbringing, as the daughter of a rabbi, and was encouraged to take pride in her Jewish heritage. Her strong Yiddish background and time at the North Shore Hebrew Academy helped reinforce these ideas. She has lived in Israel a number of times, but her repeated experiences with terrorist attacks there have jaded her interest in a permanent residency.

Dicker said she thinks that it is not impossible to make peace in Israel between the Jews and the Arabs. She is even sympathetic to the Arab population, but she sees issues with the nature of discourse and how too often, people argue before hearing the other side.

“I am saddened and resent this. It precludes conversation and engagement,” Dicker said. She later added that static opinions are not conducive to progress. “We need a willingness to tolerate and to listen.”

Sopinsky grew up feeling more American than Jewish. She was taught to keep quiet about her heritage and appreciated music more than her religion. But after visiting Israel in her junior year of college, her values changed. Sopinsky reunited her connection with Judaism and later got married to another Jew, the only person in her family to do so. She then chose to return to Israel where she raised her family.

“It’s kind of a holy life. It’s colorful, vibrant and full of action,” Sopinsky said. She later added that the people in Israel held the conviction and pride for Judaism that was lacking back home in Delaware.

Sopinsky explained that the Israeli lifestyle differs from the American, and that her town was small and quiet. “I’m a simple person and it’s a simple life,” she said. “My kids have never seen a tennis court.” Sopinsky said she was mostly concerned with putting food on the table and surviving.

Sopinsky later added that although she is peaceful and recognizes that there are good Arabs as well as bad, she is decidedly against intimate or friendly relations with Arabs.

“We associate at the store and hospital but I have no Arab friends,” Sopinsky said. “I would not bring one into my home.” The threat of the surrounding Arab clans — coupled with the hate towards Jews that she has experienced — has formed her opinion against them.

Dicker and Sopinsky differ in their views, but the two shared a peaceful and insightful discourse over their disparity, giving the audience a chance to open their minds and challenge each speaker on why they felt that way. Some audience members questioned Sopinsky’s feelings towards Arabs and the insular nature of her small community in Susya.

“We may be an insular community but many of you look with a western mind,” Sopinsky said. “Our neighbors live in caves, and at 14 my kids go away and dorm at school. They’ll see diverse friends as Israel is a mixed society.”

One guest, musician Stuart Markus, went on tour across Israel with his band, Gathering Time. “The north is peaceful with lots of old villages and the Arabs and Jews interact but don’t live among each other,” Markus said. “In the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem area, only the sound and speech can tell the two groups apart. They’re mixed and westernly dressed. The south is not wealthy and clan based without any alliances to government.”

Other audience members agreed with Markus’s point. Interactions vary across the country and the nature of Arab and Jewish relations can greatly affect the opinions of different populations on Arab-Jewish tensions.

Elkodsi hopes that the audience challenged their own views and opened themselves up to a more flexible outlook. She encouraged the community to speak more peacefully in other debates regarding subjects like Israel where there is much polarity in views.

She added that it is so common to just “preach to the choir.” The event, she said, was aimed to encourage the community to speak to diverse groups in peaceful and open ways.

Members of the Malverne Jewish Center agree that “From Right to Left and 70 Shades of Blue in Between” represents a growing support and interest in open, civil discourse. The center hopes to host more events like this to engage the community at large.