I’ve met Rabbi Melissa Weintraub a few times, most notably last year at Limmud NY, and she’s just completely amazing on so many levels. One of the awesome things about her is that she was one of the founders of Encounter Programs when she was living in Israel. Here’s Encounter’s mission statement:
Encounter is an educational organization dedicated to providing Jewish diaspora leaders from across the religious and political spectrum with exposure to Palestinian life.
Motivated by the relentless Jewish pursuit of hokhma (wisdom) and binah (understanding), Encounter programs bring participants on journeys to engage with Palestinians face-to-face and witness realities first hand.
Within a supportive, uniquely caring, and pluralistic framework, Encounter invites participants to ask questions and grapple with fresh perspectives, in order to create human connections across lines of enmity, and expand personal and political understanding.
Israel education is a hugely important factor in any Jewish community and Jewish life, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever gotten an adequate exposure to Palestinian life, and I think it’s incredibly important for Jewish leaders to talk from a place of experience when they talk about the conflict, and that means visiting Palestinian homes and engaging with Palestinians. So I hope I’ll be on an Encounter program soon.
I have a number of friends who have been on Encounter trips and they’ve all come back feeling confused by enlightened. And maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but that sounds like exactly the appropriate reaction to the situation as a whole.