Controversy and civil conversation

Controversy and civil conversation


It’s been a stressful week or so for those who like to keep up to date with the news, no matter how you like to consume that news.

Lots of controversy in Congress, the Supreme Court and on the streets across our country. Guns. Abortion. The Jan. 6 hearings. The economy. Iran talks. Voting rights.

I’m not interested in using this column to discuss the specifics of all this news. I’m not advocating for one opinion or another. What I’d like to point out is our ability – and freedom – to discuss the issues of the day.

Isn’t it nice to be able to “discuss among yourselves” in a civil fashion?

We have something that not every country has: freedom of speech. It’s guaranteed in our Constitution.

That is why, while protests of all types are difficult to watch, they are a vital part of our society.

That’s where the civil part comes in. You and I ought to be able have a conversation about controversial issues of the day, listen to each other and perhaps learn something. It can be energizing to have a conversation where each participant listens to the other. But that’s becoming more and more difficult among some people who find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.

Here’s where I will advocate for a specific point of view: listen to your neighbor. It may be difficult. And it may not change your mind.  But everybody needs to be heard for our country to move forward. We all have common ground somewhere. We just have to find it. Lately the focus has all been on the differences.

At Jewish Rhode Island, we started trying to foster conversation in 2019 with a feature called The Conversation. Notably, the first topic addressed guns. We asked two community members to write on the topic “To carry or not: Guns in the synagogue.”  We invited readers to respond.

It was right after the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh and the topic was a hot button one.

Clearly that controversy hasn’t gone away.

But it was hard to find contributors to have these on-the-record conversations on a variety of topics.

Now we want to offer you, our readers, and the Jewish community of greater Rhode Island another opportunity for safe and civil debate with a revival of The Conversation.

This time, we want to know what topics you’d like to discuss and, perhaps, suggestions of volunteers who would like to write (approximately 800 words) on a question or topic. Our format would include – and encourage – space for reader response.

Community input is a vital part of this discussion.

And Jewish tradition tells us to speak up. As Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jewish theologian and philosopher, famously wrote “the Prophets sought to convey… that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself; that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

So help us foster some new conversations on topics of interest to the Jewish community. Send your suggestions to or by mail to Editor, Jewish Rhode Island, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence, RI 02906.

Fran Ostendorf, Editor