By Shoshanah Marcus, Editor in Chief
I recently heard the most absurd statement in one of my classes. One of my professors was discussing the events surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine and told us that he was withholding his opinion because “whenever I express myself or open a forum for dialogue here in Stern, I tend to upset people.”
I was stunned that in a university setting, arguably one of the most crucial places for exploring arguments and developing opinions, dialogue about international affairs is actively discouraged. Even more so, any event that concerns the loss of innocent life should be of top priority for a Jewish institution and discussed accordingly. In fact, YU has been phenomenally encouraging dialogue by cultivating a series of expert speakers to discuss the ongoing conflict, in addition to its more hands-on volunteer mission to aid Ukrainian refugees. Talking about current events is the least we can do to enact change, yet our community, as well as society as a whole, often suggests otherwise.
I have been watching Jubilee on YouTube for a couple of years now and I think they do a phenomenal job of allowing different sides of an issue to come, to sit down, and to have a conversation. They produce one series in particular, entitled “Middle Ground,” in which people of different beliefs come together to discuss hot topics such as abortion, the flat earth theory, and, in perhaps their most polarizing episode to date, Marvel vs. DC. I find this series particularly intriguing because it is so rare to see two completely opposite sides have a civilized discussion that doesn’t end in animosity or canceling.
As a young and admittedly somewhat naïve person, it seems like one of the biggest issues right now is that people are so unwilling to just have conversations with others. We are so concerned with political labels and blanket opinions that we refuse to speak to anyone who may disagree with us. Are our views really that fragile that we can’t even hear the other side?
As an English minor, one of the things that my English professors have stressed is to include the opposing side’s point of view while presenting an argument. In fact, acknowledging another, plausible side actually makes one’s own claim that much stronger. But, if we never confront the other side, it is impossible to ever address it. We would essentially be speaking to a mirror: having the same conversation over and over again with no progress in sight.
As members of a university, we do ourselves a disservice by not encouraging the transfer of ideas. In the Batei Midrash [place of Torah studies] on both campuses, heated debate regarding the minute details of religious practice can be heard being argued and debated throughout the day and into the night. If the rabbis of the Talmud and the students of modern-day can find a way to respectfully disagree in their pursuit of the truth, why can we not carry that into other facets of our lives? As Jews we are meant to converse and debate in our quest for ultimate truth. As the leaders of the next generation, it is incumbent upon us to learn how to engage in civil discourse.
So please, let’s start the conversation.