Politics: Holy War

A controversial anti-Obama letter that rocked the Jewish community — and the reputations of the prominent Philadelphians who signed it — brought the conflict in the Middle East to the banks of the Schuylkill

Indeed, Bruce Schimmel, the founder of the City Paper, wrote of how disheartened he was to attend a pro-Israel rally in Love Park last January and watch 250 anti-­incursion protesters (many of them Jews) protesting the 2,500 pro-Israel protesters. But most disheartening, he said, was the way the Jewish Federation used the protest to assert that 95 percent of local Jews unilaterally support Israel’s actions in Gaza. “For just beneath this flag-waving, many Jews living in America are deeply conflicted about the Israeli-Palestine issue, just as many Jews living in Israel are,” Schimmel wrote. “And, sadly, by fabricating a public fiction of Jewish unanimity, the people of the Bible have been reduced to hurling epithets.”


It’s this sort of frustration that has led Schimmel to work with the Jewish Dialogue Group, a nonprofit founded eight years ago by 34-year-old Northeast Philadelphia native Mitch Chanin that facilitates and moderates group conversations among Jews of varying political persuasions. In a testament to just how fraught with peril such conversation can be, some of the group’s techniques are derived from psychotherapy. Over the course of some 200 dialogues, Chanin says, he’s been encouraged by the results. “There’s a whole set of things they care about that are much deeper than what you see on a placard at a protest, or in a headline, or on a bumper sticker,” he says. “I’m surprised by how many different kinds of ambivalent opinions one person might have.”

It’s a dialogue. And in a weary, tiring, exhausting battle among Philadelphia’s Jews to sort out what’s true, it’s a start.