One of us is Orthodox; the other Reform.
One of us is active in J Street and the other is a member of the Zionist Organization of America.
On matters relating to peace and security in Israel our perspectives are vastly different.
Yet the two of us find common ground when talking about our travels to Israel, and when discussing Jewish matters more generally. When playing our frequent tennis games together, we joke around and count out the score in Hebrew. We appreciate the fact that we both value Jewish continuity, and are trying to instill ethical values in our children. We don’t bombard the other with links to articles supporting our much different points of views.
Indeed what draws the two of us together, cementing our friendship, is a recognition that we are each deeply committed to the State of Israel, if in entirely different ways. We are also bound by a common concern over the shrillness of the Israel debate and the inability of people in different political camps to entertain each other’s views.
Also of deep concern is the readiness of too many in our community to demonize and assume the worst in those with whom we disagree, and by our reflexive tendency to fray into you’re either “100 percent with us or totally against us” kinds of lines. And we are troubled by the increasing tendency of those in and outside our community to converse and socialize only with those sharing common political views.
These danger signs hit home for us over the past few weeks in a direct and personal way.
We are both members of Woodmont Country Club who were disappointed and alarmed by the stridency of opinion surrounding President Barack Obama’s supposed interest in becoming a member of the club.
Despite having profound differences on the former president’s record on Israel, the two of us relish the idea of having the Obama family join the ranks of our club, particularly given the high personal standards Barack Obama exemplified in office.
Most of the members with whom we broached the subject strongly agree, and feel it would be a tremendous honor to welcome any former president, regardless of party affiliation. There is also widespread sentiment that a club founded as a haven for Jews who were precluded from playing golf elsewhere should welcome the nation’s first black president with arms wide open.
To our mutual chagrin, what should have been a no brainer turned into a referendum on Israel, convulsing the club and sending damaging signals to the outside community.
We were gratified this week by the club’s decision to extend a special membership invitation, in the uncertain event that the former president chooses to apply. At the same time we remain highly concerned over the convulsions that our club has gone through, particularly as they relate to Israel, an increasingly fraught topic across the Jewish community.
As Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove recently warned, “For a people so small, we Jews have an unfortunate knack for drawing lines, further separating ourselves into even smaller subdivisions.”
At a time when Americans are splintering into self-reinforcing bubbles, our community is too often guilty of the same thing. And sadly, Israel seems to be the epicenter of these dangerous fault lines.
May our own difficult experience serve as a warning sign and a belated wake up call.
The Jewish community is multifaceted and diverse. Let’s find neutral space and common ground where we can. Let’s not allow politics to infuse our leisure activities and dominate our social interactions.
May we build bridges and form friendships around our differences. May we as a community more constantly go from strength to strength.
Adam August of Potomac and Daniel Kohl of Bethesda write in their individual capacities as concerned members of the Jewish community. Their views do not express the official view of Woodmont Country Club or its leadership.