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Making Space for Conversation

by Lynn Lancaster, Forest Hills Jewish Center


I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations since the LOMED “Living and Learning” on Sunday. Small groups of educators at a lovely restaurant relaxed and engaged in animated conversation about the role of conversations in our work. The subject was serious but the setting changed the tone. Good food, relaxed setting, wonderful colleagues devoted to the same work and a place where all we needed to do was focus on each other. Our stories are powerful, but it is only when conversation takes place that that critical relationship that Buber would define as “I-thou” takes place.

So I am thinking about the conversations that have taken place this year at Forest Hills and why they worked. Book groups in families' homes- relaxed and welcoming setting, families at ease, and a common interest. Mix it all together and the conversation was great.  Who knew that there was so much Jewish content in “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”? We’ve looked for places in our building that feel like home. Nooks and crannies, studies, I've even found room for a couch and chairs in my full to the brim office. 

Conversations need room, not just physically but emotionally.  Some of them are about particular subjects but what about the conversations that take place spontaneously. Do we have room in the world of Jewish education for those?  We have begun hosting shul-wide Shabbat play dates following Family Services.  Kids of all ages playing basketball, sitting in corners talking, board games of all sorts, ping pong – all in the same room. Parents drop in, teachers drop in. Just families, fun, community, and conversation. I think that those conversations are equally valuable. 

In the coming months I hope to figure out more ways to provide the time and place for more conversations. Perhaps that is one of the critical changes we need to make. We know how to facilitate discussions, but what do we need to do to push ourselves towards content rich relational conversations in our learning opportunities and to provide Jewish settings where everyday conversations abound?  

Perhaps the process starts through listening.

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