When it comes to dialogue about social change, Danny Gal generally prefers to table the discussion. As long as the table is round and plenty of people show up.
That’s what happened last September when Gal organized “The Night of 1,000 Tables” in his hometown of Tel Aviv. Spreading out in the courtyard of the Tel Aviv Museum, the event drew 5,000 Israelis for the express purpose of sitting together and launching that dialogue.
Now, Gal wants to bring a taste of it to the Bay Area by replicating those roundtable discussions at Israel in the Gardens. It will involve far fewer than 1,000 tables, but he hopes to unleash the same positive energy.
“The invitation is to come speak about what it means to belong to the local Jewish community,” Gal said by phone from Israel. “We plan to have people answer, then switch tables, allowing [them] to meet as many [people] as possible. That way we access the collective wisdom of the group, to identify the main issues in the Jewish community.”
The plan is to set up 10 tables in Yerba Buena Gardens, and hold three 45-minute dialogue sessions over the course of the afternoon, starting at 12:30 p.m.
Gal hopes as many as 150 Bay Area revelers will take part.
The invite came about by happy accident, when Israel Center director Michal Kohane met Gal a few months ago during his last swing through the Bay Area. He told her about his roundtable project, and she told him about Israel in the Gardens. Then a light bulb went off.
“Most pieces of the event were coming together beautifully, except one,” she said. “We wanted to hold some form of community dialogue and were not sure how to do it. That’s when Danny showed up.
“We brainstormed the idea of ‘roundtable community conversations’ in our community. Our federation staff committee approved, and here we are.”
An organizational consultant by trade, Gal said he has employed the roundtable idea before, often in corporate settings. As the point person for the Tel Aviv branch of The Hub, a 7-year-old international network of meeting places that host lectures, cultural events and other events, he is used to bringing many people together for discussion and interaction.
He also has fostered dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, working with the Center for an Emerging Future, an Israeli nonprofit that helps build joint projects between the two peoples.
“It’s a process of reaching partnership through dialogue,” Gal said. “Trust-building, sharing stories, listening to each other, and using the tools of the roundtable to build community and listen.”
In the midst of the intense social protests that rocked Israel last summer, Gal decided to try his roundtable idea out on a large scale with the Tel Aviv-based event.
With thousands in attendance, he had each person answer three questions: Why are you here? What are the top two changes you want to see from this? What can you do to help generate those changes, either alone or in community?
Gal compared the experience to Moses on Mount Sinai.
“Imagine the energy of 5,000 people sitting around tables in Tel Aviv and another 500 [tables] around the country at the same time, all discussing the same questions.”
He added that, defying expectations, the biggest sound coming out of the 1,000 tables was silence.
“It was silent because people mostly listened to each other,” he noted. “It was a very respectful environment. For us in the Middle East, that was almost a miracle. Beyond that, we really respected each other’s diversity, sharing our shared humanity and solidarity. It was so needed in our country.”
Gal believes there have been positive changes as a result of “The Night of 1,000 Tables.”
“I see what we did as a plug-in to Israeli democracy,” he said. “Many municipalities are now using the roundtable method to discuss issues. People are using the method as a practical tool when they want to engage the community.”
Roundtable community conversations take place 12:30-1:15 p.m.; 2-2:45 p.m. and 3:30-4:15 p.m. in the gardens.