In the current divisive political climate, confronting opposing views with an open heart and mind may be harder than ever, but it’s also more vital than ever. That was the message conveyed Aug. 23 at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom during the Bay Area launch of a movement that seeks to heal the rift between disparate groups.
The One America Movement, founded in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, is a national interfaith initiative that facilitates collaboration through community service projects. The idea is that as people work side by side, they overcome some of the natural boundaries that divide them.
“Refusing to be divided is a profound statement of resistance,” said the program’s director, Andrew Hanauer, at the Berkeley launch.
The movement was created by interfaith leaders last November with the support of Jewish service organization Repair the World to encourage meaningful dialogue about sometimes thorny topics. “Not just talking to people that think like me, or talking to people that vote like me,” Hanauer said.
For Repair the World’s CEO David Eisner, the community service element is an essential tool to help connect groups with very different viewpoints. “That’s the chink in the armor of hatred,” he said.
After volunteers complete the service projects, the day continues with a shared meal and a facilitated conversation to further break down differences. “It’s an amazing feeling,” Hanauer said, “because it’s so easy to hide behind walls.”
He pointed to academic research showing how simply working together, eating together and talking together can shift people’s biases.
“People are more likely to hate each other if they don’t know each other,” Hanauer said.
“Geographical self-segregation in America is real,” said Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, director of Resetting the Table, who also spoke at the launch.
The problem is enormous enough that we still feel like we’re trying to boil the ocean.
Her New York-based organization uses conflict resolution techniques to build dialogue across political divides. Weintraub just got back from six weeks in Wisconsin and Idaho, where she took a team to “purple” areas that mostly went for Trump. There they sat down across political lines to have conversations focused on listening, not fighting.
“We had to do an enormous amount of work to overcome people’s understandable suspicion,” she said.
Speaking before the event, Weintraub said she welcomes One America Movement’s entry into the world of dialogue-building and bridge-building, where all hands are needed.
“The problem is enormous enough that we still feel like we’re trying to boil the ocean,” she said.
Also speaking at the launch event was Ameena Jandali, a founding member of Islamic Networks Group who develops educational presentations for the organization. ING is a San Jose-based organization that counters prejudice through education and community engagement.
She made the painful point that racism is alive even in the Bay Area, describing a recent occasion when a motorcyclist pulled up next to her car at an intersection and shouted, “Sieg Heil!”
“That was the last thing I expected,” she said.
For Netivot Shalom’s Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who introduced the speakers and is on the advisory board of the One America Movement, the kind of “big, audacious goals” that the movement is promoting fit right in with the work of the congregation, especially now.
“It’s a call we dare not ignore,” he said.
And the call seemed to strike a chord. Congregant and former Netivot board member Joan Bardus said she was there with an open mind and a belief in the power of activism.
“We can’t keep living in two Americas,” she said.
Creditor, who closed the evening with a plea for people to stay involved and stay connected, is hopeful that the One America Movement will be another way to focus on healing divides.
“From a Jewish perspective, the worst sin is hopelessness,” he said.