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As we gear up for the Week of Constructive Conflict, I was reminded of my personal encounter with the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in New Orleans several years ago. Attending a Jewish conference, I confronted a dozen protesters.  Their placards said "God Hates Fags" and "God Hates Jews" and "Your Rabbi is a Whore" and "God Hates Your Feelings."
Constructive Conflict in Hebrew is machloket l'shem shamayim - dispute for the sake of heaven. The Mishnah distinguishes a dispute for the sake of heaven according to 3 sets of criteria: content, tone, and intention. According to Rabbi Amy Eilberg, this means the disagreement is about a topic of sacred import, the parties treat one another with dignity and respect, and approach the dispute not to embellish their egos or reputations, nor to shame or defeat the other, but to learn, to discover truth, "even to discern the will of the Divine."

Conflict is all around us. It is unavoidable. The key is in how we deal with it. The capacity to dissent as the rabbis prescribed contributes to critical thinking, to creativity, and to innovation. It's why Apple says "think different." It is essential to education and it is a crucial element to our success as individuals and as a people.

Westboro Baptist Church exhibits none of the qualities the Mishnah mandates.  From my brief encounter, I was sure that constructive discussion was impossible.

I was wrong. 

Two individuals (a Jew and a non-Jew) engaged one of the most virulent of WBC hate-mongers in dispute for the sake of heaven. They did not hold back their revulsion at WBC hatred, but treated her with humanity and respect. As a result of these interactions, the spokesperson for the Church, a granddaughter of founder Fred Phelps, left the WBC and renounced its theology of hatred. You can read the whole remarkable story here.

Not every conflict can be resolved in this way. But if the tools offered by the rabbis can work with members of the Westboro Baptist Church, surely we can use them to address conflict within our own community.

A few hundred of us will be studying these tools at the Feast of Jewish Learning on February 20th - learning how to apply this rabbinic wisdom for ourselves. I hope you can join us. 

David Waksberg
CEO Jewish LearningWorks
23 classes and workshops led by the best and brightest teachers and artists in the Bay
RSVP appreciated but not required. Donations gratefully accepted.

The Feast of Jewish Learning is presented by SPARE (South Peninsula Area Rabbis & Executives) Jewish LearningWorks, J., and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.  It is made possible by our community partners, our extraordinary educators, and the hundreds of participants and volunteers who have kept the Feast cutting-edge for over 16 years.
Resources For Educators

apartment for rent

The Israel Education Initiative creates and curates programs which are available for rent or purchase. These tools are meant to be used in the classroom to encourage exploration and discovery of Israel and its rich and complex history, society, arts & culturecurrent events and more.

For more information on Israel Education and Arts & Culture, or to schedule a consultation contact Vavi Toran at
Professional Development Opportunity

Enchanted Journey w/ Piyut
Experiential Workshop for Educators and Beyond 
Sunday, February 21st 1:30 - 4:30 JCC East Bay, Berkeley

Connect with the rich 
heritage of this musical tradition and the different communities from around the world, their history, folklore, food, customs and the special sounds and Piyutim they bring with them. 

Led by Rabbi Tispora Gabai & Vavi Toran.
Weekend Retreat for Women 
Joy! A Yoga, Dance and Prayer
Weekend Retreat for Women
w/ Julie Emden and Friends

Friday - Sunday, February 26th - 28th
Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma CA

Movement, yoga, dance, song, rest, play and creative expression in a gorgeous natural setting with delicious and nourishing meals. 

REGISTER HERE! (Registration Closes Friday, February 12th at 10am)
Including All Families in our Communities
Please join us for a Bay Area Week of Learning with 
Rabbinic Student & Disabilities Rights Advocate Ruti Regan.

Chabad of Greater South Bay
The Jewish Course of Why

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
7:30pm - 9:00pm
Osherman Family JCC, Palo Alto

Presented by: Rabbi Yosef Levin

INCLUDE Special Needs
Special Needs Family Camp Reunion
Sunday, February 14, 2016
3:00pm - 5:30pm
Congregation Netivot Shalom

Presented by: The Jewish Community Library 

Jewish LearningWorks
The Feast of Jewish Learning

Saturday, February 20, 2016
7:00pm - 10:00pm
Congregation Beth Am, Los Altos

Presented by: SPARE, Jewish LearningWorks, J., and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and a growing list of community partners.

Jewish Community Library
The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma
Sunday, February 21st
1:30pm - 3:30pm
Jewish Community Library, SF

Presented by: Kenneth L. Kann

Integration of the Arts
Enchanted Journey with Piyut
Sunday, February 21st
1:30pm - 4:30pm 
JCC East Bay, Berkeley

Presented by: Rabbi Tsipora Gabai and Vavi Toran

Embodied Jewish Learning
Joy! A Yoga, Dance and Prayer Weekend Retreat for Women

Friday - Sunday, February 26th - 28th
Westerbeke Ranch, Sonoma 

Presented by: Julie Emden, Mia Miriam Cohen, Kendra Fried, and Tracey Green

Exploring the World of Judaism
The Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Sunday, February 28th
9:40am - 11:40am 
Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos

Presented by: Rabbi Joshua Garroway, Ph.D and Catherine M. Murphy, Ph.D

Teen Curriculum Initiative
Teaching Holocaust through a Lens of Inclusion

Sunday, February 28th
11:00am - 4:30pm
Novato High School, Novato

Jewish Community Library
When Europe Was a Prison Camp w/ Peter Schrag
Sunday, February 28th
1:30 - 3:00pm
Jewish Community Library, SF

Co-Presented by: JFCS Holocaust Center and AJC

For Families with Young Children

Jewish LearningWorks, 601 14th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118, United States