By Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Director of Community Relations

Early in April, I met with my friend Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi to discuss (and argue about) the Israel-Hamas war on Roop Raj’s Let it Rip (Fox 2, April 4).

This was just a week after I was invited to attend Dr. Al-Hadidi’s World Peace Outreach center’s annual interfaith Ramadan Iftar.

Each encounter brought home my conviction that there is room to be passionate and vocal about the issues we are concerned about, while maintaining friendship and respect for one another.  When I spoke at the Iftar to well over 100 Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu guests, I respected the setting and talked about the importance of valuing the life of every human being.  Now, certainly in my mind I was thinking of the over 100 hostages still in Gaza, and the 1200 lives that were massacred, raped and tortured on October 7, but no doubt many in the room, including myself, were thinking of all the innocent lives in Gaza lost because of this painful war – that, again, Hamas started, a fact which I did not point out.  There is a time for showing respect, and a time for arguing and challenging.

Yet, when we met on Let it Rip, I did push back when I did not agree with statements that Dr. Al-Hadidi was making, or his approach to a cease fire.  He pushed back as well, attacking Israel’s way of waging the war.  There was clearly strong disagreement, and this local television segment was the place for it.  However, we did not (in general!) interrupt each other, and we did not vilify each other.  In the end, we showed respect and friendship.  Indeed, while Roop Raj likes a good argument and rough and tumble on LiR, he invited us on the show after we appeared on it a few months ago, specifically because he knew we disagreed but would act with civility and respect toward each other.  So my arguments and his arguments got an airing not because we are the loudest or most shrill, but specifically because we demonstrate that to live in this society, to be a builder of our community rather than a destroyer, we need to get along and we need to show a basic tolerance for each other.

My relationship with Dr. Al-Hadidi and his wife Nada go much deeper than simple tolerance: we spent over a week together visiting the Holy Land – spending a lot of time in the Old City of Jerusalem, in Jericho and Arab and Jewish and mixed towns, and we have worked together fighting hatred for several years.

However, maybe the fact that we are friends and think so highly of each other makes an even stronger point: people can disagree about the most profound and sensitive things while maintaining a friendship and a respect towards the other.  This does not always make rational sense because if you disagree on life-or-death matters – as this war in Gaza is – then how can you still be friends?  One answer is just irrational: that is what unconditional friendship and love is all about.  Yet, perhaps a more important answer is that our society, our community, greater Ann Arbor, our universities and our schools will only thrive and grow if we can maintain this duality of disagreeing with respect, of being passionate and civil. Otherwise, we are doomed, and no one will win.

As I begin my exciting work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor after joining the professional team in March of this year, I am discovering the great diversity of this community – breaking news: not everyone here thinks alike!  However, I am also finding the deep respect so many have for each other despite deep disagreements.  I hope we can model that duality and that harmony for a world that needs such character; a world that needs both passion and concern for so many challenges, while also craving for the civility and respect that will enable us to function and somehow to find the solutions to those challenges.  I believe we can do it if we can be the example.