Our Personal Journeys, Part 2 - Conversation with the Rabbi

Episode 10

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Published on:

3rd Jun 2021

Our Personal Journeys, Part 2

In this second episode of a two-part sequence, Rabbi Michael Beyo and Dr. Adrian McIntyre continue to share about their religious and cultural backgrounds and some of the key moments that changed their respective opinions and points of view.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

Transcript
Adrian McIntyre:

From PHX.fm, this is Conversation with the Rabbi, featuring open, honest dialogue and sometimes unconventional perspectives on the world we all share.

Adrian McIntyre:

At 15 years old, you're actively engaged in your theological seminary in London. You're going out Fridays to find other Jews on the street and invite them to something. What's that all about? What's the larger framework for what's happening at this point in your life?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

The larger framework is that as I mentioned, I belonged to the Chabad movement. And the Chabad movement is by its own definition, it's an outreach, almost missionary movement within Jews. Okay. So we go out with the concept and the idea that every Jew that performs a good deed, a mitzvah, a religious deed, his actions may be the one action that may God decide to send us the Messiah. So every Jew is important and every action, how minuscule as we might think it is, actually could be the action, could be the mitzvah, the commandment, the ritual commandment that will ultimately bring to a better world, to a messianic age. And so I'm fully involved in these. And the studying. I love the studying and I am very good at it. I get all the top grades and my teachers, in fact, they send all kinds of letters to my father, letting him know how great I'm doing. And yes, for the first time in my life, I think that I know where I am, that I have found my home, that I found my purpose in life. Also, especially coming from a situation in Milano, where especially at home was very tough. And so I don't have to deal with all the negativity that I had at home, and I have a lot of positivity. So that was really, really great.

Adrian McIntyre:

It must be an exciting time. I think back to my teenage years to moments when I felt some freedom and autonomy, and I was with friends and we were doing stuff. We were out on the streets. We weren't inviting anybody to pray, but we weren't causing problems either. And they were some of the richest moments in my life. And yet you don't stay with this forever. There's a turning point. What happened?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah. The starting turning point is that one evening, one of my classmates, actually was a year ahead of me, but anyway, it was a small rabbinical seminary. We were probably around 40 students, 40, 50 students. So he comes and he tells me that one of our common friends that I grew up with from Italy, from Milano, that was learning in Jerusalem, had been diagnosed with cancer. And that started to, I did not know how to handle that. I didn't know how to handle that. And I remember crying and being very distraught by this news that one of my childhood friends had cancer. We're talking, we are now in '88, '89. Probably today, 30 years later, medicine has advanced so much since then that I wonder sometimes if medicine today would have been able to help my friend. But history, it is what it is. And my friend at the age of 15, living in a different country, got diagnosed with cancer and I am helpless. And this is one of the things that I hate, not being able to help, being in a situation where I see a need and there is nothing I can do. It drives me insane. It drives me ... I can't handle that. I need to be able to help. That is what defines me. I help. And here I can't. So he went through various treatments. He went back home to Italy. He went through various treatments of chemo, not chemo. Ultimately they had to amputate his arm, they amputated his left arm from the shoulder. But he was strong. He was like, things are going to get better. And I remember the last time I saw him was a few days before Passover vacation. I had come home for Passover and I went to his house and he was not feeling well. And he was lying in bed and we were holding each other's hands, arms. We were chatting, talking, trying to uplift his spirit or he was trying to uplift my spirit. And I remember my friend asked me, "So you're going to come see me tomorrow or the day after?" Whatever. So I told him, "No, unfortunately I'm going with my family outside of Italy for Passover to Switzerland. So I'm going to be back after Passover." My memory tells me that I saw sadness in his eyes. And I never saw him again. He passed away on the sixth day of Passover. I never saw him again. And I blamed myself for many, many years. Even I blame myself for something that was so stupid in a way, that maybe I had brought some pain to him in the last days while he was alive, because he wanted me to be there to come back the next day and everything. And maybe he knew, maybe he felt something. And maybe I had brought some pain to him inadvertently. And that killed me. That was like stabbing me over and over and over again as if I had a hand in his death. So that is what happened to my friend. But the problem theologically was that all the months preceding his death, I kept hearing from various rabbis that we have in common. And that they had gone to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the grand rebbe in New York, asking for a blessing for my friend, that he should be well and recuperate. And the answer that everybody told me was that the Rebbe said that his parents will live to dance at his wedding. Growing up in Hasidic world like Chabad, when the Rebbe says something, it is more powerful than God says something. In fact, there is the saying, [reciting a Hebrew phrase] that if the Sadik, the righteous leader of the generation decrees something, God will do it. And so for me, coming from that theological ultra-Orthodox Hasidic world, I was certain that my friend will live, and that he will get married, and his parents will dance at his wedding. There was no doubt in my mind. I remember having those conversations while I was skiing in Switzerland during those days that we were on vacation in Switzerland with my friends, with my other friends. That how much I was certain. That's how much I had been taught that is the relationship between the spiritual leader of our generation and God and us. So when he passed away, my entire world started to collapse. What's going on here? If this didn't come to fruition, if this is not true, then why should everything else be true? And so just to finish up. So I went to, and I started talking to some people asking them, please explain to me, just explain to me what's going on. I don't understand. And the answer they gave me was that my friend was not a proper ... he was a broken vessel to receive the overflow of the blessing of the Rebbe, meaning the Rebbe gave the blessing, it's like a source of water, source of over pour of blessings. Okay? But if you don't have a proper recipient to receive the blessing and it's broken, no water will remain in that vessel. So since clearly my friend had died, it means that clearly he was a broken vessel spiritually and was not able to receive the spiritual blessings of the Rebbe.

Adrian McIntyre:

And you didn't find that convincing?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Oh, no. That was like, whoa. I couldn't accept that in a certain way you're making the death of my friend as if it is his fault. I did not blame the Rebbe. If somebody comes to me and says bless me, I bless. I know the worth of my blessings, but if you want my blessings, I'll give you a blessing. But the Rebbe is a spiritual leader of a community of hundreds of thousands of people or more. And if somebody asks him for a blessing, you bless. But that started for me to say, okay, then it means that he's not all knowing like I have been told. He is not... So I am starting to become a little bit more skeptic about what I had been taught.

Adrian McIntyre:

It's interesting, isn't it, that when there's a conflict between authority, tradition and your belief in the infallibility of that position, the conflict between that and love for your friend, clearly one was more powerful for you and created at least the beginning of a question.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yes. But my question interestingly, because is interesting how you put it, I loved the Rebbe. I did not put any question on him. I was putting questions on my teachers, that maybe they were misinterpreting the teachings of the Rebbe. So I was not yet at the point to question the Rebbe. That comes later. I was not yet at a point of questioning the fundamentals of the Chabad movement or of ultra-Orthodoxy, all of that. I wasn't there yet. I was blaming at that point my teachers that were giving me these kinds of answers, because I'm sure that maybe some other teachers would have given me different answers. And maybe then I will not be sitting here having this conversation with you, because I would have continued accepting the overreaching theology of Chabad and later on of ultra-Orthodoxy. So at that point I wanted too still maintain this aura of infallibility of the Rebbe. But at the same time, I had some issues, yes. The loss of my friend stayed with me for decades, decades. And even today, every sixth day of Passover, I think of him.

Adrian McIntyre:

And it's a loss, as you say, that's combined with your own sense of guilt or some heavy feeling you put on yourself, whatever the word is, that maybe you could have done more. Maybe you should have done more. Maybe in some way you played a part, something that survivors of loss I think experience in many different forms, is how could, maybe I should have done something different.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah. I blamed myself forever of ... that maybe in that moment, I should have understood, that I should have stayed in Milan, all kinds of thoughts -- as if I could have done something. But that was the beginning of serious questioning. That was a beginning of serious questioning, both of the theology of Chabad and as a result of it, also the theology of ultra-Orthodoxy and my place in it.

Adrian McIntyre:

What's the reaction from your teachers and your friends, your colleagues in the seminary, as you start to ask these types of questions? And as you start to bring a little bit more critical examination of some things? How does that go?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Completely dismissal. 100% completely dismissal. And it probably at that time, I was not even able probably to verbalize my criticism in the way that I'm doing now, but it was a complete wall. And in fact, at the end of that year, I left London. I left the seminary where I was studying, because I didn't want to stay there anymore. And as life is, I went to a different seminary in Brunoy. It's a small town outside of Paris and the experiences there were different experiences, but also they were not good. And so ultimately at the conclusion of my year of study in Brunoy, I decided not to continue my rabbinical studies, my religious studies in the framework of Chabad. So I went to other rabbinical seminaries. At that point, I moved to Israel and I studied in Israel for many years.

Adrian McIntyre:

And how old were you when you finally got to Israel?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Oh, at that point I was 18. After my 18th birthday, because I remember celebrating my 18th birthday in Paris.

Adrian McIntyre:

'90, '91?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah, it was during the first Gulf War.

Adrian McIntyre:

Had you visited Israel before?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yes. I had visited Israel almost every summer. And I had lived in Israel from the age of three months. I was born in Italy, but when I was three months old, my parents and I, and actually we moved to Israel for a few years. So the initial years of my life were in Israel. Then we went back to Italy. So I had visited Israel, family in Israel. So I had been in Israel many times, so it was very comfortable being in Israel. So I go to study in this Yeshiva that is a completely different type of seminary than I was before, because this is a religious Zionist rabbinical seminary. And even though I was raised in what one may call a Zionist home, but I was not very political. I probably, at that time, couldn't tell you when Zionism was created and why and any of that. I was more of a patriot. There is a state of the Jews and I'm a patriot of the state of the Jews. But I couldn't tell you the differences between political Zionism and ideological Zionism, and religious Zionism and social Zionism, any of that stuff. But I did know one thing that Chabad and all ultra-Orthodox communities are not Zionist, they are even anti-Zionist. So that was a interesting mix of students there and it was a good experience. It was a good experience. I remember with fondness my years in that seminary in Israel, where ultimately after a few years, I ultimately obtained my first rabbinical ordination and then my second and my third. And after I finished with the receiving my third rabbinical ordination, at that point, my own self-definition was I am a ultra-Orthodox Jew. I am not Chabad, but I am an ultra-Orthodox Jew. At that point, I decided that I wanted to go and study in college. I go to New York and I studied in college in New York. And I live in a very ultra-Orthodox community in Borough Park. It's a mixture of various types of ultra-Orthodox Jews, but this as ultra-Orthodox as it gets and my life continues. After I finish college, I go back to Israel. And again, my own self-definition that I am an ultra-Orthodox Jew. The real change starts many, many years later. It's 2006, probably 2007, is when many years later after I had been in Israel and been in business and left business. And I decided to come back to the States. I meet Karolyn who ultimately becomes my wife. We date for a very short time. And I moved to Atlanta where Karolyn was teaching at Emory. And various businesses that I was involved at the time were not doing as well as I wanted them to do. So I was looking for a side income. And so somebody told me, "Why don't you approach the Reform Temple? They're looking for Hebrew teachers and religious school teachers." And I remember asking my rabbi at the time if I could do that, if I could go and teach to reform Jews.

Adrian McIntyre:

Did you have the same question earlier when you made the pivot into business?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

No. A lot of ultra-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jews are in business. So that was not a theological problem. The problem came whether I'm allowed to put myself, so to speak, in a dangerous position of being influenced by Reformed Jews, that as everybody knows, I have been taught that they are not Jewish enough. They're not good Jews. They hate us. They go against the Torah and all the worst thing that a Jew can say about another Jew, that was the milieu upon which I had lived until that time. And I'm not a young kid. I am past my 30s.

Adrian McIntyre:

In 2006.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yes. After I've lived an entire life in the business. And I was in high tech and I was in real estate in Israel and I got married. I got divorced. An entire life. I went to study for my MA in political science. And then I did my MA in Jewish history, an entire life. Now I am newly married with my wife. My wife is pregnant with our first child and I need side income. And somebody tells me you could go and teach.

Adrian McIntyre:

So never to this point in the trajectory of your story had this kind of challenge to your identity and to your commitments been there. Not moving from Italy to the United Kingdom, not moving from London to the outskirts of Paris, not moving to Israel, even though every one of these moves involves contact with others in different ways. We could spend an entire hour just talking about the micro politics of ultra-Orthodox communities in the state of Israel.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Absolutely.

Adrian McIntyre:

But now in Atlanta, things come to a head.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Correct, because in Israel and the conflict that exists between secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel, I am clearly on the side of ultra-Orthodoxy.

Adrian McIntyre:

Right. And you are with people like you.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I am with people like me, that are sharing the same experiences, that they're sharing the same thoughts, et cetera, et cetera. That's my world. And even before that, when I was in New York, even in New York, when I come to New York before moving to Atlanta, I live again in Borough Park. That's my world. I needed additional income.

Adrian McIntyre:

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yeah. So he says yes. He says yes. Otherwise, I would not have taken it. And he says yes, so I go, and I'm very, very, very concerned. I met secular Jews in Israel. I know how to deal with a secular Jew. Okay? I don't know how, what is a Reform Jew? I have no idea. I have no idea what they believe in, what I don't believe in. What do they think of me? I have no idea. And I'm also concerned about, what if they're going to tell me to teach something that I'm against. And I met in this synagogue, it's called The Temple. And it's a very famous temple, a Reform temple in Atlanta. It's the historical temple. It was bombed during the civil rights movement. It's a very known institution in the Southeast. And I met there wonderful people, wonderful parents, wonderful rabbis, wonderful administration, that not for any moment made me feel uncomfortable intentionally. If I felt uncomfortable, was not because they intentionally excluded me or wanted me to feel uncomfortable. It was just coming from different cultures. Also, don't forget, I'm Italian, I'm Israeli. I'm not American. Definitely not from the South.

Adrian McIntyre:

And how did it go? So you were welcomed.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Yes.

Adrian McIntyre:

But then the rubber meets the road in daily life and daily interactions. How did it go?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

It was fine. It was completely fine. First of all, the myth, the lie that I have been told that Reform Jews are anti-Judaism, was completely dissolved almost immediately, because I am asked to, number one, teach Judaism. Nobody's telling me what to teach. I can teach it in the way that I want. And they asked me to teach portions of the Torah, the Bible. They asked me to teach about holidays. They asked me to teach about prayer. And I say how can you say that these Jews are anti-Judaism? Only somebody that doesn't know them that has being told about them from somebody that doesn't know them, or either you're ignorant or you're malicious, can say that about these people and this community. I ended up teaching there for seven years, almost every day. And I taught not only young people all the way to old people and everything in between. And I created good friendships there. In fact, I have a friend that was in one of my adult classes that ever since we moved to Phoenix, I still learn with him over Zoom for the last six years, twice a week. I've created a strong bond of friendship with some of the rabbis and families. And one of the real shift in me was there was a time that I was teaching a group of women about "Maxim of our Fathers." It's a Jewish text called Pirkei Avot. It's various teachings from ancient rabbis from the first and second century. And there were there a number of students, which I think only one of them was born from a Jewish mother. The rest of the ladies were either their father was Jewish or they were Jews by choice. According to Reform Judaism, you are Jewish also, if your father is Jewish. According to Orthodoxy, you're only Jewish if your mother is Jewish. And that is one of the issues that are most in the conflict of who is a Jew, how you define Judaism. And I remember coming home and telling my wife, Karolyn, telling her how the class went and what I taught and what they said. At a certain point, I said, "My Jewish students," and Karolyn pointed out to me, "You just called them Jewish students, when a few years ago you would have never called them your Jewish students." And that for me was a eureka moment that something had changed in me, unconsciously now was coming out in the front and I was even verbalizing it. And since then, I said, yeah, I look at them as Jewish. I don't look at them any differently than I look at myself.

Adrian McIntyre:

I'm sure there's many more twists and turns of the story, but I want to jump ahead abruptly from that moment to today. You lead an organization, the East Valley Jewish Community Center, part of the JCC worldwide movement, but it also has an explicit commitment to openness, inclusivity. You don't have to be a particular kind of Jew. You don't even have to be Jewish at all to feel welcome and to participate. And yet there is, and we've talked about this in other conversations, an ongoing... I don't know if question is the right word, but a sense that there's something Jewish happening. And this question of whether or not there is such a thing as Jewish values. And if that guides things and so on. How have you come to think about this question, from your initial willingness to include these folks who you would have previously excluded from the category, to today, where you are leading an organization with an explicit embrace of diversity and multiplicity? How has this question of what is Jewish about all this? How does it sit for you now?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

It's complex, because on the one hand, yes, the JCC is 100% open to every individual, period. There is no if, there is no buts, there is no when, period. We're open for every individual. And I love that, because we get to learn from each other and interact with each other and be part of the community and help the community. At the same time, I could not do that if I was not fully aware of my individuality as a rabbi, as an observant Jew, as we said, at a time was belonging to a multiplicity of tribes. Meaning my ability to openness is because, number one, I realize that I am a mixture of different things. I am a mixture of different people coming together over the centuries to make who I am. And because of my history, I am a mixture of different country, different cultures and different upbringing. So I bring within me a universality in a certain sense, but I can appreciate that. And I can be honest with myself and with others only because, that's my contention, is because I am also individual, meaning I am a Jew, I'm an observant Jew, and that is very important to me. I don't know if I could do what I do if I were not deeply committed to my religion. I don't know if I could do what I do if I were not deeply committed to my people. It's because I'm deeply committed to my Jewish people that I can appreciate and learn from other people, because I don't see them as threatening. I am secure in my own self. I am secure in who I am, so I can open myself up to learn from others. But that is because I am secure in who I am. I think that if I were not secure in who I am, I would be afraid of all of these influences that may turn me away from my history, my people, my religion, my community, my culture. So paradoxically is because I am maybe paradoxically because I am very committed to my Jewish roots that I am able to be so open to everybody with love, without any short of desire to change how people are. I want to be able to help people in whatever journey they are, even if it's the journey that is not mine.

Adrian McIntyre:

It reminds me of a lesson that I learned at the same time as you were in Israel and in rabbinical seminary there, the early '90s, I was an undergraduate student in Southern California at a Seventh-day Adventist university. It was a solid liberal arts university with a religious affiliation, but I was able to study philosophy and history and social science and get really solid training in those areas. But I also had requirements to take religion classes, which I did somewhat begrudgingly. At that point, I had personally left any sense of commitment or belonging to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, or any church. And I had a professor who I had known my whole life, because it's a small community and he lived a quarter mile away. And his kids were in my class in elementary school all the way through. But Professor Charles Teal taught a course that he called Biblical Ethics in the Modern World. I had to take this class twice because the first time I took it, I failed. I got an F and dropped out of college. And then when I came back, I wanted to get that F off of my transcripts. So I took his class again, and he looked at me and said, "McIntyre," he had this really horrid voice, "You're back. I hope it works out better this time." But in this class, Biblical Ethics in the Modern World, what he was really having us grapple with is what lessons can we learn from prophets in the Hebrew Bible. They call it the Old Testament, obviously. But he would teach Amos and others, and then ask us to think also about civil rights leaders and liberation theology folks in the Christian tradition and really grapple with this question of what he called individual in community. The metaphor that stuck with me was very much like what you're saying. On the one hand, you have rugged individualism, which is like an egg carton. Every egg and its own compartment. They're all eggs, but they're separated from each other. They're completely in their own place. Rugged individualism, the egg carton. On the other hand, you have eggnog. Everything's been cracked into one blender and whizzed together until everything is essentially the same in its egginess, all just whizzed together and there's no differentiation. And he found both of those to be a poor metaphor for what it means to try to live Biblical ethics in the modern world. And what he was preaching instead was the egg basket. Here we are together, rubbing up against each other, rolling around in the same basket, i.e., world. Together, but different. Touching and in a sense, our fates bound up together. Because if that basket falls off a cliff, bad things happen to all the eggs inside the basket, but unique. And as simplistic as it is, this idea of don't be the egg carton, don't be the eggnog, but find a way to rub up against each other as we go through this world together was a profound message. It's a silly metaphor, but it was a profound message. And I hear some of that in what you're saying. You don't change who you are by rubbing up alongside other eggs in this basket.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

You don't change, but it would be good if you learn from others.

Adrian McIntyre:

Yes.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

I don't think that I have... I have definitely changed since the time that my own self-definition was ultra-Orthodox. And now, as you have heard me say, when I have serious conversation, I don't even call myself Orthodox anymore. I say I'm a Sephardi Jew that tries to live according to what I'm supposed to, and I fail miserably day. We can learn from everybody, and we should be able to learn from everybody. But you can do that only when you are really, when you are an egg, when you are really complete. Not complete in the sense of I can't learn more, but when you know who you are.

Adrian McIntyre:

And you're not trying to crack your shell to disappear into sameness.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right, yes. But interestingly, I am the only Orthodox rabbi that leads at JCC in the world. And I have been struggling with that. Why is that? Because we see many other national organizations where there are Orthodox rabbis leading those chapters like Hillel in various universities, often, if not all, but often they are led by Orthodox rabbis, or they have Orthodox rabbis on staff. And a JCC, for reasons that I'm still trying to figure out, they have not been as open to Orthodoxy.

Adrian McIntyre:

Do you feel that that's coming from the JCC organization or do you feel that's coming from Orthodox rabbis staying away?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Both. And everybody blames the other. And it's very sad. I fully realize that when I go to JCCA Conferences, I am different. Not because my accent, not because I'm Italian, not because I'm Israeli. I am different because of my background. I see things differently. I interpret things differently. And often my voice is not heard because is one among 150. And the reason even a conscience, a desire to hear a different voice. If my different voice was a different voice from a liberal perspective, then it would be heard 100%.

Adrian McIntyre:

And maybe not embraced ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Maybe not embraced.

Adrian McIntyre:

... depending on how far to the left it went. But ...

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Adrian McIntyre:

As somebody who's aligned by training and temperament with the left, and very much in many conversations, I find myself on the left of the left, in the sense of upholding a commitment to justice and equality above institutions and above traditions, even when those institutions and traditions are leftist ones, I would say, it's very clear to me that you are NOT speaking from that perspective. And yet there is something compelling. Although you and I personally disagree on many topics, there's something very compelling about the rootedness of your conviction and commitments in your theological tradition. That's not my rootedness. My rootedness is more of a humanitarian one. And yet I find sometimes, although we are disagreeing about points of view and interpretation and so on, that the fact that you're rooted in your tradition and yet open to uncomfortable conversations, and that I'm rooted in my tradition, and yet open to uncomfortable conversations, we can talk with each other instead of at each other.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

Right.

Adrian McIntyre:

As we wrap up this episode, I'm left with a question for myself, and I'll pose it to you. What can we all do better? There's ways in which we all need to loosen the grip of our dogma so that we can dialogue. What needs to happen so that we can engage together all of us in our differences, in the kind of community, the kind of vision for what it means to be the same and different? What needs to change?

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

My one cent answer is that a few things every individual needs to do. Number one, we don't hold the truth. We should aspire to reach the truth, knowing that we will never reach it. Only God has the truth. And until you or I become God, we can attempt to understand what the truth is, knowing that we will fail, but at least we have to attempt to reach the truth. So starting from that premise, it means that you may say things that I completely disagree, but they might have some truth in them, because I don't know the truth. I cannot go into a conversation thinking that whatever you are going to say is 100% wrong. I need to be able to say before I even start that, Adrian, even though I disagree with him on X, Y, and Z, but within X and within Y and within Z, there is truth. And truth is truth and I need to accept it. Maybe uncomfortable, maybe hard to hear, but I need to accept it, because it's the truth. And as my Maimonides says, [reciting a Hebrew phrase] we have to accept truth from wherever it comes. We have to be humble.

Adrian McIntyre:

We are at the end of the day all humans on a rock spinning in the middle of space, surrounded by a whole lot of nothing.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

And that's brings me to, we need to recognize the human dignity in the person that sits across from us. So even though you may have the truth and on certain topics, you know that you have the truth, be careful how you express it, so not to hurt the feelings, sensitivity of the other person. So even if I have a person in front of me that I know that is a schmuck, I may not necessarily tell him that. I don't want to hurt him. So what I'm saying is I may think that I hold the truth in a specific topic, and that you're completely wrong, but I need to be careful how I express it, because I don't want to hurt your feelings. I don't want to hurt your sensitivities. And I don't want to create an argument. I want to continue a conversation. So be careful how you express your truth or even the truth, if you think that you have it.

Adrian McIntyre:

You know, that was a very lefty, liberal sounding kind of statement. I agree with you. And I think for the same reason, so I want to end with this thought. I also believe we shouldn't hurt people, but not because I think it's inherently bad to hurt somebody's feelings. I was raised with a kindness doctrine and all the rest, but at the end of the day, what I really think is important is we know, from our own personal experiences, as well as from the history of our species, that hurt hardens people and that hardening people prevents connection. And that without connection, we can't converse, we can't communicate, we can't learn. So my greatest concern, back to this egg metaphor, is that we hard boil the eggs and then nothing becomes possible because we're locked in to that form. I think it's just practical. The reason not to engage in hurtful speech and in the kind of labeling and accusations that I know you chafe against when they're directed at you. I chafe against when they're directed at me, is because they end conversations. They harden us into our positions and whether it's in our marriages or in our interactions, in the community, or with people who aren't like us in some way, shape or form, the one thing we've got to be working against is the hardening of our fellow humans and ourselves. Because if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that hurt people, hurt people. And we have hardened ourselves individually and collectively in all the various ways we divide that pie. We've hardened ourselves to the point where we are doing daily damage to our ability to navigate this life together. And we need to undo that. We need to un-harden our conversations.

Rabbi Michael Beyo:

And also I would like to add that we shouldn't be afraid of disagreements. We shouldn't be afraid of saying, "I disagree with you and it's okay." It's okay to disagree. We don't have to live in a “Kumbaya” fake, all together. No, we disagree and it's okay. That's why you're Adrian and I am Michael, and we have different points of view. But because we have different points of view, if we work together, we will be able to do so much more good help, building something, creativity, whatever, because I come from my perspective and you come from yours, and they're different. So if you put them together, we can do something that each one alone could not have done, could not have achieved. Whether that is in business, technology, science, art, religion, culture, history, whatever, human interaction. And that's why, you asked me earlier why the importance of the definitions of words, because we need to know who you are. If I don't know what are Jewish values, but I claim that my institution has Jewish values, then I'm not doing anything. We need to know what are Jewish values, what are Christian values, what are Muslim's values. So I know what they are. Maybe some of them are similar. Maybe some of them are different. It's okay. But if I don't know who I am, I cannot help, I cannot do, I cannot learn, I cannot improve. And I think that's a difficulty with most people or individuals, because we belong to institutions often. And institutions don't look at individuals. And institutions are very black and white. And that's a difficulty of the challenge and the tension between the individual and the institution. May that be the school, the religion, the party, the nation state. And there is this tension.

Adrian McIntyre:

I'll end with a reference to Aristotle who also believed very strongly in the importance of defining words and using speech carefully. He upheld the older Greek view that the highest good for humans was a principal named eudaimonia, which is sometimes translated as happiness, but really in its original sense ought to be understood as flourishing. If the highest good for human beings is flourishing, then our sameness and our difference isn't the point. It's part of it, but it's not the goal. The goal is not to clarify the ways in which we're more alike. That's table stakes, that's basic stuff, but without understanding our similarities and our differences, we can't be united in working toward this goal of human flourishing. We can't be bettering ourselves and others in the world in which we have our human experience. And so to me, at the end of the day, all the polemics, all the rhetoric, all of the arguing, to the extent that it prevents this engagement that leads to growth, that leads to flourishing, then it's the problem. And conversation is the solution.

Adrian McIntyre:

If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe to Conversation with the Rabbi on your favorite podcast app. You can also find the latest episodes online at ConversationWithTheRabbi.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I'm Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Conversation with the Rabbi.

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About the Podcast

Conversation with the Rabbi
Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, talks with an eclectic mix of faith-based and secular leaders from around the world.
In an era of political division and polarized debate, we are losing our ability to hear each other. The volume of our disagreements is at an all-time high, while our ability to communicate with kindness and empathy is at an all-time low. This podcast seeks to change that by engaging people from different backgrounds and beliefs in good old-fashioned conversation.

Listen in as Rabbi Michael Beyo and anthropologist Dr. Adrian McIntyre spend time listening, sharing, and discovering common ground in an effort to understand and appreciate the wondrous diversity of our human family. From interfaith dialogues to discussions with business and nonprofit leaders, this podcast shines a spotlight on the different ways we can learn to live, work, and worship together in a contentious and conflicted world.

We invite you to use these conversations as a lens to open up new understandings of self and the other, to develop empathy for diverse viewpoints, and to explore what is possible when we listen to others with respect.

Conversation with the Rabbi is a project of the East Valley Jewish Community Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, neighborhood organization that has served individuals and families inclusive of all races, religions, and cultures since 1972. Visit us online at https://www.evjcc.org

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Rabbi Michael Beyo

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Rabbi Michael Beyo is CEO of the East Valley Jewish Community Center in Chandler, Arizona. He was born in Milan, Italy and has lived in Italy, England, France, Israel, and the United States. An Orthodox Jewish scholar with a successful career providing religious guidance to all the Jewish denominations, he was ordained as a rabbi in Israel, where he earned three Rabbinical Ordinations of the highest honor. In 2015 Rabbi Beyo moved to Arizona from Atlanta, where he had served as the Chief Development Officer for Hillel of Georgia, overseeing 12 colleges and universities. Prior to that he served as the Executive Director and Rabbi of Boston University Hillel, as well as the Jewish Chaplain for Boston University. Rabbi Beyo brings over 25 years of professional, entrepreneurial and non-profit experience in education, cultural, humanitarian, social and religious sectors. He successfully ran several start-ups in Israel before dedicating his career to the nonprofit world.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

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Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.