This project explores the potential – the opportunities and challenges – of change in the relations of Haredi and non-Haredi elements in the American Jewish community. It explores possible paths of trust building and enhanced communication between the two communities. Accordingly, it envisions behavioral change both on the part of Haredim and members of the mainstream community. As a result, a number of questions arise:
To what extent does this project contradict received attitudes on the part of Haredim toward the larger society and toward the larger Jewish community? Does the project involve changing the Haredim? Or does it involve facilitating an evolution that is consistent with their values and self-understanding, as the earlier reference to the behavior of Agudath Israel in Poland might indicate?
Do the Haredim have an interest in greater participation in the general mainstream community? What would be the conditions necessary for such participation (e.g. recognition of the value of the Haredi lifestyle and Haredi strategy in dealing with modernity)? Would their participation be increased or hindered by the fact that they have built up a community of their own (with Haredi welfare and hesed organizations)? What are the practical difficulties involved in the participation of the Haredim in the community – issues of trust, communication and the co-existence of different lifestyles?
Does the mainstream organized Jewish community have an interest in more cooperation and collaboration with the Haredim? What sort of interest? What would be their cost for greater collaboration and cooperation?
Another level of questions relates to the structure of the Dialogue project itself.
The project was initially conceived on the macro level – as a strategic initiative inspired by national demographic trends. At the same time, the actual discussion sessions were conducted on the local level. While all participants were aware of the national issue, many of them were understandably concerned with local issues and local relations between the communities. How should and could one traverse between the two levels of dialogue? Can one easily turn relations of trust and communication on the local level into cooperative relations nationally?