Echoes of Elul, Day 11: How Far Apart Are We Really?

By Jeff Merkow

Over the past year, I’ve done a great deal of reflection on what separates us from one another — as a nation, as a community, as individuals. Increasingly, it doesn’t feel safe to engage in conversations, as the risk of offense, and even permanent damage, just appear to be too great.

I truly long for a time when we’re able to have a spirited dialogue, where we actively listen to each other, try our best to see the other’s point of view, and leave the conversation better for having engaged.

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions. He says that we are gifted or, actually, cursed with “moral intuition”—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are just plain wrong. How could the facts be so very clear to us, yet they just can’t or won’t see them?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a Zoom session that featured the authors of a relatively new book called, Union: A Democrat, a Republican, and a Search for Common Ground. The authors, Jordan Blashek and Chris Haugh, are thirty-somethings, who met at Yale law school. Jordan was a Marine veteran, and a conservative. Chris was a speech writer, in the Obama administration (as an intern), then in the Department of State. He is a Democrat. Both are Jewish.

As they got to know one another, Jordan and Chris’s friendship blossomed, not in spite of, but because of, their political differences. So, they decided to hit the road in search of reasons to strengthen their bond in an era of strife and partisanship. The book is a three-year adventure story that takes the reader across 44 states and along 20,000 miles of road to find out exactly where the American experiment stands.

I found the Zoom session, with these two charismatic men, to be tremendously enlightening, uplifting, and thought-provoking. The book, which I have now read, is part civics lesson, part travel log, and one large part a series of personal reflections on how to better listen and discuss our differences.

I came away wanting to share their story with my TBS family this High Holy Day season. I decided to reach out to Jordan and Chris to see how we could make this happen. And, most fortunately, they have agreed to be our Selichot speakers this year! I hope you’ll join me for this discussion.

But, most of all, I wish, for all of us, a happy, healthy and enriching New Year.

L’Shana Tova

Jordan Blashek and Chris Haugh will be presenting an interactive Zoom session on September 12, at 7pm. Immediately following this discussion, the TBS Selichot service will be streaming at 8:30 pm. You can register for the discussion at You can also purchase the book on Amazon, or at, should you want to read it ahead of time. Thank you!

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