‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ might be the elixir we all need

The concept of the book is simple: Two friends—one Jewish, one not—get out of their bubbles and chat.

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Friends and co-authors Emmanuel Acho and Noa Tishby. (Photo credit: John Russo)

 Here's what I wish for my daughters: Fifteen years from now--when they go to college, I'll come visit them on campus. They'll introduce me to dear friends they've made from diverse backgrounds. Then we'll wander through the quad and take in a peaceful scene of students eating lunch and studying together. Later, we'll have Shabbat dinner at Hillel, where we won't need to be greeted by armed guards. 

I wish that by the time my daughters are old enough to understand, I won't have to explain virulent antisemitism as a current event. That this horrible moment that the Jewish people are living in--when the number of hate crimes targeting Jews has jumped more than 338% since October 7--will only be something they read about in history books. 

These wishes feel unattainable right now, but a new book-- Uncomfortable Conversations With a Jew- -offers a great starting point. The book is co-written by Emmanuel Acho, a non-Jewish Black sports analyst and former NFL linebacker, and Noa Tishby, a Jewish, Israeli-American actress and producer who has pivoted from acting to activism on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel. 

The concept of the book is simple: Two friends--one Jewish, one not--get out of their bubbles and chat. They ask and answer tough and "uncomfortable" questions about the Jewish experience on religion, culture, history, and Israel:: "Did the Jews kill Jesus?" "Are Jews white?" "Why are Jewish people history's favorite scapegoat?" No question lies out of bounds.   

In true Jewish fashion, dissent and questioning being encouraged, the book aims at building understanding--not necessarily agreement. "It's a no-judgment space to answer the questions you've thought about but might have been too nervous to ask," Tishby writes. "It's a real space for me to give uncensored answers. Because I don't believe in 'safe spaces;' I believe in real spaces." 

In their dialogue, Tishby offers much-needed context, enlightening readers, Jewish or not. The authors explore Judaism itself as a religion, peoplehood, and culture. Then, they take a deep dive into the tropes, stereotypes, and catalysts that have precipitated the rampant antisemitism we're witnessing today, and unpack how Jews are targeted from both sides--"not white enough" for some and "too white" for others.   

The seed for the book was planted long before October 7. Acho had reached out to his friend Tishby more than a year before that horrible day, asking how he could help amplify her message fighting anti-Jewish hate to a wider audience. Then, most headlines about antisemitism contained the name "Kanye." Who would have thought one year later, we'd long to return to those calmer days? 

Acho, the son of a Nigerian-American pastor, created the book series "Uncomfortable Conversations," including Uncomfortable Conversationswith a Black Man  in 2020, with the refreshing idea to lure readers out of their echo chambers and educate them on someone else's perspective. 

After all, "If you can become aware of someone's experience," he writes, "it allows you to be more compassionate." The new book emerged, he said, because he wanted to become an ally--to "lend my heart and my hand to a community I am not a part of." 

What a beautiful segue into the June issue of Jewish Chicago magazine, which explores love of all kinds. Because more than anything else right now, that's what the world needs. 

"It's a no-judgment space to answer the questions you've thought about but might have been too nervous to ask..."

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