Can We Talk? aims to spark community conversation

Can We Talk?

By Larry Levin and Ellen Futterman, Publisher/CEO and EDITOR

When we envisioned our new series that combines news analysis with public discussion, we had a working name, News and Views, which described the concept but didn’t bring it to life. 

So when in a working meeting with our friends and partners at the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Community Relations Council, Ellen threw out the name Can We Talk?, we knew we had something that fit the concept perfectly. We’ll cover an issue substantially in the paper and then have a community evening of discussion about it to share our ideas respectfully and intimately.

 But now that we’ve lived with the name for a while, it’s become clear just how fascinating it is. Because it’s not only a clever catch line that has a down-home Jewish feel to it, but it also has a meaning that’s just a tad more serious.

 How so? Well, the word “can” really means “capable of,” so put another way, the title could read as follows:

St. Louis Ballet ad

Are We Capable of Talking? 

Not nearly as catchy, but critically important.  Now the meaning posits a true challenge to our Jewish community – can we talk about meaningful, relevant topics in a meaningful, relevant way? 

The subject of our first Can We Talk? on Monday night, June 6 shows how crucial the question is, and how difficult the answers are. 

By using Opera Theatre’s June production of “The Death of Klinghoffer” as a launching pad, we look at how Jewish social and political issues are conveyed through arts and culture, and how we react to those creations. 

John Adams, the opera’s creator, has been reviled by some, particularly in the Jewish world, for providing a nuanced view of the terrible tragedy in which the disabled Leon Klinghoffer was hurled from the Achille Lauro ship by Palestinian terrorists. After all, how can any act of terrorism be nuanced?

Yet we know Adams is not an advocate of terrorism, or at least he’s said he’s not rather emphatically. Is it possible that his creative vision raises questions more complex than a single event, even if there’s rampant disagreement and pain associated with them?

These are hard questions. There are those who saw the film “Inglourious Basterds,” Quentin Tarrantino’s revenge fantasy toward Nazis, as disrespectful of the way we ought remember the Shoah. Yet others, including many Jews, were able to laugh at Tarantino’s humor and find solace in the alternate reality of Hitler and his minions perishing in a cinematic fire. Who’s right, who’s wrong?

No one is entirely either, of course, and that’s the point. The arts can be an effective prism for looking at the most controversial of our collective issues.  Troubling, yes. Difficult, for sure. But should we banish the unique perspective of the artist simply because of our own anguish in walking along his or her path? Hardly. 

This is but the first of many issues we’ll tackle in depth on a quarterly basis. We’ll talk about Extremism in a Post 9/11 world in September, the night after the 10th anniversary of the horror that rocked America. And in December, we’ll look at Jewish Peoplehood and Identity.

We can’t promise that Can We Talk? will be easy for all, but that’s the point. It’s a way for us to assess our collective psyche to look inward at all those things that tug at the fabric of a Jewish people.

Can we? Can’t we? We can present the news and the views, but can we come together to have a community conversation about tough and interesting issues?

The choice, in the end, will be yours. Please join us for our first community conversation “Culture and Conflict: Jewish Issues in the Arts” at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6 at the JCC’s Arts and Education Building. The session is free, though we would appreciate a RSVP in advance by contacting Diane Maier at 314-442-3190 or [email protected] (or go online to to fill out a form online). A dessert reception will follow the conversation.