Get to know the man taking the reins on the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC) before I say goodbye to DC this August. Ben Lovenheim is also a huge proponent of civil discourse and talking across lines of difference, and he’s officially taking over. Get to know JMAC’s new leader and then join him for a gathering this coming Monday, July 22nd where the topic will be “Questions About Polyamory and Polygamy”.
Eli: First, who the heck are you?
Ben: Well, my name is Benjamin Adam Lovenheim, but most folks call me Ben or just text me because that’s easier. I’m from Rochester, NY. I went to school outside Boston, and I now reside in a little place called Dupont Circle. I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and eating french fries at The Red Boat on H St.
Eli: What got you interested in JMAC?
Ben: Eli Feldman’s wonderful beard, but I stayed for the people and great conversation. It was all Rabbi Aaron Potek’s doing (Aaron put Eli and me in touch. Thanks Aaron!). I was seeking out a community where I could have important and sometimes tough conversations with genuine courtesy and inviting people. If you’ve been to a JMAC meeting, you know they fit the bill.
Eli: What’s your favorite article topic/outlet and why?
Ben: My favorite things to read are conflicting takes on the same story. I love investigating why and exactly how two people disagree. In fact, I’d like to do a JMAC meeting that discusses two articles with starkly different takes on the same topic (don’t worry, they’ll each be shorter than our standard reads!).
Eli: What are the elements that lead to a great, deep convo?
Ben: I can’t even begin to describe how important this question is. It may be among the most important questions we have as a species, and I certainly don’t have a well-formed answer. But if you come to JMAC meetings, I think you’ll quickly sense that each of us are asking ourselves this very question over and over again throughout our discussions. Just asking the question is an important element.
One other interesting element has to do with the framing of the conversation. We often start out a discussion or debate with a question. From there, we can either choose to spend our time investigating the answer, or we can further investigate the question itself. Most of the time, the latter choice will lead to a greater understanding.
Eli: Why is having open dialogue so important?
Ben: With anything important––especially the views we espouse––it’s generally a good idea to open them up to careful inspection, criticism, and refinement, and to do this regularly with people we trust. This process is one of humility and integrity, and it’s one that we should be careful not to impede or constrain.
Eli: What is unique about what JMAC provides? Why does the group keep growing over time?
Ben: JMAC is one of the few places you’ll find where you can come into a meeting genuinely undecided on a topic, and that’s totally ok. You aren’t forced to “pick a side”, and you can test out ideas as you go. We also generally discuss niche topics that leave more room for nuance (e.g., we don’t just talk about guns, taxes, abortion, etc.). I think it’s that combination of interesting topics and genuine intellectual openness that keep people coming back for more.
Eli: What are some changes or additions you’re thinking about making to the group? What topics do you hope to discuss going forward?
Ben: We’ll continue to explore a variety of topics and experiment a bit here and there with the format to see what else might stick. As I mentioned earlier, I’m interested in discussing articles with opposing views. I also would love to do a special meeting in which we discuss a JMAC topic through a Jewish lens, perhaps in combination with GatherDC’s Wednesday night discussion group. I’m also open to organizing outings to local book talks and lectures.
Eli: Who should come to the group meetings?
Ben: I really think that everyone should give it a try. The topics vary widely, so even if the article for one month isn’t your jam, the next one might be right up your alley. But regardless of the topic, everyone leaves the meetings having learned something new and with more questions to chew on in the future.
About the Author: Eli Feldman is the Research Associate to the President at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan non-profit that defends student and faculty rights on college campuses. Eli graduated from Yale in 2016 with a degree in psychology. Eli is an alumni of GatherDC’s Open Doors Fellowship, from which he launched the Jewish Monthly Article Club (JMAC), a club for Jewish 20s/30s to discuss articles about a range of important topics. He is passionate about sports, music, coding, politics, free speech, Marvel movies, and tech.
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