My conversations with Tonya are always fun. Each week, on my radio show we take a look at the big news stories that have dominated the press. We laugh uproariously at the antics of South African government officials, we are obsessed with Zondo and we roll our eyes more than we should, given that it’s not television and that no one can see us.
The tragic events of some weeks make the conversation hard and painful, and we always we react with the same horror at the increasing cycle of poverty in the country. And at the abuse that the women of the South Africa face. Together we have hatched plans to feed the hungry and to save the world. And maybe we have even done a bit of both. In a small way.
Last week’s conversation was our hardest.
I am an observant Jew. Tonya is a practicing Muslim. I am a Zionist. Tonya is not. We respect each other’s religion. We care for each other and for each other’s families. But given what is going on the Middle East, I was reluctant to speak to her. I didn’t want to fight with her on air and part of me was hoping that she would cancel the week’s segment in order to avoid the conflict. It turned out that she felt the same.
Before I knew it, it was time for Tonya’s slot and she was live on air. Her voice told me everything. She very clearly was feeling the same tension as I was.
We both hoped that this would not be her last time on my show.
I hadn’t prepared properly. I knew that Tonya had very different views and a very different narrative to mine. I knew that she was angry and upset by her perception of Israel’s behaviour, regarding the Mosque and the evictions, and she knew that I was too by the barrage of rockets that had been showering Israeli towns. I was anxious for my son who lives in Tel Aviv had spent a good part of the last week in a bomb shelter, listening to sirens and the sound of explosions overhead. He had just told me that he was leaving the city to go North to his fiancés’ parents who lived in an area that the Hamas rockets could not reach.
Neither of us entered the conversation in the best frame of mind.
Moments before we went on air, CEO of the radio station, aware of my concern, sent me the following comment. “Howard, if you and Tonya can’t have this difficult conversation, then I’m not sure who can.” She was right of course. It was time to man-up and for Tonya to do the same (gender reference aside). Because indeed, if the two of us couldn’t manage this, then what hope could there be for anyone else.
I opened with that statement. I went on to say that we have different narratives and that I would like to hear hers. I said, that following Tonya’s account, that I would like for her to listen to my version of events. It didn’t work perfectly. Listeners reacted and accused me of “selling out.” Others suggested that I wasn’t being honest and debated the specifics of the statement.
But it was not about the details. Or about winning a point. It was about the ability to have a conversation and about being able to hear a “Truth” that is not our own and to be able to respect the person delivering it. With that as a focus, we both maintained the view that this was about the ability to have a conversation. And not about proving one thing or another.
It turned out that we listened to each other, that we could agree on a number of things. I agreed that Israel should have avoided entering the mosque. I didn’t agree that it was acceptable to bring stones and weapons to prayer and we both condemned the shelling of innocent civilians by Hamas. Neither of us are fans of Netanyahu. And both of us are worried about my son, and other people’s children living in a war zone.
More than anything Tonya and I were able to have a conversation and to navigate a discussion that could have had a terribly negative impact on both of us. We didn’t shy away from it and our friendship is stronger for it.
I didn’t change Tonya’s view. And she didn’t change mine. But we both recognized that behind the politics and the hate are good and kind people who all want the same thing. We ended with me wishing her Eid Mubarak, with Tonya wishing me a shabbat shalom and then we continued our normal banter on WhatsApp after the show ended. And now, because we went there and because we respected and heard other, I can look forward to chatting to Tonya on air this Friday where we will laugh uproariously at the antics of our politicians. And roll our eyes more than we should.
Given that it’s not television.