Len and Libby Traubman
As many sought ways to publicly express their values and concerns this past weekend, San Mateo residents Len and Libby Traubman are hoping to bridge these stories as they offer a forum for building relationships this coming Sunday.
At a community workshop called Crossing Lines in San Mateo, the couple hopes to help people of different ages and backgrounds simply learn how to listen. Working in pairs and as part of a larger group, close to 100 people will gather in San Mateo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and follow the Traubmans’ lead in listening to others’ stories and sharing their own.
“A lot of us are realizing that we are strangers even in our own nation,” said Len Traubman. “The entry point of this day and of creating our desired culture of connection really begins with the person who has the will and the skill to be the first one to listen.”
The Traubmans are no strangers to facilitating conversations between people with different, and sometimes close to opposite, views. Len, 77, and Libby, 76, have lived in the Bay Area for close to 50 years, and have been exploring ways to approach these questions for decades. Len’s work as a children’s dentist and Libby’s work as a social worker, combined with their roles as parents to their two children, brought them close to their community. But after a trip to the Soviet Union in 1984, the couple realized how profoundly having conversations with the people they had met on their trip changed their perspectives on the United States’ perceived enemy in the Cold War.
“We realized how fearful we had been based on the information we had been given but not on any experience that we had,” said Libby Traubman.
Fueled by their learning, they continued to seek opportunities to work with others outside their own circles and focused on those dealing with conflict. The couple is going into their 25th year of hosting monthly living room dialogues about the Jewish-Palestinian conflict in their San Mateo home and has advised countless other groups and communities across the globe on conversations regarding conflict resolution.
As widespread as their work has been, the Traubmans have seen their work ripple through communities, as participants in their sessions try to facilitate conversations in their own circles. They have seen one group compile a cookbook with recipes for dishes as well as recipes for relationships, and a college student who attended one of their sessions travel to Israel to bring Israeli and Palestinian musicians together in the same music group.
Documenting and recording their work has become a focus for the couple, who by request gave away 17,000 copies of a documentary detailing one of their dialogue sessions between Muslim and Christian youth in Nigeria. For Libby Traubman, helping others realize how much the effort is grassroots is almost as important as the conversations themselves.
“Anybody can do it. You don’t have to be famous. You don’t have to be real rich. It’s all about coming together,” she said.
And the couple may be able to capitalize on what they perceive as a desire among many in their community for change in recent months.
“If all these people are feeling very motivated and anxious to help make a difference and keep our country on track, we need to work together in a very creative, positive, responsible way,” said Libby Traubman. “To be against, destroy [or] tear down, slows the process.”
They hope Sunday’s event will instead turn the focus on listening and conversation.
“Change is binary,” said Len Traubman. “There is a no, but there’s a yes. And we have to paint a picture of what life is going to look like in the future.”
Though the Traubmans have been asked to facilitate hundreds of conversations in the 40 years they have lived in the Bay Area, this was one conversation they were proactive in initiating.
“As you see from the media and the news, there have been a lot of women and men on the streets,” said Libby Traubman. “But now, it’s time to get to know each other off the streets and be with each other. Be creative and know each other.”
Crossing Lines in San Mateo runs 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, at the King Center, 725 Monte Diablo Ave., San Mateo. Reservations are required. Visit traubman.igc.org/sanmateocrossinglines.htm for more information.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102