Orly Israel set up a “listening table” around L.A. with a handwritten sign taped to the front of the grey plastic folding table: “Here to Listen” and “No judgment, no advice, no charge.”
Now he is traveling across the United States, with his table. “The cross-country adventure came as an opportunity,” Israel, a Palisades residents said. “I wanted to answer the question – does listening look different in different places?
“I felt like the skills I was learning were effective and important, but they were most learned in a few areas of Los Angeles,” said Israel, a Palisades High School graduate. He initially thought about traveling to neighboring California cities, but “a friend of mine with a camper van said he was driving to New York for an event and offered to make a whole road trip out of it.”
He left on April 1 traveling to New York City. On his way, he stopped
in Tucson, Austin, Houston, Baton Rouge, Pensacola, Atlanta, Asheville, DC, and Ocean City. “I’ve set up a table in all of those cities,” Israel said.
He was asked if he found any major differences in topics or listening. “No differences so far,” Israel said. “Something similar is that everyone seems to get it and appreciate what I’m up doing.”
Israel, who attended Syracuse University and then worked in television development, said the idea for the “listening table,” developed after volunteering with Freedom to Choose, an in-prison program dedicated to conversation through compassion in 2021.
He took part in a few sessions, including one at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
After one session, he said that “I sat thinking ‘this program is amazing and it’s only for people in prison. How is this possible?’ So many of us could use this that aren’t in prison.”
Israel set up his first listening table in November 2021 in El Segundo. Since then he has offered his “ear” nearly 100 times. True to his sign, he doesn’t give advice, all he does is listens.
“If someone wants to talk, they can sit down and I will listen to them for as long as they would like to,” Israel said. “Some people talk for five minutes. Some people talk for an hour and a half.”
When Israel started this project, he posted reflections of each session on Instagram, and now nearly 100,000 people follow him.
In a February 2023 KCRW story (“The Listening Table: Where Anyone Can Come by and Share What’s on Their Mind”)
He said he volunteered with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and learned another skill “sitting in the dark.”
That means not trying to change the subject to a happier topic, but rather hear what people are saying.
Israel said he learned that people called the hotline just to talk. “But we could only give them so much time because we needed to be there for people who are thinking about taking their own life.”
One of the hardest things for Israel, is “wanting to give advice, saying ‘Oh, this is what you should do.’ But that’s not what I’m here for.”
If Israel were to sum up what he’s learned, it’s to call or to speak to the people who are important to you.
On one post Israel wrote: “The world’s longest study on happiness found that the greatest indicator of happiness in a person’s life is the quality of the relationships that they have. Good relationships make it possible for people to deal with stress easier. It’s also proven that pain hurts less when you have someone else to hold your hand. Humans are made to be together.
“A humongous portion of the people who call the crisis line and also who call local talk line services are elderly people who don’t have anyone in their lives to talk to. People who didn’t invest in friendships… Who put all their eggs in the basket of their spouse and when their spouse either died or broke up, they had no one left.
“Having people in your life is what makes life worth living,” Israel said.
(Visit: thelisteningtable.com or @orlyslisteningtable or on YouTube click here.)