Maha El Taji  and Jamal Dagash

Report on the October 2009 visit to Israel

In early October, Allan Cohen, Jens Brash, Nancy Juda and Ann Overton flew to Tel Aviv, where we were joined several days later by Pat Dillan. This second trip of 2009 was designed around three purposes: deepening our established relationships, reaching out to new people and organizations, and continuing the work of translating our ideas and distinctions into Hebrew and Arabic. As always, we were delighted to be back, to see the familiar and discover the new, and to spend time with our friends.

The first Mastery Foundation trip to Israel was made by Debbie Frieze and Ann Overton in June 2002. Since that time, 42 community leaders from Israel have traveled to Ireland or the U.S. to participate in Mastery Foundation programs there, and we have offered more than 15 Mastery Foundation programs in Israel along with numerous gatherings designed to build relationships and learn more about the situation there. Along the way, in spite of our own English-only language limitation, we have made many friends who have encouraged us to continue and expand our work in the region.

Field Trip to Rahat

On this trip, the first order of business was a visit to Rahat, the home of one of the seven regional participants in the School for Leadership, Mahmud Alamour. Rahat is the largest Bedouin city in Israel with a population of more than 40,000. It was created in the Negev Desert in 1972 by the government of Israel.

Mahmud and the Mastery Foundation first met in 2005 when Mahmud was the Director of Informal Education for young people in Rahat and the Rabin Center asked us to work with his Young Leaders group. We had not been back to Rahat since 2006, so we had promised Mahmud we would come back to see the students and have dinner at his home. We were joined by Maha El Taji, another participant in the School for Leadership and our long-time volunteer Arabic translator and cultural interpreter, and our van driver Itzak who fortunately for us is a friend, a certified Israeli tour guide, and fluent speaker of Arabic.

We spent some time driving around Rahat and walking through the market before visiting the Matnas (community center) where we spent an hour talking with almost 30 members of the current group of Young Leaders. It was especially rewarding to talk with those we had worked with before who proudly told us “We are the leaders now.” They also asked us to come back and work with them again. They were particularly interested in access to more powerful speaking through declarations, requests, and promises.

Mahmud then took us to the mosque in his neighborhood where he has turned the previously unused ground floor into a community center as part of his work in the School for Leadership. There we met many of the teenagers and young adults holding after-school tutoring and art programs as well as some recreational and sports programs. In the library there was a poster of a big cloud made by some of the young children out of construction paper. Underneath the cloud are many raindrops, each raindrop with the name of one of the children. The blue cloud says: We are rain, watering the trees. It was a perfect expression of how these young people have come to see their role in their community.

Dinner was at Mahmud’s home with his wife Samach and his sons Amir, Mohammad, and Ahmed. After dinner we sat on the front patio talking, laughing, and totally charmed by the five year old Ahmed. It left all of us wishing we spoke Arabic so we could talk and play more freely. Mahmud also had friend a stop by to meet us because Mahmud thinks Mastery would make a big difference for his friend in his work and his friend would be an asset in the Mastery community. This kind of networking and reaching out beyond what those of us from outside the region can see is what allows for the future of Mastery here, and is typical of how we learn and grow.

Breaking Bread

Much of the work of reaching out to others, building relationships, and deepening our connections and our understanding of the region happens over carefully designed meals we call community dinners. For this trip, we organized community dinners in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa to reconnect with past participants and friends we otherwise would rarely see.
The design of these dinners is always to gather around one table and engage in one conversation together. The catalyst for the conversation is an open-ended question which each person answers in turn. Something about our dialogue in this more social setting seems to make it easier for people to speak from the heart and to listen and to really hear not just what is being said but the person saying it.

We were fortunate to have participants in the School offer to host the community dinners in their homes so our conversations could be more leisurely than if we had been at a restaurant. At each dinner, surrounded by wonderful local food, we enjoyed open and light-hearted conversation and renewed old friendships.

The American group also hosted a special dinner for the School for Leadership participants as a way of acknowledging them and hearing what their first year of participation in the School was like for them and how they now viewed their own leadership.

Translating distinctions into Arabic and Hebrew

In 2007, we took up the work of translating key distinctions of our work into Arabic and Hebrew. So for two days, we worked on this project with a group of seven past participants and friends. Because we use language to create new ways of thinking and seeing, the translation process requires more than simply defining the words we use and then finding the corresponding words in Hebrew and Arabic. And just to make things more interesting, some concepts may exist in one language but not in another.

Over the past two years, we have invented a seven-step process that takes us from a program handout in English to program handouts in Arabic and in Hebrew. We don’t aim for perfection, but for a translation that makes the distinction accessible. It is demanding and hard work, but at the end of two days our team of native speakers had produced new handouts on the distinctions enrollment, leadership, and power, force, and resignation.

Nonstop learning

A significant and ongoing part of every trip to Israel is absorbing more and more of the cultures and conditions there. The Mastery Foundation does not claim to have or offer solutions, but rather is committed to empowering those already at work on peace and reconciliation in the creation of powerful, new, and effective possibilities for the future. So one of the agreements Mastery Foundation travelers make is to set aside whatever opinions they have and replace them with a healthy curiosity and acute listening. As a result, every meeting, every historic site, every conversation, becomes an occasion to learn and to expand our understanding.

These are just a few of the encounters and events in October that contributed to our continuing education: