Haifa, Tel Aviv and Rahat
September 2005

The July trip began in Haifa with the Leo Baeck Education Center, one of Israel’s oldest and most acclaimed institutions of Progressive or Reform Judaism. Leo Baeck offers a unique blend of formal education and community outreach with a nursery school, a junior and senior high school for 1600 students, a sports center, a community center offering social outreach programs, a Progressive Synagogue, and the Lokey International Academy of Jewish Studies.

In April, we had worked with the 20 staff members of the Lokey Academy, and on this trip we spent a day with them following up our previous work. Now that they have had time to use some of the distinctions they created in April, they are more enthusiastic than when we left them. A great example came from one of the leaders of the Academy who told us she got a call at home one evening reporting a series of breakdowns in the set up for the large group arriving the next day. Normally, she said, she would have become very upset and even dramatic about everything going wrong. This time she said, “I did it the Mastery way” – no panic, no upset, no drama, just stay focused on the commitment and get into action – “and it worked great.”

We also met with the director and staff of the community center of Macnas to discuss a program for them in 2006. These six people are responsible for social outreach programs to more than 2,000 citizens of Haifa, along with a sports center used by more than 2,000 people every year. With a staff of almost 200 social workers, they run several community centers and provide programs dealing with early childhood development, youth activities, and assimilation of new immigrants.

Like most organizations and teams with such big commitments, they find they spend their time doing and have little time left to be and think together. They are looking to us for the opportunity to come together early in 2006 and reconnect with each other as well as look at ways to build better connections with the diverse and often poor communities they serve. As Eran Dubovi, the director of all of Leo Baeck, said last April, “After my experience with the Mastery Foundation in Northern Ireland, I knew you were what we needed.”

Also while we were in Haifa we visited Ronen Zeidel at the Hadar Community Center he helped build. What Ronen has been doing since he participated in the 2003 Ireland Intensive is a good example of what we mean by empowering grassroots leaders. Already an activist in his community of Hadar – a working class neighborhood of Haifa densely populated with an unusually diverse mixture of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, Orthodox Jews and Arabs living side by side – he plunged into a battle with developers hoping to begin gentrifying the neighborhood. Against the odds, and using the insights and experience he had gained in Ireland, the neighborhood association not only prevailed over the developers, they restored one of the few Arab houses still standing as the new community center. A professor of Iraqi studies at Haifa University, Ronen also joined a colleague to teach a class on co-existence to a mixed group of Jewish and Arab students.

Between our work in Haifa and Tel Aviv, we took a day to visit the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev Desert. We were going to be working with educators and students from Rahat and wanted at least to see firsthand their community.

Rahat is a Bedouin township of about 50,000 residents and is the largest of seven permanent Bedouin townships in the Negev. The town is made up of 32 neighborhoods, each inhabited by a distinct Hamula (a clan or extended family). With 18,000 school-age children, there are 21 schools and 160 kindergartens in Rahat, but not one factory. The unemployment rate is the highest in Israel – 78 percent among men and undoubtedly higher among women. Among young people, there are high rates of school drop out, drug use, and crime.

Being Bedouin is a way of life, not a nationality. In Arabic, Bedouin means “traveler of the desert.” In the late 1950s, Israel began to settle the Bedouins within its borders in seven towns in the Negev. As more and more of the Bedouin population settled in these towns, the hierarchy of the humullahs and the traditional patriarchal structures weakened. Relations between the Bedouins and Israelis have generally been positive, but the extent and duration of problems the Bedouins face are straining goodwill on both sides.

Nevertheless, there are those like Mahmood Alamoor who are creating possibilities in the community and are willing to stand for them and work to make them happen. Mahmood is the head of informal or extracurricular education in Rahat and manages both a community center and a leadership development program for teenagers. When we met in his office and asked what his vision is, he replied, “Every child in Rahat will have a place in the community. Every child can have his or her dreams come true.”

The members of the Youth Council for Leadership in Rahat are all award students between the ages of 14 and 18 and represent all the hamullahs in the community. As part of the council, they learn leadership skills and work as mentors and leaders to other groups of students. A number of teachers work with them, none more diligently or closely than Mona Abu-Sabit, who is almost like a second mother to each of them.

As part of their work promoting tolerance and helping create a new national consensus within Israel, the education department of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies had been working with Mahmood and Mona to ensure the success of their leadership program. In addition, they are supporting the development in Jaffa of the first democratic, Arab school in Israel – and perhaps in the Middle East.

Jaffa is the 5,000-year-old historic Arab port and city at the southern tip of Tel Aviv. Today it has 50,000 citizens – 30,000 of whom are Jewish, and 20,000 of whom are Arab, with 70% being Muslim 30% Christian. Once known as ‘the pride of Palestine,’ it now faces a steadily increasing pressure of gentrification from a growing Tel Aviv. The main problems for its Arab population are education and housing. Until 1968, it had no secondary school, and the current drop out rate for Arab teenagers is 40%.

The Jaffa democratic school has been in existence for only a year, and faces opposition from the city of Tel Aviv, the education department of the Israeli government, and many of the Muslims living in Jaffa. A private school, committed to teaching and operating by democratic principles at all levels, it has found support from the Committee for Jaffa Arabs, the Center for Democratic Education in Israel, and the Rabin Center.

Ruthi Gilat, director of the education project, had been to the Ireland Intensive in 2002 and, like Eran, immediately saw how our distinctions would empower the work the Rabin Center was already doing. Now she invited us for the fourth time to collaborate on the design and delivery of a program, this time on developing and empowering leadership for the Jaffa school and the Rahat youth leadership program.

“With these two projects we felt that the Mastery Foundation was very meaningful,” Ruthi said, “because the programs they offer could give us a start – first of all with our staff, and secondly, with the people that we wanted to work with in these communities. To have partners to work with is a very important thing. That cooperation means you can build up and continue your programs. The Mastery Foundation has given a lot to our work and a lot of support and empowerment of the staff and of the ideas we have.”

The first program we offered was for more than a dozen educators from the Jaffa school and a dozen educators from Rahat. The intention was to give them new models of leadership that would shift the odds of success to their favour. We faced our own challenges in delivering such a program – chiefly, the need for an Arabic translator. We found the perfect person for the job. Maha El-Taji is the wife of Jamal Daghash, the Haifa doctor who had helped us with translation in April. Maha lived for years in the United States, so her English is as fluent as her Arabic and she also speaks Hebrew. She happily took on the daunting task of being our only translator and did a brilliant job.

While both two-day workshops were essentially the same in content, working with 40 teenagers is a truly memorable experience. The adults quickly got the distinctions of leadership as a conversation made up of speaking and listening that causes something to happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise but struggled with the pull to understand them rather than simply put them to work.

The young people challenged everything, from the basic distinctions to who was going to talk next. Their grandparents roamed the desert on camels, living in tents. So while this generation has the latest cell phones and digital cameras, they also face the challenge of creating a new way of being. Most of them knew each other well and some of the older ones spoke enough English to communicate with us directly.

While the group was fairly evenly divided by gender, the boys seemed to dominate, and two or three of the oldest ones were clearly the leaders of the group – whether anyone else liked it or not. After one fairly long exchange with two of them, Mona cautioned the Mastery Foundation leaders against getting too involved in their stories, saying, “I know these two, they will take you to Jordan and back without even a cup of water.”

Keeping the young group’s attention and keeping enough order to move the program forward were probably our biggest challenges. None of our usual techniques – from ‘clap once if you can hear my voice’ to shouting to using a whistle – worked, and having Mona angrily chide them to pay attention was not a method we wanted to use, and it didn’t work that well anyway. On the second day, Ann simply stopped talking until the room got quiet, which worked better than anything so far.

When one of the biggest talkers still wouldn’t stop, she walked up to him and said, “You and I have a problem.” “What problem?” he said in English. “We don’t have a problem. I love and respect you.” “I hear what you say,” Ann replied, “but I don’t think it is the truth, because your actions don’t match your words. Your actions are not consistent with respect.” That interaction was a turning point in the program, in that the boys who had been most outspoken moved from defying the workshop leaders to being on our side and began to use their leadership within the group to forward the action for everyone.

For those of us who haven’t been teenagers in a long time, it was a poignant reconnection with the enthusiasm and inexperience of those years. They were fascinated by the idea that perhaps true leadership is not about controlling others, or that making requests and promises is more powerful than demanding or complaining. And they took to the idea of creating possibility for themselves and for their community with real passion and commitment.

For our part, we fell in love with the whole group, and for as hard as they made us work, we also had a tremendous amount of fun. On the night between the first and second day of the workshop, they had a party in a nearby park and invited us to come. It was wonderful to see them sitting in a circle, taking turns inventing games they could play together, singing, and occasionally the boys forming a line to do their traditional dances. Maha said you could hear the desert in their singing.

On the last day, one of the students said, “Before this, I thought that leadership was like a shepherd with sheep. If the shepherd said right, the sheep went to the right; if they said left, the sheep went to the left.” That student, along with more than 60 educators, activists and students in the Arab communities of Jaffa and Rahat, will never think of leadership the same way again. Two months later, Ruthi reports that while the Jaffa school is struggling but still going, the Rahat project has taken off and the students still talk of us with admiration.