A strong Israeli democracy starts with educated citizens, skilled in critical and creative thinking. Beit Berl College, noted for its innovative approach, trains one in five Israeli public school educators – Jewish and Arab – to meet this challenge. This year, Beit Berl will launch a teaching specialization in shared society education

Ilana Kraus
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Credit: Eldad Rafaeli
Ilana Kraus
Promoted Content

It’s no secret that Israel is divided into what President Reuven Rivlin termed “tribes,” and that young Israelis rarely encounter members of other tribes – from different social, ethnic or religious backgrounds – until they get to the army or the university. Teachers have a particularly important role to play as agents of change and bridge builders, imparting the ideas of democracy, understanding and equality. But they too live in the same fractured society, so how can they bring about the necessary changes?

Beit Berl College’s Center for the Advancement of Shared Society is a leader in this field. The Center’s new specialization in shared society leadership reaches out to new groups and promotes dialogue.

Increasing cultural sensitivity

With a student body that encompasses secular and religious Jews and Arabs, Beit Berl College is well suited to promoting a dynamic shared society on campus. “Hebrew and Arabic speakers co-teach, engage in dialogue and celebrate each other’s holidays, difficult as it may be,” said Dr. Ilana Paul Benjamin, Co-Director of the Center for the Advancement of Shared Society. Participating in the Center’s cross-cultural activities and learning to listen and respect different voices and backgrounds helps students gain the competencies they need to deal with differences of opinion and outlook in their classrooms and communities.

As Dr. Paul Benjamin explained, the Center’s programs, such as workshops and field trips, are not just increasing cultural sensitivity among students, but also among members of the faculty and administration. It’s a campus-wide operation. “We don’t want to be looking at various segments of society just through the lens of conflict,” she said. “The faculty is giving expression to different cultures in their syllabuses, using examples from Arab and Haredi communities, bringing guest lecturers,” she said. “In special education classes, for example, they discuss autism in Arab, Haredi and Ethiopian cultures.”

“The change begins in education,” stressed Dr. Wurud Jayusi, who is co-director of the Center in addition to heading the secondary school level of the education faculty’s Arab Institute. “This year, the Center is launching a new program, a specialization in education toward a shared society in both the formal and informal systems,” she explained, “with a view to training agents of change who will be able to have an impact on the institutions in which they will work: schools, community centers, municipal departments of education, and more.” 

Although the Center has been promoting the shared society concept on the Beit Berl campus, the new program is specifically geared toward training leaders in this field to implement programs in the schools and informal educational settings in which they will be working. “The program stresses democratic values, but it’s not just theoretical. Jewish and Arab students visit joint schools, go on field trips and work together,” Dr. Jayusi explained. They also work together by doing mutual practice teaching, she added.

Shared Education Leadership Training is a secondary specialization offered to undergraduates, as well as those pursuing teacher certification and master degrees, no matter what their primary specialization. The program is supported by the UJA Federation of New York, and graduates will receive diplomas certifying them to assume leadership roles in the area of shared society in the schools and other institutions where they will be working. “Even before the start of the academic year, dozens of students have already registered,” Dr. Jayusi stated. “Aside from the certificate, they also receive a scholarship,” she added.

Both of the Center’s co-directors underscored the importance of learning each other’s languages and cultures. Courses in spoken Arabic and Arab culture are offered to students as well as faculty and administrative staff as part of the Center’s ongoing efforts to change attitudes and dispel stereotypes, Dr. Jayusi pointed out.

Hub for social entrepreneurship

Beit Berl College is also expanding its position as a center for percolating new ideas by introducing the Hub for Educational and Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Hub will include an accelerator for faculty, students, graduates, teachers and members of the community who have ideas which they want to promote, but who lack the management know-how and resources to bring them to fruition.

“The accelerator will help them follow through on their initiatives, connect them with potential partners, businesses and fundraising opportunities,” explained Dr. Orit Bar, who heads the Hub along with Amit Lerner. “In addition to focusing on business-oriented thinking and tools to implement effective social and educational initiatives, the Hub accelerator will mentor the projects and help them become sustainable programs.” Naturally, the emphasis is on various areas related to education in the broadest sense.

The Hub will also offer courses, on the undergraduate and graduate level, to enable students to think like social entrepreneurs and see social entrepreneurship as part of their roles as educators. “The courses will give them the concepts and tools they need to move their ideas forward,” said Dr. Bar. Even social entrepreneurs seeking to create a program for at-risk youth, for example, will need to build a strategic plan, a financial model, a marketing strategy, a website, and more.

“In addition to the accelerator, the Hub will provide lectures to the general public and mentoring for existing projects, creating online forums and virtual platforms to enable communication among people who want to advance their areas of interest,” Dr. Bar added. In this way, the Hub will provide nascent social entrepreneurs with the knowledge, approach, language and tools they need to impact on critical educational and social issues in the region.

We Need to Talk

Time Tunnel trains Beit Berl College students to gather and analyze oral history, examining how each population experienced key periods and events in the contemporary history of Israel. Beit Berl students go on to teach the methodology in Jewish and Arab high schools around the region, bringing together hundreds of pupils to share their discovered histories and build a sense of mutual legitimacy.

The brainchild of professors Dr. Boaz Lev Tov and Dr. Kussay Haj Yehiye, the project forges bridges between the different Israeli “tribes.” As young people from different cultures gather and share family oral histories – the daily lives of parents and grandparents, how they met and married, made a living, took care of health issues, or spent their leisure time – they come to understand one another. The memories become vehicles for interacting with other youngsters they would otherwise never meet. “These oral histories are also posted on TARASA, an online platform being developed as a public domain site where people can post and retrieve stories and pictures about specific places throughout various periods,” Dr. Ilana Paul Benjamin explained.

We invite you  to enter your own historical memories in TARASA: .

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