Patrycja Pendrakowska: The “Betzavta- Adam Institute’s group facilitation method” was founded around 30 years ago in Jerusalem. I would love to hear about the very beginnings of the “Betzavta” method. What’s the story behind it and how did it develop?
Uki Maroshek-Klarman: It all started in the 1980s. I taught political philosophy at Tel Aviv University and at the same time gave a course for teachers on how to teach philosophy. I realized that political philosophy was being taught in a very orthodox way that didn’t really enable people to introduce new ideas into the social sphere. When I taught teachers how to teach philosophy, it seemed to me that philosophers sometimes use very high language in order to explain very simple things. And I just tried to figure out how I could enable adults, youth and even young children to deal with those issues and make them accessible to everyone.
Patrycja, it is a long story of how I came to this solution, but the aim was to create an assortment of games that would enable people to deal with the political-philosophical issues. Therefore, I wrote a book, which was called “Betzavta” and included a few exercises. In this book, I tried to introduce big arguments and debates from the history of philosophy. Perhaps it was too ambitious, but I tried to analyze the most important debates that took place from Plato till now. The aim was to squeeze them into “games”. And that how the first Betzavta manual was developed.
In 1983 a colleague of mine, Emil Grunzweig, was killed during a rally protesting the Lebanon War. That terrible thing served as the impetus to create the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace, to prevent precisely this sort of tragic event in the future – or at least to minimize such risks. Our goal was to educate, for the sake of democracy, people from different backgrounds in small groups of “Betzavta”. When I made the move from teaching political philosophy to education, I found games to be very effective. These days, I am continuously developing methods that I find to be very fruitful and effective for educators, social workers, politicians, for citizens who care about their society, and also school committees. And others echo this sentiment. The “Betzavta” method can be used in every sphere where people need to deal with the process of participation and conflict resolution.
PP: Could you tell us what programs the Adam Institute is currently offering?
UMK: The range of the courses is very large because we develop courses tailor-made to specific groups and their particular needs. We are now in an exciting growth stage, adding course topics all the time. I will just give you examples of the programs which we did last year, just to give you a taste of what we are doing.
We are currently running a large seminar with more than seventy participants, Jewish and Arab, women and men, ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, who are studying the role of journalism with peace and war. This course, which combines theoretical knowledge, lectures from academics and practitioners, and practical hands-on training to do journalism, fosters a climate in which peace journalism can develop. We are collaborating with Social Television, an independent media NGO promoting social change via video content, dissemination and media training for social activists. We are teaching the theoretical part and they are teaching the practical part. Participants in our program learn new ways of thinking and also complete a media item, usually a visual clip, which can be later used for educational purposes.
Another program we just completed is a group facilitation course. We did it in two parts. The mixed group included Jewish and Arab participants, individuals that were religiously observant and those who are secular, women and men. The age range of participants spanned several decades. The seminar zeroed in on how to enable people from groups in conflict to be in a deep and honest dialogue. Initially, they had to experience it for themselves; the seminar was to teach them to be facilitators for other groups. Most of them come from Jerusalem, and as you know, Jerusalem is a very tough city, with conflicts surfacing all over. We just completed that course, and had to run the graduation on ZOOM. Traditionally, we do these ceremonies face-to-face. Like everyone, we find that the pandemic forced us to update and adapt.
Leadership program for the Bedouins in the Negev
A third project that we are about to complete involves youth leadership empowerment in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel. For those who are unfamiliar with this topic, the Bedouin population in the southern Negev numbers approximately some 220,000, with about 100,000 living in unrecgonized villages. They are among the most disadvantaged minorities in Israel. On the geographic, social and economic periphery, many Negev Bedouins live on disputed land, with a lack of running water, electricity and garbage collection. They descend from a semi-nomadic tribe and have been in ongoing disputes with the State of Israel. I am not going to unpack the whole history here, but the state refused to recognize them, so they’re off-the-grid. The bottom line is that this population lives with structural deficits and lack of very basic services. I must say, I find it shameful. Our coordinator in the Bedouin sector ran a seminar this summer for youth in one of these villages to enable them to be leaders of tomorrow. They learned what means they can use—of course, non-violent means—to improve their situation. It’s somewhat shocking that this is going in Israel in 2020, but there it is. We’re doing what we can to inspire and empower for change.
Working with schools
We also prepare curricula for schools. We updated our face-to-face programming, adapting it to ZOOM, from elementary to high schools. Teachers can continue to teach and students can continue to learn the method from their homes. We are also investing a great deal of effort in our international seminars. It is a big challenge for us. One of the strengths of “Betzavta- Adam Institute’s group facilitation method” is that you have a certain in-person emotional experience of a situation that enables you to think a new way. We wanted to ensure the same sort of experience on ZOOM, so we invested a great deal to recreate vibrancy, excitement and emotional verve. It is gratifying to receive feedback on the value and power of the educational experience.
Seminars on the Democracy during the Days of Covid-19
Until now we have dealt with three main topics. However, we are dealing with many other pressing issues and current problems. One topic that has drawn great interest around the world is a course on Democracy during the Days of Corona, which enabled participants to keenly connect to the relations between our rights as citizens and the circumstances created by a pandemic. In the current state, we see that the contradictions between rights became a very difficult task. The question is how we can use the method of “Betzavta” to solve and overcome those contradictions. We have freedom of movement on the one hand and the right to be healthy on the other hand. Isolation is the solution for the health and the free movement it was contradicted. Usually, you must choose between the two, but in our method, you are encouraged to create new possibilities that enable you to preserve many rights and freedoms. We’ve organized these workshops with people from Germany, New Zealand, Italy, and Switzerland, all over the world. We had a few seminars about these issues.
Feminism and Democracy
The second one is about feminism, a most compelling subject matter because there are many occupations where predominantly females are employed. These professional arenas were not considered that important prior to the pandemic. The pandemic created a change in parallel on the matter of relations between men and women. During lockdown and quarantine, men stayed at home and shared the process of raising children. It is something that many of them have never experienced. Some of them enjoyed it immensely whereas other felt the opposite. It is one example. Many occupations in social services are considered to be very feminine and they are considered to be more important. As a result of this pandemic, perhaps the whole perspective of appreciation of specific occupations might change. The relation between husband-wife and children can change. Concurrently, we know that there was much violence against women because whole families had to stay at home; domestic violence is an important and pressing issue. I believe that democracy and feminism is a very important challenge that we must tackle. Many of the issues that Corona brought forth have encouraged us to think in different ways about many processes.
People with Disabilities/Special needs
We also tailor-made a seminar for a group working with people who have special needs. We had a seminar with young people from Germany who were gearing up to work with individuals with disabilities from England, Scotland, and Ireland. We prepared seminars for them about the rights of people with special needs, how should we treat differences between people from this perspective.
All in all, it should be emphasized that when you work with Betzavta in a specific group, your idea of working with other groups changes as well. Let me give you an example. When you come right down to it, everyone has special needs. The minute you start to address the issue of special needs, you can expand the idea of equality to the whole population.
We are currently exploring projects to work with Women Wage Peace (נשים עושות שלום), a very broad-reaching movement of women from various backgrounds. They are working to create a new narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the women’s perspective – and this is quite compelling. From the start, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, only men defined the problems and issues. They also wrote the history. The current shift enables us to look at this from our perspective as women; it enables us to be very creative in finding new solutions. We are in the process of creating this method.
Another area that we are currently organizing is a seminar on environmental issues, which we intended to organize in Berlin but will ultimately take place on Zoom. In Israel, we are also cooperating with universities that have both Jewish and Arab students. Our aim is to create a space in which they can authentically speak about issues that are bothering them. At the same time, they can share feelings about what it’s like for Jews and Palestinians to be students in the Israeli academy.
PP: Thank you very much for your introduction. For me personally, world dialogue is always a key. I see that on many levels, also on the official levels, when we discuss certain problems, we are not reaching out to the people who are really affected by the problem. In Poland, we don’t have good debates and discussions on refugees or gender issues. Strong polarization prevails, which undermines? the willingness to build a sustainable dialogue.
UKM: The problem lies in the ability of not talking to each other, of avoiding each other.
PP: Perhaps you could give us also examples of success stories of Betzavta.
UKM: One way of measuring our success is by observing what people who succeeded in our seminars do later in their life with this experience. Professor Daphna Hacker, who heads Tel Aviv University’s Women and Gender studies program in the Faculty of the Humanities, has published several books on gender issues and dedicated one of them to the “Betzavta” method. She tried to convert the conflict into dilemmas and created a definition for that dilemmatic feminism, rooted in one of the central ideas of the “Betzavta“. I can also cite examples of students who came to the Adam Institute workshops and were right-wing extremists, I remember them very well. They belonged to the Kahane movement – a very right-wing organization. They were students in the teachers college. In the end, they became teachers in democratic schools – so you can clearly see the impact of the workshops, that sizable shift. Another example is the feedback I got from a woman who created a mixed Israeli-Palestinian group in East Jerusalem. She is by herself creating meetings between groups in conflict and has continued on her own “Betzavta” journey. This is to cite but a very few.
PP: I was wondering what set of abilities and training you need to build “Betzavta” groups on your own and become a facilitator?
UMK: We don’t care if you have a degree or not. We believe that there are many intelligent people without degrees who perhaps just didn’t have a chance to get them, but still possess strong abilities. At the same time, we have professors and doctors. The degree is not the issue. What you really need to do is to study the method with the Adam Institute. While it may be possible to do it in other places around the world, I think that the best and most effective way to do it is in Israel because the origins and crux of the theory is based at the Adam Institute of Democracy and Peace. Moreover, the development is being done here. You really have to go through that process, practice it and undergo supervision. You can then become a kind of member of our institute, you can approach us with particular needs of a specific group, i.e. for example – if you work in a hospital with sick children. We have experience with this sort of thing. A group of children who attend school at the hospital. For example, that school might contain all sorts of people, those who very religious or not religious in the same room and groups. You have very specific issues to solve, i.e. kosher or halal food. The hospital staff wanted to work together with us on this problem in order to create the best possible way of handling problems related to working with ill children in a multi-cultural environment. We’ve been working with this sort of population and community, assisting them for four years, with gratifying results.
People can approach us with a specific problem; we are happy to create special courses. We are also working now on a course for the police so that they better understand their role in society. Truly, the list is endless, and the sky’s the limit.
PP: I get the impression that “Betzavta – Adam Institute’s group facilitation method” is creating local solutions for problems that are occurring globally around the world: inter-religious conflicts, military conflicts, lack of democracy in certain institutions, etc. How can “Betzavta” some global problems?
UMK: Indeed. Currently, we are working on migration and on the environment.
PP: My final question: Why are you seeking to expand in Poland as the next step for teaching the “Betzavta” method?
UMK: Truth be told, collaborating with partners in Poland is long overdue. When we began this work many years ago, we had a large conference with democracy experts from dozens of countries. Some of them came from Poland and we tried to establish cooperation with Polish partners. In fact, the short “Betzavta” manual was translated into Polish. However, in recent years the cooperation somehow stopped. On the other hand, we have collaborated with and trained many “Betzavta” facilitators that were born in Poland. We recently thought that we should come back to Poland. For us, it is very interesting to continue what we started many years ago. At the same time, the whole issue of Israeli-Polish relations can sometimes be complicated. In my opinion, the Israeli practice of schoolchildren traveling to Poland and visiting concentration camps, meeting some Polish people, and going to parties, is curious indeed. Consider this crazy combination as a means to get to know someone. It’s either in the bar or in the concentration camps? That sounds somewhat schizophrenic to me. You can’t deal with history without engaging in the greater perspective on the history of a country you are visiting. Of course, the exchanges between Poland and Israel exist all the time, but mostly through the perspective of the Holocaust. We still don’t have a very good perspective on how to build our future relations. And this should change.
Personally, I have family ties to Poland; my husband was raised in Wroclaw and prior to this pandemic, I visited Poland ever year. On the one hand, it is very important not to forget what happened during the Holocaust. On the other hand, the politicians and the citizens, especially the younger generation, should consider the future. And I believe that future problems might be quite different from the ones that happened before; therefore we should elaborate on the tools to work with them. I’m personally extremely enthusiastic and excited about developing our relations with people in Poland because of political, educational, and personal reasons. We at the Adam Institute believe that a fruitful cooperation lies for the future. We’re approaching this with great positivity; I believe strongly that we all have what to gain.
What is incredibly gratifying is when graduates of our courses reach out to me and say, the Betzavta method taught me how to examine my social environment with fresh eyes and build community in a new way. They say, studying the Betzvata method, I’m gaining a skill and learning things that benefit me professionally and personally. We are excited to share with professionals, practitioners and students of all kinds the latest courses of Betzvata on ZOOM. I’m sure that we at Betzavta will learn just as much from you.
PP: Thank you so much for the interview.
UMK: The pleasure is mine.
We would like to express our gratitude to Ruth Ebenstein for editing this interview.
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