Yeshayahu Tadmor, professor of education, former principal of the  Reali high school for fifteen years (1982-1996, and to this day considered ‘the mythological’ principal of the Reali), describes in the following post the meetings centered on coexistence that he established in 1985. A ground-breaking program at the time that he led while managing the Reali high school in Haifa. The program is based on a cross-cultural approach education model. The full published chapter which includes references to books and articles mentioned here, can be found in Tadmor Yeshayahu (2007).  Education as Existential Experience. Tel Aviv and Emek Yizrael: Machon Mofet and Academic Emek Yizrael Pub. Chapter 8: Education for Acknowledging the Other. pp. 191-226.

Of the theories and models that I’m familiar with, I find James Wurzel’s model unique and practical (Wurzel 1988). A cross-cultural approach to education, he explains, is obtained through a lengthy process fraught with crisis. His model is a 7-rung ladder. The first rung, the initial step is mono culturalism; the second rung, the beginning of cross-cultural contact; the third, a conflicted inter-cultural crisis that may result from cultural conflict; the fourth, educational intervention, meant to repair the tear caused by the conflict, and mainly deals with a renewed critical examination of my positions and those of the other; for the fifth rung, following the analytical learning and examination – usually there’s disequilibrium concerning the absoluteness of my culture; in the sixth stage I form a new awareness of myself and the other; and the seventh stage combines all the previous rungs into multiculturalism.

This may form a base for planning teaching programs and for educational projects established to promote multiculturalism, such as programs for the understanding and coexistence of Jews and Arabs. At the same time, it can help identify arrays of problems and failures in the educational process for multiculturalism. The third and fifth stages of Wurzel’s model are especially important. They are the stages of lapses and crises. There are quite a few educational programs for understanding and coexistence that have failed at these stages. Anxiety and fright may develop at the third rung of the ladder of educational objectives because of deepening knowledge and the continuing exposure to the other’s stance, and they may be immediately followed by rising hostility and hatred. During the fifth stage, following an growing acquaintance with the other’s position and the concepts behind them, sometimes I become doubtful about the unimpeachable veracity and integrity of my own ideology. The main educational challenge in leading a multicultural educational program is the abilities of the educators, the education program instructors of both groups to surmount the crisis situations and continue to a higher rung on the ladder.

In 1985, I was the principal of the Reali high school, and I wanted to advance a Jewish-Arab coexistence project. I turned to the program coordinator at Beit Hagefen in Haifa, the center for Arab-Jewish culture and his people, both Arabs and Jews, who have oftentimes taught and instructed at meetings of students from Jewish and Arab schools, and I asked for their help. They suggested that the Arab educational institution in our new project be the Christian school of the nuns of St. Joseph, led by sister Marie Paul. This is a high-achievement school, one of the best schools in Israel.

Today, when recalling the project, I realize that it actually followed Wurzel’s model. The first meeting was great. St. Joseph’s sophomores came to visit us at Beit Biram. The ice was quickly broken. Connections were made around tables laden with refreshments, the young people spoke about matters of interest to young people and phone numbers were exchanged. Their main takeaway as expressed by students from both schools was ‘they’re like us!’ Against existing prejudices it suddenly dawned that the other is like us, same clothes, same problems at school, same age-appropriate hormones, same ambitions, same emphasis on learning science, same movies and tv, same pop music, same behavior and gestures typical of young people. We held three more meetings, and they were all considered good. So far, everything ran smoothly, according to the second rung of Wurzel’s ladder.

Following the recommendations of Beit Hagefen’s instructors, we moved on to the next stage of the project – political discussions. Each school prepared its students by familiarizing them with ideological and political positions as well as values and modes of behavior that we are obliged to adhere to. We planned that the classes would travel together to Ginosar, by the Kinneret, and there we’d hold a joint seminar. We left by bus from Haifa, collecting the St. Joseph students along the way, and continued east to the Kinneret. Then suddenly, I heard on my bus a loud, furious and hostile argument accompanied by yelling and cursing, a moment away from violence. Arab students got out of their seats and started to sing Fida’I (the Palestinian anthem) in defiance, and the Reali students, not to be left behind, got up as well and started to sing the Israeli national anthem. I was shocked and discombobulated. To this day, I remember this ridiculous, scary surrealistic picture. The bus is travelling with the two crowded groups congregating, the Fida’l group and the Hatikva group. With no little effort the educators on board, both Arabs and Jews, the St. Joseph vice president and myself were able to calm things down. We arrived angry and embarrassed to Ginosar. We tried to patch things up and begin the seminar. We listened to the opening lecture, but the tension and anger did not die down. We estimated that we wouldn’t be able to calm things enough to hold a good discussion. So, towards evening the St. Joseph vice-principal and I decided to admit defeat and end the seminar. We returned embarrassed and frustrated to our respective schools in Haifa and Nazareth, this time in separate buses. This reflected the third rung of the ladder, the crisis that Wurzel warned of.

Following this difficult experience, we held numerous discussions for the sophomores among the teachers and with the students, some in partnership with Beit Hagefen, to understand what happened and learn the lessons lying therein. We also held a phone conference with the sophomore teachers from both schools. We promised to continue the project, but without an unequivocal decision, we never really did. The project died quietly, and communication ceased.

Nevertheless, we had a happy ending. A year later, after recovering from the experiment with St. Joseph, we started anew, based on the lessons we learned, again with the cooperation of Beit Hagefen instructors, we embarked on a new coexistence project, this time with the Al-Mutanabbi school in Haifa. The principal at the time, an educator in every sense of the word, an intellectual and poet, Rushdi al-Madi, took up the idea and did much to prepare his kids with consideration and leadership. Considering the lessons we learned and analyzed together with Beit Hagefen, we were careful and calculating in managing the new project. Step by step. Every time we progressed, it was stipulated that the objectives at the specific stage we were in, were fulfilled in a satisfactory manner.

Leading up to each activity the teachers held meticulous preparatory meetings, usually in private homes as well as student preparatory meetings with students from the student councils of both schools.

This way proved to be the correct way to go about it, the project became rooted and turned into a tradition that continued for many years. In the field of coexistence programs between Jewish and Arab schools in Israel, our program became a model for other projects. St. Joseph’s principal, sister Marie Paul, also put in some work to find another school for a coexistence program and I’ve heard that her program was successful for many years.

Throughout the years the number of schools participating in coexistence programs grew. Some institutions specializing in coexistence were established and developed and their contribution to the subject is  praiseworthy. The most noteworthy are: Givat Haviva, Beit Hagefen, The School for Peace at Neve Shalom and The Center for Humanistic Education at Beit Lohamei Haghetaot. Following the amassing of experience associated with research, everything became much more professional and responsible. Based on scientific literature and research done in the Neve Shalom School of Peace, psychologist Arie Nadler points to four conditions needed for positive contact that can decrease prejudice. These conditions are: Institutional support; the potential for acquaintance, i.e. through continual contact, not one-time; an atmosphere of cooperation while working on lessening competitiveness; equal status for both groups. The fourth condition is the hardest to maintain since the gap between statuses of the majority and minority groups is built into Israeli society. Nadler quotes one of the principals of the School for Peace, Rabah Halabi, “from my vast experience gained in this subject, only when the Arab group is strengthened and shakes off the dust of their inferiority complex and the internalization of the oppression, only then are the Jews liberated from their role as oppressors, and at that point there’s a true, equal dialog between the groups.” (Nadler, 2000, p. 13)

Building on the experience accrued from different coexistence programs, we have come to some insights about their typical stages, possibly even the stages necessary for their success. One such is an annual course for Jewish and Arab students about groups in conflict at Tel Aviv University in participation of the Psychology department and the Neve Shalom school. From the records of the course we learn that their process is divided into five stages: the preliminary stage of statement of objectives; the stage of the strengthening of the Arab group; the stage of regaining power by the Jewish group; the ‘getting stuck’ stage of crisis and fatigue; and finally, there’s a new dialog, more egalitarian and based on mutual respect. (Halabi, Zonenshayn and Friedman, 2000)

Another result of the accumulated experience from the coexistence program meetings is a lessening of the level of expectations. Apparently, we should be more modest in our expectations that meetings between Jews and Arabs can change reality, because political activities, above all else, determine reality. At most, the meetings can change the participants’ perceptions. As time goes by after a program and you get perspective to evaluate it, participants are for the most part disappointed, particularly the Arab participants. Halabi and Zonenshayn say that “the frustration is greater when the encounter is more real and exposes participants to their challenges,” (p. 24). Meetings that attempt to cloud reality, beget futile illusions, and cause damage could be dangerous.

This post is taken from chapter 8 in: Education as Existential Experience (2007) by Yeshayahu Tadmor. I will publish another post about a different program, also cutting edge in the field of shared living, led by Yeshayahu Tadmor at the Reali school.