Movilei Havruta

Movilei Havruta

A prevalent attitude in Israel is to consider Judaism as a religion exclusively which creates polarization between the secular and religious causing traditional people to feel alienated from their religious heritage as they do not fit into either group. Furthermore, Israel’s educational system is increasingly unable to cultivate Jewish values among children and youth. Students who lack strong identity and a sense of secure roots have more limited interpersonal skills and could cause them to adopt racist attitudes.

In turn, people are not equipped to conduct meaningful dialogue. Yet, children and youth are the potential future leaders of tomorrow, and investing in them is the best way to engender lasting and far-reaching social change. Changing the future begins with how we learn to talk to each other today.

Program Description: Over the past three years, Morasha has developed the Movilei Havruta (Pupil Dialogue Leaders) Project, which has now trained over 800 elementary, junior and high school pupils to lead a meaningful discourse with their peers on pressing social issues in Israeli society that relate to their daily lives. Using a successful Beit Midrash model (paired or group learning) pupils discuss issues such as racism, democracy, prejudice, and social gaps through the lens of the rich Jewish heritage and using a wide array of texts from the Jewish bookshelf. This unique peer-to-peer dialogue model led by pupils, contrasts with the schools’ traditional approach of a teacher imparting information to 30 pupils, as it successfully challenged pupils to ask questions in an intimate and non-judgmental group conversation. This creates the social conditions for people to share their thoughts, and define who they are and what they believe. Movilei Havruta’s dialogical approach fosters awareness for pupils of their personal roots in the Jewish heritage. This fosters among pupils a sense of pride in their heritage, while encouraging solidarity, and a more tolerant and respectful school environment and discourse. The open questions invites discussion, research, creativity and interpretation enabling pupils to immerse themselves in the texts, which in turn leads to a meaningful discussion enabling pupils to be introspective and appreciate complexity. This inspires pupils to assume leadership by using texts based on social responsibility and take the initiative to raise awareness of various social issues by leading Movilei Havruta groups with other classes. This coming year, 2017-2018 the Movilei Havruta Project will train an additional 650 pupils in 40 schools in peripheral cities across the country to become young leaders of their school communities.

Movilei Havruta creates a ripple effect within each school: 1) 600 pupil dialogue leaders of Movilei Havruta together with teachers receive weekly training to receive skills to lead dialogical learning based on questions. Pupils are taught how to be inclusive and respectful by being non-judgmental. 2) These leaders in each school spark a dialogue with dozens of their peers in small groups in their grade level. These ripples of discussions ultimately extend to other pupils in the school and the wider community that includes special learning sessions with their parents and grandparents. This ever expanding ripple effect widens the circle of participants exposed to the dialogic model and the values of tolerance and solidarity promoted by the project. 300 elementary and 300 high school pupils from across the country meet twice a year at conferences to learn how to guide study groups of Movilei Havruta and to exchange experiences which reinforces their pride of their leadership roles.

After Movilei Havruta groups, teachers may facilitate the pupils’ efforts to translate their Movilei Havruta discussions into social action and make Jewish sources alive and relevant in our modern social context. Pupils identify who the contemporary social equivalent of the taking care of the convert or orphan is and apply the Torah’s benevolence to the modern equivalent within the school environment. This could include a person who has been bullied or uprooted from their home environment and made Aliya.  Ultimately, this leads to a more tolerant and cohesive school community.

Impact: A broader impact of Movilei Havruta’s discussion groups are that they empower facilitators from lower socio-economic areas by teaching them to moderate discussion sessions. These discussions enhances the standard of pupil’s language and ability to approach texts. Pupils that were previously passive evolve to become active and dynamic students with increased interpersonal communication and concentration abilities, as they increasingly ask analytical questions and study in a deeper manner. Pupils receive greater motivation and confidence to lead Movilei Havruta discussion groups with a greater ability to express themselves and engage in public speaking.

Self-Sustaining: Local school coordinators, who receive a scholarship, are also trained with hands-on tools for building a suitable program at their schools, so that the program will be self-sustaining by being able to continue afterward autonomously. Due to the pupil-led, dialogue-based learning sessions year-round, the public discourse within the school community gradually changes, and begins to reflect the Jewish and democratic values the pupils have learned and discussed together. This program has become an integral part of each of the 40 schools in which the Morasha program works, and its success in reaching hundreds of pupils, teachers, parents and the wider community attesting to its vital importance as a tool for creating a more tolerant and cohesive Israeli society.

Our Partners: Our partners in the project include the UJA Federation of New York, the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, the Adelis Foundation, the Avi Chai Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Chicago, the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia, the Darca and Revadim school networks, the Tsaba Foundation, various municipalities and private donors.