"What I find beautiful in the Hevruta dialog is that you sit in a circle and talk face to face with the person across you. You can't ignore or avoid this – you see a real person, not a screenshot on your cellphone. The dialog totally transforms communication: It creates a deeper encounter and makes it easier to discover shared points of understanding and appreciation between participants. I'm glad to be in a leadership position where I can involve additional pupils and not only participate myself." (May Buzaglo – Hevruta Leader, 10th grade, Mikve Israel General High School, Holon).
Approximately 300 pupils from some 30 schools from all over Israel and from various sectors – religious / secular, elementary / high school, center / periphery – met in February at the Beit Meir village near Jerusalem for a Pupils Lead Hevruta national seminar. The seminar, held for the first time this year as part of the Morasha Pupils Lead Hevruta program, was entirely devote to training the pupils as a leadership group to lead social values dialog in their schools.
Moving from Insensitive Dialog to Socially Aware Dialog
The idea behind the program is to create an inter-personal encounter space for pupils, teachers, parents and administrative staff. The encounters, held in small groups, promote making personal acquaintances and mutually respectful communication. By asking open questions and creating a non-judgmental learning atmosphere, meaningful learning and in-depth discussion on divisive topics can take place.
"Schools are microcosms of our society, where gaps between different worlds of content and different identities are often reflected," explains Guy Gardi, Director of the Morasha program. "The difficulties involved in crossing boundaries and meeting with the Other are increasing. One of the main manifestations of this is Insensitive and stereotypical dialog that often takes place in pupils' Whatsapp groups. The Pupils Lead Hevruta program offers the possibility for a different type of dialog: dialog that contributes to bringing people together and lowers the barriers of prejudice and entrenchment in extremist positions. Most importantly, this is a dialog led by the pupils themselves."
Handing the Power over to Pupils
Those leading the dialog groups are, indeed, the Hevruta leaders – pupils who underwent training for facilitating Beit Midrash study in the spirit of Jewish social values. Their training includes close supervision by Morasha mentors every second week for the period of a year. The training contributes to the development of pupils' learning and thinking skills, facilitation abilities and oral expression. "Beyond having the pupils develop their skills, we strive to empower pupils by 'conferring leadership' on them," explains Shoshi Peretz, field program director in the Morasha program. "We believe that the ability to lead a discourse of social values provides a meaningful tool for personal empowerment, taking on responsibility, and maturation. We often see how involving pupils in facilitation roles in school dialog circles reinforces their sense of belonging and their sense of self, and contributes to their more active involvement in school."
The Hevruta Leaders program is rapidly becoming an integral part of social- educational activities in schools. The study sessions are resulting in diverse creative expression within the schools and communities. I met with Romy Ohayon and her 10th grade classmates in the General [non-religious] School in Mikve Israel Teachers Room while the group was preparing for the facilitation of a study session on the topic of "The Commandment of Joyfulness" scheduled for the 25th of Adar. Pupils summarized the encounter with feelings of pride and achievement. Romy explained: "The teachers' facilitation at school was very important to me because I saw it as an opportunity to exchange roles with the teachers. I tried to indicate to the teachers how I would like them to behave towards me as a pupil in class. Instead of holding a usual class where teachers lecture and pupils listen and drill, I facilitated a different type of learning that was more attentive and personal. I feel that I succeeded in making place for everybody's different opinions as well as in facilitating an eye-level dialog of peers."
Hevruta Leaders Team Spirit
For the Kol Israel Haverim Morasha program, the annual seminar is a peak day in the pupils' year of training. The objective of the encounter between a large group of participants is to reinforce and hone facilitation skills as well as additional skills while learning and sharing with peers, such as mirroring, empathy and attentive listening when leading dialog.
According to Tzippy Eden, director of Morasha training programs, a no less important objective is to create team spirit among the Hevruta leadership and the understanding that they are part of a larger, meaningful group that is transforming social dialog in school communities: "Pupils return to school equipped with information, skills, and the "right frame of mind", and lead a broad range of study sessions, including, among
others, peak days at school held towards festivals and holidays. The encounters cross age and status boundaries, and promote inter-personal communication of higher quality and openness between the members of the school community. Ultimately, this important activity exerts a positive influence on the social-educational school climate."