Coexistence Is in the Eye of the Beholder for Design School Students in Haifa
by Jessica Donath, USC graduate journalism student
At the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, a microwave is one of the hot-button issues for students and faculty alike.
“He won’t let us have one because it will be difficult to make sure non-kosher food stays out of the microwave,” says Jonathan Land, the third-year graphic design student’s voice and facial expression caught between restraint and outrage as he describes a diktat from David Alexander, the school’s president.
This type of problem illustrates the tensions between religious and secular Jews in Israel. This level of religious conflict, however, was not on the official agenda when students and faculty met with journalism students from the University of Southern California to discuss how the power of art can facilitate coexistence.
The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education was founded in 1971 by WIZO, an international women’s Zionist organization, and is located in this seaside city’s multicultural German Colony. In 1868, German members of the Evangelical Templar order started settling in the area. They believed that doing so would hasten the second coming of Christ.
“I could have not found a better home for it,” says David Alexander, an Orthodox Jew.
The eloquent educator has no trouble introducing nuance into the discussion. He acknowledges the kosher problem but reminds students that he did not want his school, with all its open space, to permanently smell like a cafeteria. This issue, too, like many questions that touch religion, democracy, or land in Israel, is complicated.
Alexander explains that Neri Bloomfield was different than other Israeli arts and design schools because its students are trained to become high school teachers in their field.
For most of the visiting journalism students, Jewish Israelis, from various ethnic and religious backgrounds studying together with Christian and Muslim Arab-Israelis is the distinguishing element. While this fact of life in institutions of higher education in Israel seems normal to the Israeli students and far less exciting than the low student-to-faculty ratio at the school, their USC counterparts have trouble moving past it.
In smaller group sessions, they inquire about the relationship between arts and politics, as well as the potentially transformative experience that studying and creating art together could have for Jewish and Arabic students.
“I don’t think the idea of a transformative experience is exactly what you should be looking for. How we live our lives on a day-to-day basis is enough,” says photography student Eric Judkowitz, after regaining his composure from laughing hard at the question put to him.
For Hady Azaizy, the only Arab-Israeli graphic design student currently enrolled at Neri Bloomfield, there are just not enough Arabs in the four design-oriented departments (architecture, graphic design, photography and documentary film) to turn his education into a deliberate exercise in coexistence. Thirty percent of the school’s total student body are Arab-Israelis, but most of them don’t study toward a degree in one of the creative disciplines. Rather, their focus is in culture and educational management.
“Me and you can be in one room together for four years, and maybe I will learn something about you, and maybe you will learn something about me. But just because I study in a place where there are Jews and Arabs doesn’t mean there will be communication,” he says.
But the school they attend is not a place for loners, adds Itay Eylon, who grew up on a kibbutz. When students criticize very personal works in front of a classroom of their peers, they need to be respectful of the narratives and beliefs that are revealed through art.
Suri Michaeli was looking for openness when she chose a university. The modern Orthodox woman received her primary education at a religious girls school, and she considered more of the same at a small religious arts college. But instead she chose Neri Bloomfield.
“I was looking for a very open place. I didn’t want to be closed-minded. I wanted to have all the experiences that you have here,” she says. Too many topics are taboo in religious schools, she explains while sitting next to Hady, whom she helps to find the right English words to express himself during the group discussion.
For the Neri Bloomfield students, talking about coexistence is far less important than living it.
Jessica Donath is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Southern California. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, she moved to California in 2009 after spending a year in Prague, Czech Republic, where she studied journalism and political science. She has written and published articles in German and English.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
The Next American Idol in Jerusalem
Like most 14 year olds, Rivka Bayene has big dreams.
“I’m going to America, I’m going to sing, I’m going to be on American Idol,” she told a roomful of guests at Kedma School, her home away from home in Jerusalem’s south central Katamon neighborhood.
Katamon looks similar to LA’s South Central neighborhood. Houses are neat but need a fresh coat of paint, grass pokes out from cracks in the sidewalks, and trash chokes weeds in large, empty lots. Katamon also is home to the city’s people of color, and Kedma School is a safe haven for black and brown Jews.
Rivka’s parents immigrated to Israel when she was a year old. Her father wanted her to have a better life than the one awaiting her in Addis Ababa. But when she started school, Rivka learned it was hard to be different in Israel. Between 90,000 and 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. In the 1980s, the Israeli government mounted “rescue” operations to bring home these “lost” and “forgotten” African Jews. But many Ethiopians say they have faced discrimination, if not outright racism, in their new country.
“People didn’t want to be close,” Rivka said, describing life at her old school.
Happily, things are different at Kedma where the faculty works to create a loving and supportive atmosphere. The only school of its kind in the city, it welcomes children who have had difficulty fitting into public schools. Rivka said she was relieved to find people at Kedma who looked like her, and teachers who wanted to hug her. But she says the journey is not over. She’s planning to be the next Rihanna and she expects she will need to move to the U.S. if she wants to succeed big-time.
“In America, they have many black people,” she told us, adding with a sly smile, “It’s going to be good.”
Diane Winston holds the the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California. A national authority on religion and the media, her expertise includes religion, politics, and the news media as well as religion and the entertainment media. A journalist and a scholar, Winston’s current research interests are media coverage of Islam, religion and new media, and the place of religion in American identity. She writes a smart blog called the SCOOP and tweets too.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Educational Inequality Divides Israeli Jews
by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Aside from Israel’s ongoing conflict with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, it must also deal with the internal complexities that exist in most modern societies, like immigration and racial discrimination.
An example of this can be seen inside the immigrant and impoverished neighborhood of Katamonim of Jerusalem. There, the Kedma School serves Jewish students that come from countries such as Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq — called Mizrahi Jews. Kedma’s mission is to combat the educational inequality these students face at other schools where the dominant population of students are Jews of Eastern European descent — called Ashkenazi Jews.
It’s a small school for 160 seventh to 12th graders. Many of these Mizrahi students were unpopular at their previous schools. Some say they weren’t accepted socially, seen as outsiders by their classmates and troublemakers by their instructors.
The Kedma School provides smaller class sizes — two teachers for every 26 students — than the typical public school, which has one teacher for more than every 40 students. According to the school’s website, only 10 percent of students from the greater Katamonia community complete high school. Many of these students come from single parent homes and are not encouraged to pursue professional careers in other schools.
Yardena Hamu (pictured above) grew up in this neighborhood and faced the same discrimination as these students. After receiving her bachelors’ degree in art, she returned to be a mentor and teacher at the Kedma School.
Having migrated from Iraq, Hamu can relate to her students. She keeps them motivated as though they were her own children: “We hug them, we kiss them, and we shout at them.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.
Film about Tel Aviv School Educating Marginalized Children Wins Oscar
by Mary Slosson, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Amidst the glamor and glitz of the Oscars, a short film on the children of migrant workers and asylum seekers in Israel was awarded a golden statue for best documentary short.
The film Strangers No More highlights the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv, which teaches 800 students from 48 countries. Some have fled violence in their home countries, while others migrated to Israel along with their parents, who were searching for work. All are united by a common language: Hebrew.
A screening of the film in Tel Aviv on Monday night brought a capacity crowd, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert. As The Jerusalem Post reports:
"Olmert said the school presents a model of how Israel can treat those who are different and those who come here seeking refuge. The former Prime Minister added ‘We must not allow these children to be deported.’"
Olmert was almost certainly just referring to the children of asylum seekers, and not those of migrant workers. The differences in treatment between the two groups — by society and by law — are among the issues we will be investigating in our coverage of the immigrant issue on the ground in Israel.
And you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll try to meet the students and teachers at Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv when we’re there in just under two weeks!
(photo: Karen Goodman)
Clint Eastwood and David Lynch Teach 10,000 Veterans to Meditate with Operation Warrior Wellness
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The filmmaker David Lynch has been a vocal advocate of transcendental meditation for some time now. But I’m quite intrigued with the work that his foundation is doing with returning veterans. The national initiative they are calling “Operation Warrior Wellness” aims to “teach 10,000 veterans and their families a simple meditation practice for preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Their kick-off event is this morning and they are streaming live video at 11 Eastern from the Paley Center for Media in New York. It looks like their will be a healthy line-up of celebrities (Clint Eastwood and David Lynch), scientific researchers, and war veterans who “will present evidence showing that Transcendental Meditation can be an effective aid for veterans suffering from combat stress and PTSD, including anxiety, depression, anger episodes, hypervigilance, insomnia, and substance abuse.”
While you wait, here’s a short video the David Lynch Foundation produced featuring veterans and their experiences with meditation:
If you watch this, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what they’re doing.
Thinking of My Past Education and of Those to Come
by Krista Tippett, host
Adele Diamond is a formative figure in the emerging field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. And she is the kind of person I love to interview — a person with an important body of knowledge who never stops growing and asking new questions and making big ideas come to life in her person. She has nurtured a lifelong love of dancing alongside her love of learning, and so she embodies the delightfully challenging story her research has to tell.
Here, in a very simplified nutshell, is that story — the piece of it that I have been able to internalize, in any case, and that has fundamentally changed the way I think about the education I received and what I want for my own children. Among other things, breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping us understand the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the latest part of the brain to develop in our species (“the new kid on the block,” as Adele Diamond puts it) and the last to fully mature — as late as our 20s — in every individual life.
The prefrontal cortex is vital to how we learn more than what we learn. It controls the cognitive disciplines and flexibility we need to access, apply, and creatively build on what we learn across our life spans. Such skills are a manifestation of the brain’s capacity for what neuroscientists call “executive function.” Adele Diamond’s groundbreaking research has focused on an educational approach called "Tools of the Mind" that strengthens executive function in pre-school age children. It has also shown intriguing promise for children with autism and ADHD, and for helping close the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Serious ideas, all. Yet, wonderfully, play is at the heart of this show. Tools of the Mind and related science-inspired initiatives encourage a child’s natural inclination for dramatic play. They mine that experience for the discipline it holds: of creativity, of putting oneself in another’s shoes, of listening and yielding to others, of character and perseverance.
Cutting-edge science is bringing us back to some very traditional, intuitive, and — as it turns out — educationally savvy modes of human interaction in and beyond school. It is scientifically explaining the educational power of things like drama, music, and physical activity. It is revealing memorization as a form of exercise for the brain and demonstrating that joyful environments are also more efficacious. Stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex. And the kinds of mental discipline the prefrontal cortex enables — manifest, for example, in a child’s ability to interact with others in play at an early age — is a more definitive indicator of future thriving, academic and otherwise, than IQ.
I am also naturally drawn to the spiritual implications of Adele Diamond’s work. Her emphasis is as much on reflection as on information. The kind of science she and others are doing has led the school system of British Columbia to incorporate reflection as a part of the development of whole, healthy human beings within its educational philosophy. I hear echoes of my conversation with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan in Los Angeles, who are cultivating curiosity and listening between Muslims and Jews as a civic discipline that can enlarge our souls and our practical ability to be present to difference and possibility in ourselves and in the world.
Adele Diamond herself references Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as the Dalai Lama as she reflects on the spiritual connections she uncovers between learning, doing, and being. Her robust Jewish identity flows into the way she makes sense of the larger meaning of what she does, and she has also been deeply influenced by her encounter with the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute conversations between scientists and spiritual thinkers. In fact, I met her at a conference in Vancouver, where she interacted with the Dalai Lama and other scientists, educators, and spiritual thinkers.
And next week, we’ll bring another, recent encounter with the Dalai Lama and religious leaders — the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and a preeminent Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I moderated that public discussion, on the subject of human happiness. It was a lively and felicitously unpredictable conversation, and I hope you’ll listen in.
Let’s Talk About It
by Kate Moos, managing producer
For years we’ve heard from all kinds of people that they are using the content of this program in learning environments — formal and informal, secular and religious. Book clubs, religious groups, high schools, colleges. I’ve always taken that to mean that the Krista Tippett conversation on any given week impels people to want to have new conversations of their own. We are an audience of talkers and listeners and learners.
Early on, we decided that developing learning tools (discussion guides, tutorials, etc.) was something we should try, and we’ve done a few over the years. Episodes produced with NEH funding, like our Niebuhr show or our shows on Einstein, come with study guides as part of the production because we have funds from NEH to produce them. But we just don’t have the resources to produce materials like those routinely.
So awhile ago we created a partnership with Church Publishing, or CPI, as part of a major outreach and engagement project funded by Lilly Endowment, giving them permission to use the program as the basis for church-based curricula aimed primarily at mainline Christian denominations. We think they’ve done a lovely job, and we want to bring these products to your attention because we hear from you all the time that it’s the sort of thing you need.
Four sets of small group materials are organized by topic area: Einstein’s God features our content on science and religion; Living Islam, obviously, focuses on the many aspects of the Muslim experience we’ve covered in our program; Sustainable Faith centers around issues of environment and stewardship; and Spiritual Heros selects some of Krista’s most memorable interviews with people you will likely recognize.
We hope you’ll use these materials and then let us know what you think about them!
Valuing Intellectual Depth and Its Relationship to Work and Life in All Its Forms
by Krista Tippett, host
I was hooked by the opening lines of Mike Rose’s lovely book, The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker:
"I grew up a witness to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This, then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work. Such work put food on our table, gave shape to stories of affliction and ability, framed how I saw the world … I’ve been thinking about this business of intelligence for a long time: the way we decide who’s smart and who isn’t, the way the work someone does feeds into that judgment, and the effect such judgment has on our sense of who we are and what we can do."
Mike Rose grew up in an immigrant family in the center of Los Angeles; I grew up in a small town in the melting pot of Oklahoma. I did not grow up around much physical work, but I did attend a school where advanced classes in languages, math, and science were axed to sustain a strong football team. His story of his late discovery of the strength of his own mind, and, even later, grasping the forms of intelligence he had known without appreciating, sparked all kinds of longing and recognition in me. Our stories taken together are disparate but kindred facets of a schizophrenia in the American story that thrives, largely unexamined, in our public life. Despite our national history of exceptional intellectual achievement, we also harbor what the historian Richard Hofstadter classically observed as a “national distaste for intellect.”
This takes the form of a defiant bias against “book learning” where I grew up. Joe Six-Pack is, after all, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s “common man.” Sarah Palin strums these guitar chords powerfully, as Mike Rose points out — a phenomenon that learned commentators deride but fail to understand. For the other side of our schizophrenia is a learned dismissal of the cognitive accomplishments of “average” people, working people, summed up in a phrase like manual labor.
Mike Rose can demonstrate the error of such dismissiveness with hard research. But his concern goes deeper than that and is relevant to us all. Failing to see and nurture the intellectual and civic substance of all kinds of work, he worries, is profoundly undemocratic. It limits our collective vision and range of action from school reform to social planning. We shape educational policies with economic competitiveness in mind; we don’t ask what kind of education befits a democracy. Mike Rose asks this question through his life story and in his scholarship, and speaking with him leaves me at once nourished and challenged.
My conversation with Mike Rose is more about intelligence and its relationship to work and life than it is about schooling per se, though he also offers very fresh and provocative observations on standardized testing and on what we might collectively learn from the controversial experience of No Child Left Behind.
Working on this show strummed some guitar chords already resonating in me and my colleagues after our show last fall titled "Learning, Doing, Being" with neuroscientist Adele Diamond. Many of you responded passionately to that show, and Mike Rose helps explain that response, I think. He calls forth — in a way we rarely do in our society, even in discussions about educational policy — the life-changing memories so many of us can summon of school or of teachers or of moments of reading or learning when our minds came alive; and how such moments formed who we wanted to be, who we are. We’ve gathered those insights on our website and would love to add yours.
What moments in your life shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility?
A World through the Hands
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Our destiny is written in the hand."
—Renate Hiller, co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York
Practicing mindfulness. Paying attention. Listening generously.
For Renate Hiller, the fiber artist whom you see in the film above, these majestic phrases apply in all their richness. Her German lilt of the tongue reaffirms this exquisite eloquence as she connects the importance of using our hands with the way in which we understand and find value in ourselves and in others. There’s something so honest and pure about her thought — that we gain a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our own humanity and our greater world by using our hands.
Using our hands grounds us — in work and in relationship. As we create something, hopefully beautiful, with our hands, we are transforming our moral and social senses. We evolve; we change. We notice things that we passed over the day before: the curve in a sidewalk to make way for a tree in the boulevard, the purl of a scarf, the transition of a capital that greets the ceiling. We observe the mundane and see it anew. The process of creating through the hands becomes a spiritual practice.
Ms. Heller strings together so many “threads” that help me think about raising children; about living a fuller, more physically experiential work life (yes, even about writing marginalia in a script rather than using the track changes option in Word); about hearing differently the many stories from folks who write in to the program, especially the passionate accounts of people and their gardens.
She also reminds me of something Joanna Macy told Krista in a recent interview (show to be released on September 16th):
"I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles ‘cause I’m 81 years old. But it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand was shaped by when it was a fin in the mother seas, where life was born. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the first — what Thomas Berry calls ‘the primal flaring forth,’ the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."
And, for those who are unable to watch the video, here’s a transcript:
I’m spinning wool with a stone spindle. This tool has been used probably for more than 30,000 years. And when we twist fibers into yarn we are actually creating a spiral. And the spiral is a cosmic gesture of creation.
When we look at our galaxy from outer space it is a spiral. And we find spirals in many, many places — in the plant world — on the back of our head we have a spiral. So, this is an activity that brings us closer to the cosmos, you could say. But at the same time we create something that is useful and beautiful because with the yarn that we have spun we can create sweaters, hats and mittens and scarves and so on.
To have the skill of knitting, to have the skill of crocheting, of felting, makes it possible for us not only to make something but it makes us skilled in general. The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and from also what other human beings are doing. The whole social element comes into play as well because if I make something then I think ‘Hmmm, how was that yarn made?’
In the past there were all the professions of the shoemaker and the tailor and so on, and that’s also being lost. If you do practical work somewhere on the school grounds, there is practical work going on. The children will all go to that. They’re really drawn to that. They want to experience it and however the reality is that there’s less and less of that. In the home, you know you can use already bought vegetables, all chopped up and ready to eat. There is very little activity like kneading the bread, and you know children grasp first an item and then they grasp with their mind. So if they have very little to grasp other than plastic readymade toys then what their mind grasps is very little. The toy automatically moves and you know children can only be kind of astonished by that.
So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today. Because we’re so egocentric and this makes us think of what is needed by something else. So we are in a way practicing empathy — empathy with the material, empathy with the design. I think this practicing of empathy that we do in the fiber crafts is paramount for being healing to our world. And it’s a service for the divine that we are surrounded by.
(A special thanks to Dorit of the Gerðandisgleðir blog for making connections.)