Peace Education With the Adam Institute

Noa Barash
on December 15, 2022

J Street’s “Our Israel” project spotlights the amazing Israeli groups who share our progressive vision for Israel, and who are helping build a society underpinned by the founding values of democracy, self-determination and equality which are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Peace Education with the Adam Institute

The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace — an educational nonprofit based in Jerusalem that promotes mutual respect, tolerance, and coexistence across religions, ethnicities and nationalities — was founded in response to a violent rupture in democracy.

On February 10, 1983, a peace activist was murdered at a demonstration against the Lebanon War. A Jewish nationalist threw a grenade into a crowd, killing Emil Grunzweig and wounding 8 others.

The murder of Grunzweig, a 36-year-old educator and peace activist dedicated to promoting understanding between Jewish and Arab youth, shook the nation. To honor his memory, former colleagues joined others from across Israeli society, Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, to form a nonprofit committed to “focusing on teaching democracy and peace”. Since its establishment in 1987, the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace has taught democracy and peace through formal and informal education, civil society, and other arenas across Israel and the region. More than 350,000 children, teens and adults, Jews and Arabs, have studied in Adam Institute courses and programs, with many accredited by the Israeli Ministry of Education.

‘Adam’ is the Hebrew word for ‘human.’ The name was chosen by its founders to convey that human equality serves as the basis for a life centered on the values of democracy and peace.

“We felt trepidation about the fabric of our democracy and decided to devote our lives to teaching its principles and the principles of peace,” explains Dr. Uki Maroshek-Klarman, Executive Director of the Adam Institute and among its founders. That ethos led the Adam Institute to spearhead educational pathways for all ages, communities and sectors, which were taken from the Israeli political scene yet address universal problems shared by educators across the world.

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A New Way of Teaching

The Adam Institute’s approach is experiential, rooted in research—and fun. Dr. Maroshek-Klarman, who completed a doctorate in political philosophy at Tel Aviv University, realized that the academy often overcomplicated concepts in teaching democracy rather than simplifying them, affording little room to introduce new ideas. In addition, civic education felt disconnected from “democracy on the ground”.

To remedy this disparity, Dr. Maroshek-Klarman created an experiential approach to learning called “Betzavta-Adam Institute’s facilitation method”. “Betzavta”, Hebrew for ‘together,’ encourages participants to examine different ways of democratic decision-making. The method takes an empirical approach to civic education, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution, encouraging participants to reframe external conflicts as internal dilemmas. Participants find themselves questioning their actions through exercises and reflection. Allowing people to resolve conflicts democratically in a safe environment leaves them with a better understanding of the complexity of democratic processes.

Today, “Betzavta” is an internationally renowned method used in formal and informal educational programs in institutions, centers and universities across the world. Some 3800 facilitators have been trained in the method, with a steady stream of newcomers learning the tools. The Adam Institute has also published a corpus of material rooted in “Betzavta”: 65 books, training manuals and curricula in Hebrew and Arabic, including some in English, German and Polish. Many of the texts were coauthored by Mr. Saber Rabi, the Adam Institute’s Director of Educational Programming in Arab Schools.

Essential democracy education is done across Jerusalem schools, and from the north to the south. Programs have been adapted to the particular needs in Bedouin schools and communities for children, young adults, women and the general community. They’ve also been applied at Jewish and Arab schools for at-risk students and the multi-national, multi-faith school at ALYN Hospital, a comprehensive rehabilitation center for physically challenged and disabled students. This year, a public charter school in the US started teaching “Betzavta” to its educational staff.

In the 1990s, the Adam Institute began teaching the “Betzavta” method in Germany through collaborations and partnerships with universities, institutes and centers, teaching courses on anti-racism, multiculturalism, promoting democratic thinking and conflict resolution, and other topics. Some 1000 German teachers, activists, community organizers, civic educators, therapeutic caregivers, and professionals in local administration and politics have been trained in the “Betzavta” method. The Adam Institute’s work has garnered eight prestigious awards, including the Speaker of the Knesset Prize, various awards from the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2019 the German Foreign Ministry’s Shimon Peres Prize for the “More than One Democracy” project together with veteran partner, The Center for Applied Policy Research (C.A.P) at the University of Munich.

Educational Programs

The Adam Institute’s educational programs start in kindergarten through elementary school, middle and high school and beyond. The programs promote the “recognition of every person and every group’s right to diversity and freedom”, facilitating active equal participation in the classroom, at school, in the community, and overall. In elementary school, the Adam Institute’s “ABC in Democracy” is adapted to each age group’s emotional and cognitive development. The rich diversity in method allows each student to find an appropriate way for expression and creativity. Experiential games facilitate discussion of core issues of democracy: equality, liberty, rights, majority and minority relations, the essence of the law, a fair agreement and conflict resolution.

Programs for older students and adults are informed by the Adam Institute’s “More than One Democracy” primer, which presents seven different models of democracy and provides a foundation for experiential activities and games to teach them. The Adam Institute offers a wide range of opportunities for people to get involved and learn a new way of thinking about democracy, ranging from freedom of expression to racism to conflict resolution, feminism, and the connection between democracy, environment and sustainability. In-person courses and digital learning draw people of all ages and backgrounds.

In 2020, the Adam Institute established an international Online Academy. People from around the world—from Turkey to South Korea, Australia to Sudan, Iran to the USA—join digital courses on democracy and COVID, conflict resolution, feminism, environment, sustainability, racism, disability rights, the effects of war, and other topics.

Jewish-Arab Partnership and Peace Journalism

The natural outgrowth of learning about democracy, peace and respect for “other” is promoting dialogue in practice across sectors in Israeli society. Day in, day out, the Adam Institute team has been doing the nuts-and-bolts work of laying a foundation for Jewish-Arab shared living through educational activities. A critical piece of the Adam Institute teaching and programming includes Jewish-Arab encounters. “Our vision is democracy for both nations,” affirms Maroshek-Klarman.

Thus far, the Adam Institute has run 900 Jewish-Arab encounter groups. The Adam institute’s “Encounters” program brings together different population groups, sometimes polarized in the State of Israel, to study democratic principles and procedures that provide a foundation for shared living and methods for conflict resolution. For example, 150 Jewish and Arab middle and high schools participated in encounters and completed joint projects on incitement, and discrimination as part of two central Adam Institute programs: “In the path of dialogue: Networking Schools Against Racism” and “Words Matter: Educating about and for freedom of expression”.

A Bedouin high school principal explained, “I view racism as a disease of our time, and the Adam Institute’s Dialogue Program was a form of therapy and prevention of that disease. Prevention is preferable to treatment.” The outcomes of these conversations are used to analyze how everyday Israelis and Palestinians can make gestures towards connecting across the divide. Significantly, the Adam Institute works both with teachers and educators as well as students.

The Adam Institute also dedicated resources to a three-year program in peace journalism. Some 180 Jewish and Arab Israeli journalists and activists studied the principles of peace journalism, learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that also spanned understudied perspectives of women, Bedouins and ultra-Orthodox; and created media items, including hundreds of videos, podcasts, print articles and more. This corpus these drew 500,000 readers/views. Dr. Maroshek-Klarman explains, “We explored how to use the media to bring peace – instead of more violence.”

But the Adam Institute’s work doesn’t stop in the region.

“A big part of our work is partnering with NGOs,” explains Dr. Maroshek-Klarman. “We have connections all over the world. People want to talk about these issues in a global way, but struggle finding the outlet to do so. That’s where we come in.”

New Solutions to Old Problems: Conflict Resolution through a Gendered Perspective

For decades, the Adam Institute has run programs, projects and courses to empower women’s political, social and democratic leadership for sustainable change in women’s status and leading change in the realms of peace and security. Among the illustrious graduates of the Adam Institute programs is Prof. Daphna Hacker, a law professor and head of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, who trained as a “Betzavta” facilitator and has shared how it deeply impacted her work. Prof. Hacker is Israel’s representative for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

This year, the Adam Institute initiated a pioneering approach: focusing on conflict resolution through a gendered perspective. The Adam Institute’s latest work centers on including women in the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Women are half of the population. The fact that we’re not a part of the negotiations for conflict resolution or a part of creating the narrative means it’s not the real narrative at all,” underscores Dr. Maroshek-Klarman.

Women’s unique experiences during wartime and conflict are rarely documented, notes Dr. Maroshek-Klarman. As Adam Institute staff members collect testimonies from women in Israel and Palestine, they hope to reframe the ways in which we view conflict resolution.

“We’re creating new models for conflict resolution based on the narratives of women rather than men,” explains Dr. Maroshek-Klarman. “The traditional topics discussed at the negotiation table are borders, Jerusalem, and security. When I ask a focus group of women what’s most important to them, they almost unanimously first mention children. It’s revolutionary.”

The Jewish and Arab Adam Institute staff, with Maroshek-Klarman at the helm, know that it’s not easy to change the narrative. Yet it is critical to be malleable, creative and respond to the changing times. “We’ve had to figure out creative ways we can fight without losing ourselves and our values,” explains Dr. Maroshek-Klarman. “Action will never take place without awareness.”

“Democracy education provides a counterpoint to ongoing events that stir emotion and fear. It grants foundational blocks that make you pause and think, help you listen. That’s especially important in our complex region”, asserts Dr. Maroshek-Klarman. “It really does work.

And with the current election results in Israel and the trends around the world, it seems more vital than ever. We must teach democratic principles to all, Jews and Arabs, all sectors, starting with our youngest children. Because if we don’t teach democracy, we just won’t have it.”

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