5 Questions with … Rabbi Marc Rosenstein

REALITY Israel Experience corp member (r) in dialogue with an Israeli Arab teacher (l) at the College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education, during a program organized by the Galilee Foundation for Value Education.

by Abigail Pickus

This is the second of a three-part series.

Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, 64, moved to Israel from the United States in 1990 and settled on Moshav Shorashim in the Galilee, then a small community founded by a group of young American immigrants. Ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), he worked in the States as a pulpit Rabbi and a high school principal.

Today, he is the director of the Israeli Rabbinic Program of HUC-JIR and also the director of The Galilee Foundation for Value Education – Shorashim, which uses informal education to build bridges between Arabs and Jews, Jews and Jews, and Israel and the Diaspora. Its programs include a Jewish-Arab youth circus and a Hebrew-Arabic regional internet newspaper.

Recently, Marc addressed the REALITY Israel Experience group, a 10-day tour of Israel for Teach for America corps members to explore Israel’s education and social justice systems, gain exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and uncover and re-commit to the values that drive their passion for public service. REALITY Israel Experience is a project of the Schusterman Family Foundation and the Samberg Family Foundation, in partnership with Teach for America.

Marc tells eJewish Philanthropy about changing the world through education.

1. The Galilee Foundation for Value Education’s mission is to use informal education to build the Galilee as a “model of civil society” by bridging what you call the “three major fault lines in Israeli society and the Jewish world,” specifically Jewish-Arab, Jewish-Jewish (primarily orthodox/non-orthodox), and Israel-Diaspora relations. Why have you devoted your life to this work and mission?

To begin with, our Foundation’s work is rooted in a vision of Zionism that is connected to the Land of Israel and the unity of the Jewish people through the values of equality, freedom of conscience, and religious and ethnic pluralism.

We believe that in order for Israel to be a sustainable society, it first has to be at peace with itself. Social solidarity is a necessity and to achieve this, we have to do everything possible, be it formal education, legal and political means. Everyone has to pick his piece of the battle and we have chosen to do this through informal education. I believe that informal education has the potential to bring people together and to change people, one person at a time.

2. You’ve been an educator a long time. How long? Why did you go into education in the first place and what keeps you there?

When do you start counting? I was ordained 1975, so I guess you could say I’ve been an educator since then. The reason I went into the field of education and the reason I stay there is because I find it personally interesting and satisfying, and I think I’m reasonably good at it. I also believe that through education we can repair the world, one person at a time.

One of the ways to respond to injustice in the world is by giving people opportunities to learn more about their surroundings and the ‘other’ and through this, to reflect upon their own relationships and their own vision of not only the society in which they live but the society in which they would like to live.

3. You told the REALITY Israel Experience group, “If you don’t believe you can change the world as teachers, you’re in the wrong business.” Do you still feel you can change the world through education? How?

Yes, very much so. I do get discouraged every so often because that’s how it is. You take two steps forward and one step back. But despite this, I believe that I must continue with the work I’m doing because there is no alternative. I see that we’re making an impact on people’s lives.

For example, we brought the REALITY group to meet and interact with Arab teachers in Israel. This kind of experience deeply impacts both sides of the equation. The kind of feedback we often get is along the lines of, “I never thought about things that way before. You showed me a perspective I had never imagined.” These experiences create opportunities for people to break out of stereotypes and broaden their minds and the world.

4. The REALITY trip was about cultivating leadership. Can leadership be learned? How?

I do think leadership can be learned, but first you have to develop your own personal conception of what it means to be a leader. I am a follower of Ronald Heifetz, an expert on leadership (and author of Leadership Without Easy Answers) who writes about adaptive leadership, a framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments.

Leaders are people who help others do what they need to do and who empower people to make the right the decisions to actualize their own values. You can definitely learn to do that from experience, reflection, and example.

5. Who is one of your heroes and why?

Jeremiah. To me, he is the perfect example of a Biblical figure whose humanity and internal struggle about the reality of the society in which he lived comes through so clearly. He projected a moral vision of what the State of Israel is supposed to be. Without this morality, Israel will implode, he warned, and they could in no way rely upon Divine protection for help—that change had to come from within the people themselves to mend their own social rifts.