When Philanthropy Does Good

By Tamara Klinger Levi

Over the past few years, a philanthropic investment in the Israeli nonprofit Merchavim made by The Morningstar Foundation became the impetus for a systemic change at the Israeli Ministry of Education (MOE).

Following a four-year-long investment in Merchavim’s program, Promoting Diversity in Performing Arts, establishing art matriculation programs in Arab high schools, and creating encounters between Arab and Jewish students, there were signs of change.

For the first time, as a result of The Morningstar Foundation’s philanthropy, a culturally appropriate music curriculum and music matriculation exam was crafted for Arab high schools and is about to be formally approved by the Ministry of Education. The pressing need for a suitable curriculum and exam for Arab students resulted from establishing new art matriculation programs in Arab schools facilitated by Merchavim’s program.

While the program is a trailblazer, the MOE’s unprecedented recognition that the accompanying educational materials, designed for Jewish students, should not just be ‘copy-pasted’ for Arab students is a revelation. Once the program opened in several Arab high schools, and there was feedback from the field, the MOE understood that their existing materials were not culturally appropriate for Arab students. At this time, Merchavim was already working with a professional team on a new music curriculum and exam to be later approved by the MOE.

The MOE is now in the final stage of giving their approval for implementation (de facto, the new materials are already being used in Arab high school music programs). The new materials reflect the rich Arabic musical heritage, traditional musical instruments, and Arab composers’ works.

More exciting is that the MOE expressed their motivation and intention to rethink the appropriateness of other study materials used in Arab schools. Additionally, two affiliated academics pointed out that these new materials would impact a shift in their BA track music curriculum at their colleges. Herein lies the beginning of a remarkable systemic change.

So how did this shift come about?

Merchavim and The Morningstar Foundation identified the need to close the gap in educational programming (specifically in art studies) in Arab high schools and noticed a lack of opportunities for significant shared society encounters in educational settings between Arab and Jewish students. When the pilot program was launched in 2017, few arts study tracks existed in Arab schools compared to 130 such programs offered at Jewish schools.

Following a fact-finding mission, Merchavim and the funder approached the MOE (The Headquarters for Civic Education and Co-existence, The Arts Division, and The Supervisory of Music Education) to secure their partnership and support of this endeavor. Merchavim was confident in this approach because of healthy organizational DNA; expertise in shared society and educational programming; experience working with multiple partners and moving parts; a robust preexisting relationship with government ministries; an excellent track record of past joint initiatives with the MOE; success in cultivating trust relationships with players on the ground (beneficiaries), and most importantly, the ‘historical’ good relationship with the funder. The MOE saw the Promoting Diversity in Performing Arts program as a natural continuation of Merchavim’s work.

In the four short years since its establishment, the Promoting Diversity in Performing Arts program has already left its mark not only on participating Arab and Jewish schools/students but also on institutionalizing a culturally appropriate music program curriculum and music matriculation exam in Arab schools across Israel.

Happy ending/beginning

Despite the naysayers (Arab educators worn-out by one-off initiatives offered by well-meaning nonprofits and some funders experiencing the same fatigue), the program now includes 11 participating Arab schools and over 360 Arab students (studying in music, theater, or visual arts matriculation programs), and shared society encounters/workshops and culminating days with an equal number of Jewish schools/students nationally. Additionally, there is a growing demand for the program from Arab high school principals and parents.

This is philanthropy done well.

We extend our sincerest thanks to The Morningstar Foundation for being excellent partners, for their guidance and their vision. We also recognize the support of a significant anonymous donor who passionately supports this program and Merchavim’s mission.

Tamara is the Director of Resource Development at Merchavim – the Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in Israel.