On a day when Israel faced the biggest thunderstorm in decades, over 150 people braved Jerusalem’s gale-force winds and rain to come together to fete Prof. Jona Rosenfeld, the Israel Prize-winning social worker and founder of MJB’s Unit for Leaning from Success and Ongoing Collaborative Learning in Human Services, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
As befits a 90th birthday celebration, speaker after speaker recounted Prof. Rosenfeld’s personal and professional influence on the field of social work through his method of collaborative learning from success as a way to achieve on-going learning among individuals and organizations. (For a fuller discussion on the Learning from Success method see the article in MJB’s Research in Action from the Summer 2012.)
Highlights of the day included a presentation by Prof. Michal Krumer-Nevo, from Ben Gurion University’s Department of Social Work, together with her students (Jewish and Bedouin) who are practicing and learning Jona's methods in her course, "The Practice of Social Work for Social Change." Prof. Krumer-Nevo explained how, as part of the course, each student is assigned to work with a poor family that the Social Welfare Department has given up on. As Prof. Krumer-Nevo explained the conceptual framework for working with these families, the students interspersed her remarks with real excerpts from their case notes—almost like a Greek chorus. The result was a series of stories that presented the difficult problems facing families in poverty and the successes they have had in changing their lives.
The ability to use the Learning from Success method to change the lives of people in poverty was the theme of the remarks from Bruno Tardieu, the French head of the ATD Fourth World Movement, which works with the poor in 40 countries. He noted that people living in extreme poverty are stigmatized as lacking any successes in their own lives and as being solely defined by failures. He also noted that poor people are often afraid to talk about their own successes because they have grown accustomed to using their failures as a vehicle gaining assistance. Through small steps, Tardieu explained, the Learning from Success method has helped people themselves overcome their fears of emphasizing their successes and has helped to transform attitudes—resulting in concrete actions to help the poor. Tardieu also offered an innovative suggestion that there be a Hippocratic Oath for social scientists, drawing on Prof. Rosenfeld’s guiding principles, “To do studies not for the sake of knowledge or publication but for improving people’s lives.”
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the day involved a real-life “Learning from Success interview” that Prof. Rosenfeld conducted with Stas Morderchaev, founder of the Association for Community Development of Immigrant from the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia (Mountain Jews, or Kavkazi in Hebrew). The Mountain Jews are among the most disadvantaged groups in Israel today. Morderchaev told the story of how he and his organization changed the recognition of the needs of this group while at the same time restoring pride in their heritage. It was fascinating to watch Prof. Rosenfeld push Morderchaev to identify how he knew he was successful, and to talk about what he had done to bring about these changes and what were the principles others could draw from what he did. It was exciting to see the "master" in action, and to watch how the method can help a person to articulate his actions so that others can learn from them.
In his concluding remarks, Prof. Rosenfeld thanked all those who participated in the event, and noted his gratitude for the opportunity afforded him by the Institute to develop and implement his ideas. As he put it, the Institute is an amazing example of a research institute that really succeeds in making a difference. Its total commitment to the disadvantaged populations and the quality of its studies is beyond question in his mind. Indeed, it is an example of an organization that continuously reflects on its own work so as to strive to do better.
Running through the entire event was a sense that we were not only celebrating the work that Prof. Rosenfeld has accomplished, but also about how there is still more learning to be done by MJB and many others. Fittingly, we officially announced Sarit Ellenbogen's appointment as Prof. Rosenfeld’s successor as director of the Learning from Success Unit. And in his special birthday greeting to Prof. Rosenfeld, Alan Gill, the new CEO of JDC, noted that 90 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word, limmud, or learning—a fitting association for someone so committed to on-going learning among individuals and organizations.
On behalf of MJB, its Board of Directors, and all of the staff, we wish Prof. Rosenfeld a hearty mazal tov on this wonderful milestone.
Click here to watch the full seminar proceedings (Hebrew)
Prof. Jona Rosenfeld, founder of the Institute’s Unit for Learning from Success, was one of the first full professors at the Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare. He has been a member of the board of the International Association of Schools of Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers in Israel, and was the cofounder of the National Council of the Child in Israel. He is the author of over 100 publications and studies, including five books.
In 1998, Prof. Rosenfeld became the first recipient of the Israel Prize for research in social work, reflecting his unique role in the development in the field of social work and in social welfare of Israel.
Click here for more information on MJB’s Unit for Leaning from Success and Ongoing Collaborative Learning in Human Services.