3 basic beliefs, or convictions, underpin the project:
1. We are on Earth to learn, or, as a Midrash says, to re-learn what we already knew before we were born but forgot just before the moment we appeared in the world. Jewish culture is about learning, around which everything seems to be organized, almost from birth to death. It’s therefore where a great methodological richness was developed, linking practice and theory, acts that are meaningful and thoughts that make a change in the world. First through the commitment of studying as the central axis of Jewish life. But also through the idea that this learning should be shared (the Havruta) and therefore debated, challenged, giving the opportunity for new ideas to emerge, for each student to bring new interpretations. In this dialogue each participant asks its own key questions and creates unique contents, essential for the development of each person and of the whole society. As the famous 11th century French commentator Rashi writes it in one of its commentaries: Two people, together, are able to achieve what they would never be able to achieve separately.
2. Places comprehend “in them” the traces, memories of what happened there and this memory is a key to the consciousness of otherness, to the relationship between self and the other. The other in the horizontal, geographical axis, but also the other in the vertical, historical axis. The project is about developing a framework that enables this experience and gives the opportunity to develop this “sense of place” and this reading of the environment in a bi-dimensional perspective.
3. The third conviction is about the role Jewish culture has to play, by bringing its specific resources and millenary experience to modern society. An accumulated wisdom that holds concepts for many of current and future challenges. The challenge to continue studying all lifelong (one of the UN goals), the challenge to reconnect action and thoughts, the challenge to always questioning given interpretations, the challenge to disconnect periodically from physical and mental preoccupations (especially now that we are continuously connected), etc. Many of the challenges for which Jewish tradition has developed original answers through its journey, can be now shared with other, enriching all sides.
Following its orientation since the beginning in 2011, the project develops each year in new cities, new steps in this journey.
In the last 3 years, a full list of new cities was added to the project’s journey: Nice, Nantes, Ixelles, Athens, Skopje, Bucharest, Iasi, Sant-Boi and for first time out of Europe in Tangier in 2017. This experience in Morocco was very important, showing the universality of the concept and the possibility of its adaptation to other continents.
The second dimension of its development is about the concerned publics. We have decided to propose the project to special needs’ groups like ULIS classes in France (integrated pupils with light mental disorders) and SEGPA (integrated pupils with learning disabilities). In both the project was successful, giving us the opportunity to extend it to more structures, like blind pupils (Nice) and mute pupils (Sofia). Those groups were always paired with other pupils without disabilities, experiencing also in this case how both bring an enriching perspective to the other.
Following the migrants crisis, we proposed to include unaccompanied minors (MNA) recently arrived to Europe. The first case was in Brussels, where in February 2018 we organized a project with a group of youth from Le Petit Chateau immigration center holding 17 nationalities, together with a local youth group. Despite a serious linguistic concern and after few moment of hesitation, few youth became the “official” interprets… and subsequent outcomes were above our expectations.
Those recent years also enabled us to develop meaningful partnerships, among which:
• The Ministry of education in France and Greece
• Federation of Wallonie-Bruxelles
• Local authorities in Spain, UK, Romania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia
• Memorial of Holocaust (North Macedonia)
• Jewish Federations like FEDROM (Romania), SHALOM (Bulgaria) which participation and moral support is very important for us
In 2018, we understood that a second step was needed for the project, enabling the pupils to go from reflection to action. To become active actors of change and to achieve it through a shared process this time European fellows. We launched in September 2018 the “European Perspectives Workshops” by which pupils are called to select one of the issues they perceived through their urban space research and confront their analysis of this subject with pupils participating in The Beit Project in another European city, during the same period. By supporting them to connect, to develop a vision about this issue and create civic actions to tackle it (locally and globally), we hope to empower youth to act for a better society.
Expansion and development are core parts of the project and the reason it’s based on a nomadic classroom. The project has, until now, travelled to Paris, Marseilles, Nice, Nantes, Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, Brussels, Ixelles, Lodz, London, Athens, Sofia, Skopje, Bucharest, Iasi and to the Maghreb with a first experience in Tangier (Morocco).
Each new project begins with the research of local partners and the recruitment – and training – of a local team. The success of each project is based on the quality of its team, on their capacity to take ownership on every stage and see the project as theirs.
Many new projects began by the meeting with a potential local partner: an association, political personality or cultural activist of a city with a specific interest for the project. Other began because of the city’s history, because of specific places to rediscover or because of an endangered memory. Finally, other has begun began because of a local urgency to have people gathering and discussing around their common urban heritage. But at the end, all those objectives are at the core of the project.
There is practically no place in Europe and possibly in the world, where we wouldn’t dream about bringing the project, in case resources would enable it. The selection is therefore a question of strategy and opportunity, between the will to go to cities where we can develop long term relationship and the options that show up on the way.
Israel is of course part of this list since our beginning, but we are conscious that we would need a thoughtful process of adaptation for the project to preserve its essence in the Israeli context. We have begun to work on this idea with Mr. Derek Perlman, founder a local association called Yahalom, and we hope they might be our Havruta for this new phase, with whom to continue the journey. The journey home.
David Stoleru, a French born architect, is The Beit Project’s founding-director. He is passionate by architecture and education, cities and the history imbedded in it as well as the interaction between the urban space and its inhabitants. He loves bringing different people together,
After growing first in France and later in Israel in a religious environment, he now lives in Barcelona with his wife Romy and their 3 children. He sees his cultural context at the confluence between East and West, Paris and Jerusalem.
It’s actually through the combination of those two parts that he finds himself at home. Well, home is a big word for a 3 times immigrant, an architect, the founder of a project called Beit… The research of the “home” might be a very meaningful challenge.
David loves to question static ideas, to challenge concepts that seems evident to his fellows, to propose new options. Maybe the 4 years of Talmudic studies he spent in an Israeli Yeshiva left a mark on his way of thinking. A deep understanding that this questioning dialectic is at the core of the Jewish identity.
For him, by situating the learning activity as its primary commitment, the Jewish culture is conveying an essential message: that education is the core of human life and that the best way to learn whatsoever is by meeting the other.
Upon his arrival to Barcelona some 20 years ago, and later as an architect, he got actively engaged in Jewish Heritage preservation. Some important sites were endangered by urban projects, like part of the Old Jewish quarter and the medieval cemetery of Montjuïc. For him, such places were historical treasures that speak about happy or sad human stories, relationship between Jewish and local culture, about living together. Their potential is enormous to become places of dialog amid cultures, amid parts of society that ignore, or have not yet rediscovered, each other’s richness. But that perspective was not back then shared by local authorities and inhabitants, for whom urban development had priority upon memory. The place was not as meaningful for local society, as it was for him.
David then began to dream about the transformation of each heritage site into a place of study, an urban beacon about otherness and tolerance toward diversity.
The Mandel Institute in Jerusalem gave him the opportunity to develop an original idea: the design and creation of a “nomadic classroom”. This project, aimed to travel through Europe and be installed temporarily in many different Heritage sites, would transform those urban pieces into educational tools and create a meaningful connection between the site and local society, especially youth. The Beit Project was born. Beit, the second letter of the Hebrew Alphabet – like the 2 learners of a Havruta, but also the home that those 2 build together, creating a shared place.
David is leading the project, inspiring professionals that come from very different background, to believe that education, can be done differently. He is defining the strategy of the project and its future development but is also participating in the training of the project’s new collaborators in more than 10 cities each year. An important part of his tasks relate to creating new partnerships, finding new financial supporter, at the European and local level. He specially loves the yearly gathering with the different local teams and partners in one of the cities in which the project take place, moments of encounter and learning.