Berlin Meets Haifa

Intercultural competency is an important part of social work training, particularly in multi-ethnic and pluralist societies such as Israel and Germany. The university cooperation “Berlin Meets Haifa,” in existence since 2005, opens up new possibilities for students from both universities, such as cooperative learning beyond national borders and seeing one’s own discipline from an internationally oriented perspective.

What is German, and what is Israeli? Which social groups and conflicts shape each respective society? How and what is remembered? Who is socially, politically, or culturally marginalized? Questions like these influence the everyday professional life of social workers in both countries. The participants of the project in 2009/2010 worked together to develop possible answers to these questions in joint workshops in Berlin and Haifa and in separate seminars. They discussed the results of their collective work by videoconference. These academic discussions did not stand alone, but were deepened by intensive insight into the professional praxis of social centers and institutions. This was made possible by two eight-day meetings to Berlin and Haifa respectively: These meetings provided the context for experiential learning that illuminated aspects on both sides, with regards to geography as well as theory and praxis. 

Important here is not only how individual and collective identities are “made” and changed, but also one’s personal experience in the learning process. The latter should not be situated outside of social work but rather as a requirement for one’s own professionalism. Thus, the encounter with “one’s own” and the “other” played a multifaceted and important role in the confrontation with oneself and the other participants. This was especially true in one’s experience of the everyday life in social centers and memorial sites. Here the objective was to convey a sound basis – since only then can these young experts prepare themselves for professional life, for the central questions attached to the politics and culture of memory in immigrant receiving societies. The recognition that these questions are as much related to the past as they are to shared tasks in the present was an important conclusion of the trip. Another was the recognition of how important networks are, especially for international cooperation in social work. “Berlin Meets Haifa” offers a unique contribution to this opportunity.

Students from the School of Social Work at the University of Haifa and the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences in Berlin participated in a bilateral seminar that ran over two semesters from October 2009 to September 2010. This seminar has been offered since 2005 and consists of separate teaching units, joint workshops, and meetings in each respective country with visits to social centers and memorials.