Community Mediation: Transforming Conflict into Community

I am the executive director of Community Mediation Services, Inc. in NYC and a participant in a unique partnership between mediation centers in the United States and Israel coordinated by Mediators Beyond Borders. We have been collaborating with Mosaica, the mediation center in Jerusalem to learn, teach and share ideas and strategies to respond to conflict in two of the most diverse and complex communities: Israel and Queens, New York. There is a common need for effective communication to manage the differences that accompany daily life. Regardless of politics we both operate on the belief that it is possible to establish a system that will engage individuals and set patterns for resolving critical issues that have immediate and personal impact on people’s lives.
Working with Nurit Bachrach, director of Mosaica, I have had the gratifying experience to witness, learn from and collaborate with a successful grassroots effort in Israel to empower disputants to find their own personal solutions to local problems reflecting larger social issues.Poorly funded and almost entirely volunteer driven, a nascent system of 30 centers has developed over the past ten years. They have demonstrated that respect and thoughtful dialogue can resolve in the micro some of the issues that seem insolvable in the macro level.
These centers demonstrate that respectful local engagement of conflict can bring about more peaceful and tolerant communities.It is accomplished with a consciously diverse group of mediators and board members reflecting the communities in which the centers lie. Centers in Lod, Akko, Ramle, Rehovet and Jerusalem have developed unique ways of responding to neighborhood crises mediating culturally laden disputes and fostering collaboration among diverse residents. The processes they use are designed to foster dialogue, encourage collaboration and throughout promote respect. Rather than a win-lose legalistic approach they respond directly to the needs and values of the parties and their community. They have worked in a souk in Akko, mixed housing in Ramle, tenant empowerment in Jerusalem to a religiously based conflict in Rehovet. They are a force for understanding across cultural and sectarian lines that offers opportunities to create wiser solutions.
Is this the final answer to the profound geo-political issues faced by and within Israel? Maybe not. But in the long term, if nurtured, cultivated and expanded it could provide the infrastructure for a dynamic system of problem solving that could not only respond to crises and disputes but proactively create lines of respectful communication across diverse communities promoting planning and development. Mark Kleiman

About the Author
Mark Kleiman, Esq. began his career as an attorney in Family Court for the Juvenile Rights Division of The Legal Aid Society. Recognizing the system as inadequate to deal with family issues, he founded and has been executive director of Community Mediation Services, Inc. in New York City since 1983. Since then he has developed court diversion programs across the city in the areas of juvenile justice, community and family mediation, education, child welfare, youth development and homelessness. Programs include: the Court-funded community mediation program for Queens, a Fatherhood Program, Homelessness Prevention Program, a Restorative Justice Program for Delinquents as well as the first New York City-wide Family Court Custody Mediation Program. Mark was a founding member of both the New York City and New York State divorce mediation councils, a former board member of the New York State Dispute Resolution Association (NYSDRA) and former board member of The National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM). As a founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders, he has established a partnership between CMS and Mosaica, the community mediation program in Jerusalem as part of MBB’s Israel Project. An Office of Court Administration certified trainer, he co-authored the court’s first custody/visitation mediation curriculum. He also co-wrote a conflict resolution curriculum for Americorps volunteers for NAFCM. Mr. Kleiman has created the Values-Centered Mediation model, an approach to mediation, and has trained over 750 mediators in this model. He is the 2011 winner of NYSDRA’s Lawrence Cooke award for Innovation in Mediation and the 2013 Association for Conflict Resolution’s John M. Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award.
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