A Jewish couple tackles roots of world’s problems with startling results
If you think that a loving world is an impossible dream, take a look at this pilot project.
Can you imagine a world where everyone treats others with compassion and kindness? A world where people listen respectfully even to those they disagree with? A world where people show caring and friendship to those who are different?
David and Naomi Geffen not only imagined such a world, they actually started to make it happen. They developed a school curriculum called, “Loving Classroom,” with practical, interactive exercises to develop eight virtues: respect, compassion, listening, kindness, gratitude, love, friendship, and care.
The program was piloted in Soweto, South Africa and has achieved stunning results. Soweto is a black township in Johannesburg that is plagued by poverty, violence, and a multitude of social problems.
In the first year of practicing “Loving Classroom,” in 10 schools with 6933 students in 8th and 9th grades, incidents of bullying decreased by 80%, incidents of violence decreased by 83%, racism decreased by 74%, and drug/alcohol abuse decreased by 70%. In addition, class disruptions decreased by 77%, late coming decreased by 86%, and the pass rate increased by 17%.
In 2021, with 25,109 primary and secondary school students practicing “Loving Classroom,” even more dramatic results were reported. (Click here for the full independent evaluation ).
During the 2022/23 school year 111 schools with 83,000 students participated in this life-transforming program.
The Loving Classroom program is also being practiced in seven schools in England, 14 schools in Kenya, and introduced to ten schools in both the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel .
The book used by students, Loving Classroom, has been translated into Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian. People from Spain, France, Poland, Germany, the United States, Mexico, India, China, Jordan, and Egypt have reached out to David and Naomi Geffen, requesting the program for their countries.
Stepping Up to the Plate
Most of us at one time or another have wished that the world had more love and less hatred. That hope gripped David Geffen in 1993, when he read news reports of civil strife in Jerusalem.
An engineer who studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Leeds University, UK, David and his wife Naomi were Orthodox Jews who had moved to Israel in 1981. The couple were frustrated that no one was leading a movement calling for mutual understanding and love within the Jewish People.
The sages of the Talmud said, “Where there is no leader, strive to be a leader.”
David decided: “This needs to be done. I’m going to go ahead and do it.”
Photo: Naomi and David Geffen
With the encouragement and support of his rabbi, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, David launched Common Denominator, a movement to bring together religious and secular Jews.
The organization operated for over a decade, with the adult participants forming friendly relationships with each other and breaking down stereotypes and prejudices.
David, however, realized that the process of creating a loving world has to start with children at an earlier stage of development. He also realized that behaviors and attitudes are produced by something deeper in the human being. What was the key to rectifying all the hatred that tears apart countries, communities, and even families?
He consulted psychologists, and delved into Jewish sources. David believed that all human beings are created, as the Torah states, “in the image of God.” All of humanity share this essential connection. But how could he devise a program that inculcated in children a sense of oneness with others?
Trained as an engineer, David defined himself as “a Love Engineer.” He explained: “On the one side, 'love': the infinite cosmic light of connection, and on the other, 'engineering': we can learn practical wisdom that helps us increase the number of people we love and the depth to which we love them.”
He invoked the Torah commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). This became the basis for “Loving World.”
David was determined that the program would reach out to all humanity. The book Building a Loving World contains quotations from Christian, Moslem, Jewish, and secular sources.
The wisdom of Maimonides and Mahatma Gandhi as well as John Locke, of classical philosophers as well as modern thinkers, are interspersed with practical exercises throughout the book.
David and Naomi also produced a junior version for primary/elementary schools, accompanied by music, a version for nursery schools, Loving Words, and Loving Lullabies for parents and caretakers of infants.
Loving Workplace for adults and businesses is a more sophisticated variation of the Loving Classroom curriculum.
On the cover of each book is the “humanity being,” a being composed of multiple human beings of various colors, representing all races, religions, and worldviews. The “humanity being” is a composite body; when one part hurts, all suffer.
Positive Relationship Education
How does an exalted ideal become a force that transforms the lives of tens of thousands of people?
It takes a human being with determination, skill, and selfless love to actualize an ideal. In South Africa, that person is Thulani Makhoba.
Photo: Thulani Makhoba
In 2019, a white Christian teacher named Kyle Young, who had been trained by the Geffens in the Loving Classroom program, suggested that David participate in an Educational Expo taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.
David paid for a table, which was manned by Kyle and himself. A long queue formed; they needed more staff. The next day Kyle enlisted a black educator named Thulani Makhoba.
Thulani told David, “I’ve read your book. It’s fantastic. This program will save South Africa from civil war between blacks and blacks.”
Thulani was involved in educational projects with youngsters who had AIDS in the slums of Soweto. Kyle and Thulani approached South Africa’s Ministry of Education. The officials were skeptical about adopting the Loving Classroom program. Kyle and Thulani convinced them just to look at the book.
When they did, the government officials responded with enthusiasm. They agreed to pilot the program in Soweto for three years, but added, “We won’t pay a penny.”
David and Naomi funded the printing of books and initial training for the first ten pilot schools. Thulani became their South African director. Dramatic decreases in bullying, violence, substance abuse, tribalism, racism, and late-coming (see graph above) proved the efficacy of the program.
In November, 2022, Thulani Makhoba received the Excellence in Education Award, on behalf of Loving Classroom South Africa, from the Gauteng Department of Education.
According to Naomi Geffen, “Wherever you are in the world, there is a need for this program of Positive Relationship Education.”
In England, the Geffens visited an elite high school that caters to the British aristocracy.
The manicured campus, stately buildings, and high-budget programs bespoke an ideal educational environment.
The Geffens were surprised when the Headmaster told them how desperately his school needs a program like theirs.
“When I retire and I look back on my life,” he disclosed, “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I’m leaving only this legacy to the world. I’m producing very successful, selfish people.”
Teacher in Gaza
Just before Covid, David was approached by A.M., a teacher in Gaza who had heard about Loving Classroom. (Due to his personal safety, he requested that only his initials be used.) Because of the political situation, David could not go to Gaza and the teacher could not come into Israel.
So, David met with him and trained him in London. David was approached by a teacher in Gaza who had heard about Loving Classroom.
During the pandemic, David and Thulani trained five other Gazan teachers on Zoom. The Palestinian Authority, which runs its own school system in Hamas-controlled Gaza, approved the program.
Lack of funds to print thousands of Arabic copies of Loving Classroom and to train teachers, however, has kept the program from being implemented in a place that is starving for Positive Relationship Education.
Naomi points out that Loving World has a macro and micro element. Watching the recent spate of terror attacks in Israel, followed by the IDF’s incursion into the terror stronghold of Jenin, Naomi says, “Positive Relationship Education is a long-term solution to this painful dilemma: giving step-by-step guidelines teaching people how to get along with one another, and to appreciate the divine spark in each and every one of us. On the micro level, PRE cures cases of bullying, coercive control, marital breakdown, abuse of children, manipulative behavior, and a host of other toxic relationship issues.”
Bringing Loving World to Your Community
People from North and South America, Europe, Jordan, Egypt, India, and China have approached the Geffens, eager to bring Loving Classroom to their countries. Why hasn’t the program actualized its tremendous potential throughout the world?
There are two major roadblocks: Every country or area needs a director. This must be an educator with organizational skills who knows how to navigate the local government system and speaks English.
Moreover, the person introducing the program has to be accredited by the Geffens as someone who actually lives the ideals of the program.
As Naomi says, “The directors have to be loving, honest, kind, and living the virtues that we’re promoting. Of course, none of us is perfect. But we’re promoting relationship education. So, if the person is not into loving relationships, actually living the ideal, then they cannot promote it in their country.”
If you are interested in dedicating yourself to this world-changing program, email Friends@LovingWorld.com
The teacher of every class must be trained to facilitate this interactive program, and every student must get a book in his or her own language. This requires funds.
For years, David Geffen travelled the world to fundraise for his dream of a loving world. In March, 2023, David died suddenly at the age of 62. Funding Loving World is now up to all of us.
Tax-deductible donations can be made in the U.S., England, Israel and South Africa. Click here to donate. The world is being torn apart by social rifts.
Segments of society feel alienated from one another. Respectful debate of issues has degenerated into nastiness and name-calling. Loving World’s stated vision is: “A Loving World in which individuals and nations care for one another’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing, and thereby work together to cultivate harmony, peace and fulfillment for humanity and our planet.”
The world today is thirsty for the life-saving waters of love, compassion, respect, kindness, and the other virtues fostered by Loving World, a program that has been proven to work. We just need to work the program.
To support Loving World, click here.
About the author
Sara Yoheved Rigler’s YouTube channel is "From Within the Walls of Jerusalem", where she relates stories, presents gems of Jewish wisdom, and teaches practical life tools. Her newest book, I’ve Been Here Before: When Souls of the Holocaust Return, is the product of 8 years of research into reincarnated souls from the Holocaust. She is also the author of six best-sellers: Holy Woman; Lights from Jerusalem; Battle Plans: How to Fight the Yetzer Hara (with Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller); G-d Winked: Tales and Lessons from My Spiritual Adventures; Heavenprints; and Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup. She gives a weekly Marriage Webinar for Jewish Workshops on a spiritual approach to marriage, with hundreds of members throughout the world. She lives in the Old City of Jerusalem. Her website is: sararigler.com.
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