We lost a leader and wise teacher of conflict resolution when Jonathan Reitman passed away on June 7th after more than a decade of working and living with cancer.
Jonathan was a man dedicated to justice, a worldview he credited to his activist parents. A gifted writer, Jonathan became a journalist after graduating from Lafayette College. He attended University of Maine School of Law to become a better writer, but instead devoted 12 years after law school to workers’ rights, as a lawyer and partner at McTeague, Higbee, Libner, Reitman, MacAdam & Case. In 1990, he chose to devote his work entirely to mediation. We formed a dispute resolution firm, Gosline & Reitman, also for a time with Kathryn Monahan Ainsworth. It was a privilege for us to practice with Jonathan.
Jonathan described mediation and peace-building as the work he was put on earth to do. He was devoted to mediation as his way of being of service, relieving pain, bringing peace, and reknitting communities. He brought equal focus and passion to mediating divorce issues and multi-million dollar commercial disputes, mediating over 1,500 cases. His work expanded to facilitating and mediating many public policy and land use issues with scores of stakeholders, including a multi-party decades-old dispute over Sears Island. Participants often commented on Jonathan’s calm and centered presence in the midst of the storm.
Jonathan also became deeply involved in peace-building work internationally. He worked with Louise Diamond in Bosnia over the five years immediately after the Dayton Peace Accord, bringing together Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, often creating space for the first cross-ethnic conversations after violence. He taught mediation and peace-building skills to participants from 16 countries in programs in Italy and England. Perhaps his greatest passion was bringing peace-building skills to Palestinians and Israelis. For 10 years, until his health made travel impossible, he taught conflict resolution to Palestinian and Israeli graduate students in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, often during periods of high conflict. While he was always eager to come home to family and friends, he found it difficult to leave Israel, feeling that he had somehow abandoned colleagues and students who continued to live in high conflict areas.
Jonathan was committed to access legal services throughout his career, working with organizations seeking to provide access to legal assistance and serving on the board of Pine Tree Legal Assistance for 33 years.
Jonathan was a gifted teacher. He co-taught ADR at Maine Law and mediation at USM with his colleague Diane Kenty to many attorneys and community leaders. Jonathan brought dedication, deep experience, humor and humility to his students and colleagues. He frequently lectured and gave workshops throughout the U.S.
Jonathan received many awards during his lifetime, including the 2010 “Peacemaker of the Year” Award from Greater Brunswick Peaceworks; 2009 Down East Environmental Award for mediation of the Sears Island conflict, and 2009 EPA Environmental Merit Award for co-facilitation of Long Creek Watershed Management Plan; and the 2007 “Pioneer Award” from the New England Chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution for significant contributions to the field.
Jonathan never viewed mediation as a formula, but as a way of listening and creating space for movement and exploration of shared humanity. He often did unexpected things. At the beginning of one meeting in a long, difficult process involving about 40 environmental and business representatives, he completely changed the atmosphere in the room by bringing in a big vase of peonies from his garden. He put them on the table, sat down, and beamed at everyone. That was the magic of Jonathan, creating a shared moment of beauty that transformed the task ahead.
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