In the News

PresenTense Magazine, Issue 8
June 3, 2009
The Hand in Hand School: Modeling Multiculturalism
By ELIANA GOLDING

"Sabah il-hir!"

“Boker tov!”

Morning greetings fill the air as students and teachers arrive at school. Arabic and Hebrew weave together as children skip across the courtyard at the Yad B’Yad School for Bilingual Education in Jerusalem. This community of approximately 800 students and teachers has come a long way since its inception in 1998.

Amin Khalif and Lee Gordon founded the bilingual kindergarten so their kids, who attended preschool together at the YMCA, could continue to learn and grow together. Every year the school grew by adding another grade, and the pioneering kindergartners in 1998 are this year’s 10th graders. They will be the first generation of Yad B’Yad students to take the school’s ideals of bilingualism and multiculturalism into a deeply divided world.

There are currently Yad B’Yad schools in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Beer Sheva, and near Kfar Kara. Each school is distinct in its student body and shaped by its environment. To maintain such broad and deep diversity, the schools all maintain what they call the A-B-C-D-E Educational Model: academics, bilingualism, civics, democracy, and education for the community.

As with all teachers and faculty positions at Yad B’Yad, the job of principal is a partnership between a Jew and an Arab. Ala Khatib, 43, the current Arab principal, describes Yad B’Yad as a totally revolutionary school. “This is not just a school—it’s a community of students, parents, and teachers. We are working to break the segregation that we all grew up with.”

The administration maintains the ideas of equality and integration both ideologically and practically by preserving a 50:50 ratio of Jewish to Arab students. Shachar Viso, 34, an English teacher, emphasizes the attitude of inclusivity at the school, “We try to have among our pupils kids from very different backgrounds.” These students benefit from both the bilingualism and the strong multiculturalism that underlies the school’s method.

The new building for the growing Jerusalem school is located on the border between the Jewish neighborhood of Patt and the Arab village of Beit Sefafa. Wide-open spaces, bridges, and large windows are physical manifestations of the educational bridges the school is building. In an era characterized by segregation and strained relations between Israelis and their Arab cousins, this integrated school community is a step toward creating a more open-minded generation. Shachar spoke passionately about the long-term effects of such an education: “I hope it will give them the opportunity to understand and tolerate different points of view, and hopefully it will build the proper ground to achieve long-lasting peace.”

With a student body that is diverse religiously and culturally, teachers and faculty are faced with decisions on howto approach both national and religious holidays. Khatib says, “It’s not easy, but we must always deal with it.” Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) are particularly difficult days. The faculty tries to use these days to bring out universal ideals. “We teach the values of life and living,” says Khatib. On Yom Hashoah, the ceremony includes both Jewish sources and Arabic songs and texts to demonstrate a common value on human life.

The Israeli government mandates that each school perform a ceremony on Yom Hazikaron to commemorate the fallen soldiers. Although the staff does not require splitting the students by culture or religion during this time, no Arab students attend this ceremony. Instead, Khatib says, “Arab students discuss how this day can become one for everyone.” After these mere 20 minutes of separation, both groups of students come together to sing a song for peace. This is the only time in the year that the students are separated by religion. This respect for cultural and religious identities coupled with a clear message of unity epitomizes the spirit of Yad B’Yad.

Critics of Yad B’Yad have questioned this integration: when the new Jerusalem campus was proposed, a small community of ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbors began a petition against the school based on concerns of inter-dating and the possible compromise of Jewish education. Aside from this, most opposition has not reached beyond critical skepticism.

Lee Gordon, co-founder of the school, writes, “Yad B’Yad inspired people to think about education in a different way.” The Yad B’Yad communities have set goals to use this inspiration to further expand their visionary project. In the coming years, Yad B’Yad hopes to make each a K-12 school that is both recognized and funded by the Ministry of Education. Students and teachers at Yad B’Yad look forward to making bilingual education a normative and accepted structure in Israel.

These lofty goals are supported by strong optimism. While the world reads news filled with conflict, violence, and segregation, growing communities are beginning to make a statement of peaceful and respectful coexistence. “This has been a huge success,” says Khatib, “and we must continue to break the divisions between the Arab and Jewish communities.”

 

PresenTense is an international grassroots effort to inspire and enable socially-minded pioneering amongst the Jewish people. The magazine is made possible by a network of volunteers around the world.

 

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