Etai Garfunkle, Student, Galilee

ETAI GARFUNKLE, an 8th grader at the time of this story, is now a high school student.

Meeting Ground.

A tall Jewish boy with light skin and hair, Etai Garfunkle likes computers and hiking. He’s in 8th grade at Hand in Hand’s Galilee school.

Like many of his classmates, Etai was born in the hills of this northern, historically Arab region. Some Arab families have lived here for hundreds of years; some came from villages that were destroyed in 1948 at the birth of Israel. Jews migrated here more recently, in search of fresh air, open spaces, and larger homes with backyards.

Etai plays soccer with Arab children, much as his father did as the child of a Danish immigrant father and Romanian immigrant mother growing up in Israel’s coastal town of Bat Galim. But that was the 1960s, when the playing field was the only meeting ground between Jews and Arabs. The approach was “respect but suspect,” a common attitude of Jews toward the Arab minority.

For Etai, the world is different. He understands and speaks Arabic, and his soccer mates are his true friends. He moves freely between his hilltop settlement of Rakefet to the Arab city of Sakhnin, where his school is, feeling comfortable in both places.

Etai was one of Hand in Hand’s first students when the school opened in 1998. Unknowingly, he has become a leader, a fact no one really gave much thought to eight years ago when he sat in his 1st-grade class, unable yet to read or write.

It wasn't always easy attending a different school from his neighbors, being the only kid to head a different direction each morning, toward an Arab town.

But as a result of Etai’s multicultural schooling, his perspective, and the perspective of his whole family, has broadened. Last year, Etai’s Arab friends and their parents attended his Bar Mitzvah — his 13th birthday celebration, the right of passage for a Jewish male. This year, Etai joined his Arab friends at a youth breakfast for Ramadan, the Muslim holiday celebrated with fasting, feasting, and helping the poor.

Etai's father, a professional photographer, has begun building and designing websites in Arabic. He now runs a successful business making Israeli government websites accessible to the Arab population.  

In Etai’s school and in his family, Jews and Arabs already are friends — and therein lies hope for the future.
 

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