Julie Bram, Board Member

By JULIE I. BRAM, Hand in Hand board member.

Arab and Jewish Children Aren't Actually in the Same Classroom — Are They?

A beacon of hope is shining in the Middle East, and I was fortunate to make the long journey from Los Angeles to the Arab village of Kfar Kara in Israel to witness it. There, against all odds, operates one of four Hand in Hand schools that exists to educate Israeli Arab and Jewish children together.

I took a Taxi from Tel Aviv, and my driver Naor and I headed northeast toward the Wadi Ara Valley. It was an hour-and-a-quarter drive, and we chatted about the schools and how excited I was to be visiting. When we arrived, I invited Naor to join me inside, but he declined, stating matter-of-factly, "I know all about them."

I was greeted by the two inspiring and passionate co-principals: Noha, an Arab woman, and Yochanan, a Jewish man. They told me about the magic that happens daily, about the friendships being forged, and about the excitement the children show when they learn about the 'other.' Along with traditional academic subjects, the children study both Arabic and Hebrew from day one. They also learn about Arab and Jewish culture, customs, and holidays. The Arab and Jewish families in the school community have started coming together to celebrate one another's life-cycle events. Opportunities also exist for people outside of the school community to connect; recently the school hosted more than 100 local women, Arabs and Jews, for an evening of food, laughter, yoga and mingling.

The presence of the school has even begun to change the dynamics of the region itself. In the past, Jews would never actually drive through Kfar Kara, perhaps because they were afraid, perhaps because they just didn't feel comfortable. But now, because of the existence and success of this extraordinary school, the Jews in the area feel more at ease and, in fact, do drive through the village.

During my classroom visits I witnessed happy, engaged and rambunctious children -- and honestly, I could not tell the Arabs from the Jews. In the first room I entered, the children were singing in Arabic ... and then the song changed to Hebrew. On a bulletin board in the third-grade class were pictures of each child with his or her family. During recess, some of these kids beamed with pride as they pointed to their own relatives. Some were fathers in yarmulkes, skull caps worn by observant Jewish men; others wore Arab headdresses called keffiyehs. Clearly, each child's heritage is spoken about with reverence and celebrated.

My taxi driver waited for me this whole time, and as we began our drive back toward Tel Aviv, he asked me one skeptical question. "So, the Arab and Jewish children aren't actually in the same classroom together, are they?" I have to admit this irked me. "I thought you knew all about the Hand in Hand schools," I replied, trying hard to stifle my annoyance. "You should have come in with me, Naor, because then you would have seen the reality and the possibility of coexistence with your own eyes."

As hard as it is to believe, given the media images we are constantly bombarded with, at the Hand in Hand schools in Israel, Arab families do not feel like second-class citizens and are not treated as such. Here there is mutual respect and equality. Most importantly, the groundwork is being laid for a better and more peaceful life for all. 

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