In the News

The Jewish News
April 2, 2008
An Officer and a Lady
By JEREMY LAST

It was more a case of peacemaking than film making when Oscar-nominated Hollywood siren Debra Winger flew into Israel last.

While she is more used to promoting movies, the Officer and a Gentleman star was publicising a very different cause at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters after witnessing a bilingual lesson in Hebrew and Arabic, Winger insisted she is a cynic at heart but thinks it is "great that they only understand [the Israeli Arab conflict] in their hearts but don't see it every day."
 
The school, located in a brand new $10 million campus on the seam between Jerusalem's Pat and Beit Safafa neighborhoods, is one of four in the country run by Hand in Hand and which have entirely mixed Jewish and Arab classes from the ages of four through to 15. Each lesson utilises two teachers – one Jewish and one Arab – with both speaking nearly exclusively in their own language forcing the pupils to quickly become bilingual.
 
"Every day is a message," said the American-born actress who lived in Israel for two years as a teenager, working on a kibbutz and even spending time in the IDF.
 
"If I start to get hopeful I get sentimental, but even though it is understandable that the children are not always going to get along this is one of the best ways to approach the issue."
 
Looking at a group of young students she noted the significance of both the Jewish and Arab youngsters being able to speak each other's language and therefore understand each other without the usual barriers. "I see their faces and I see the future," she said. "They look like peacemakers to me because they understand the dilemmas in a different way. I think what really matters is education – it is not going to change without education. It is not just about peace, it is about trying to understand each other."
 
The 53-year-old Winger, who first found fame when she starred alongside John Travolta in the 1982 film Urban Cowboy, was given a tour around the new facility with her husband, the film maker Arliss Howard.
 
At one point a photographer asked her to join in the children's dancing session in the playground. At first she refused but a minute later was down there holding hands with the pupils and dancing around with a smile on her face.
 
On a more serious note, Winger said she wants to continue her connection to the Hand in Hand community. "I hope to be involved and see how we can expand this idea," she said. "This is no longer a project, it is a school. And quite a desirable one."
 
The actress is correct in that respect. The school currently has a long waiting list of both Jewish and Arab families, although it has found opposition from right wing groups concerned about the close assimilation of Jews and Arabs.
 
Winger, however, was not concerned, and committed to promoting the project.
 

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