For the New School Year: Letter From the Executive Director

Excerpted letter from Executive Director Shuli Dichter to Hand in Hand’s high school students at the start of the 2011 academic year

Although this is a bilingual school, I will make my remarks primarily in Hebrew, since that is my mother tongue and because Hebrew is understood by everyone here.

You don't know me yet, and I don't know you personally yet either. I hope that this year we will be able to meet.

Yesterday, I attended the large social justice rally in Tel Aviv. Dafna Leaf, the 26-year-old who initiated and led this massive and successful protest, said that the phrase “the little citizen” bothered her. There is no “little citizen,” she said. “The citizen is grand."

I wholeheartedly agree with her. We are all citizens.

Along these lines, there is another expression that bothers me quite a bit: “ordinary citizen” or “garden-variety citizen.” Well, ordinary, garden-variety citizens do not line up in rows like vegetables being planted in a garden. No, when people organize, they do so in circles, look each other in the eye, and communicate with each other. One is there for the other, regardless. Because they are equal with each other. Solidarity.

You, the students of the Hand in Hand school, live these values every day. You are not lined up in rows, but rather face each other in a circle. You are building the country's future citizenship, a common and pluralistic citizenship for Jews and Arabs. Your parents, your teachers and you are building something for the future that doesn't exist yet in reality. You are building a future based on the values of human equality, human dignity and justice.

These values are not commonplace in the public. But the Hand in Hand community has set these values as the basis for our activities for more than a decade. One of the most painful characteristics of a pioneering experience is that the pioneer suffers, mostly from loneliness. Very few understand him. After this summer, there is hope that we are no longer alone in our demands for social justice. It is now clear that we can speak out loud: JUSTICE and EQUALITY.

This summer in Israel comes after the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia and Egypt and after a difficult summer in Libya. Autumn is now coming to Syria, and we support our fellow citizens there who are standing firm. None of these peoples lives in solitude, and we are aware of the effects one has on the other.

Yesterday, at the rally in Tel Aviv, Itzik Shmuly, one of the organizers, said, “This generation is the generation of new Israelis.” Is there room for Palestinians among the circles of citizens? A place of equality and respect? We, the Palestinians and the Jews participating in Hand in Hand's endeavors, understand this: There must be a place. If there is not a place, then it won't be a new generation, but rather a generation that repeats the mistakes of the past.

One of the key values we learn here at our school, in our very hard work, is that the citizen has the power to shape his reality. It is up to us to guide the new Israelis and to show them the foundation upon which a state can be built. It is up to us to light the bonfires around which the citizens will gather.

As active citizens, we will not wait on the sidelines. This is our civic participation test. This is the test of our maturity. We need to lead the new Israelis – hand in hand – to the new reality, to the future that the Hand in Hand community is building here. 

A word to our educators, to our graduates who participate in this project: The main tool we can work with is ourselves, our souls. The regular treatment for this tool is civic and professional awareness. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, the school is a place to raise questions and create ideas, a place to examine things along with the desire to continue and improve them.

And to the students: We will work hard to earn the trust that you place in us, so that we can guide you to success in the matriculation exams. We will also work hard to prepare for you the citizenship of this country, and we will work to prepare you for the daily struggle involved in realizing this citizenship. In spite of all the politics I have spoken about, your main task here is academic. You must learn well and in-depth; you must ask questions and explore, and you must not give in to the adults. Learn until you understand, and then learn some more. Take the matriculation exams when you are confident in yourselves. Do not let politics disrupt your schooling. But don't let your schooling disrupt your participation in society and civics. The two go hand in hand, because both are in our souls.

• I wish you a year of fruitful and successful learning
• I wish you success in your exams
• I wish you a year of personal growth and constructive maturation
• And finally, I wish success to the new administrative team, Arik and Inas. You have taken upon yourselves a heavy burden and I am sure that you will bear it with dignity. You, the students, are in very good hands.
 

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