In the News

The Jewish Voice & Herald
August 3, 2012
'Hand in Hand' in Israel

PROVIDENCE– Keith W. L. Rafal, clinical assistant professor at Brown Medical School and a physician in private practice, is on a mission. He is raising money for Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, an educational organization in Israel that supports peace between Jewish and Arabic communities in that country.

According to the website (, the organization, which was founded in 1997, “builds peace, coexistence and equality through a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children… Hand in Hand’s success and longevity demonstrate that children, families and entire communities of Jews and Arabs can [emphasis added] live and work together with mutual respect and friendship.”

Today, more than 500 students in grades pre-K – 12 attend the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, and some 150 students in grades 1 – 9 attend The Galilee School in the Arab town of Sakhnin. Nearly 150 students in grades K – 6 attend Bridge Over the Wadi, in the Arab town of Kfar Kara, in central Israel’s Wadi Ara valley.

Although Rafal said he’s long been involved with Israel and the peace process there, the fact that Hand in Hand works with children – “the future of the country,” he said – especially resonated with him.

“They try to be inclusive, with Jews and Arabs together,” he said. “The faculty is approximately 50 percent Jewish and 50 percent Arab. That intrigued me.”

After visiting the school in Jerusalem in November 2011, Rafal said he was impressed by his observations and conversations with faculty and students. “I understand [Hand in Hand’s] philosophy and success.”

Rafal, who said he is not affiliated with Hand in Hand, said he has been both emotionally tied to and frustrated by Israel. “I feel somewhat frustrated by the perpetual conflict and discord,” he said. “As a Jew, I feel that we, as a people, have experience [being treated] as second-class citizens.”

Isn’t there a way, Rafal queried, to sustain the state of Israel and our Jewishness while still being inclusive? “Can’t we stop treating others the way we [Jews] have been treated over the years?”

Hand in Hand “models that philosophy [of inclusiveness],” said Rafal. “Not everything is wonderful; they have problems, but they deal with them.”

Recounting the outcomes of some recent conflicts, Rafal explained what he learned from conversations with Hand in Hand faculty. With feelings running high on both sides, people deal by sitting and talking about them, he said.

The founder of an interdisciplinary medical practice called Healing Choices, P.C. in North Smithfield, Rafal visited Israel last fall as part of a medical mission.

Rafal said, “When I was at the school [in Jerusalem] talking to faculty, I was told, ‘No one is trying to convince someone of something… we’re here to get an education. While we may not always agree, we are here to talk and learn from one another.’”

The program aims to enroll equal numbers of Arab and Jewish children at its schools, Rafal said that it’s more difficult to recruit Jewish students. Arab students, he said, don’t have as many highly academic schools to choose from as do Jewish students.

And, he said, it’s not only students who benefit from the peaceful co-existence; families of enrolled students also meet for dialogue.

As Hand in Hand schools are public  – somewhat akin to charter schools in the United States, approximately half the cost to run them comes from Israel’s Ministry of Education, said Lee Gordon.

Gordon, co-founder and director of American Friends of Hand in Hand, the  U.S.-based undraising entity for Hand in Hand., told The Voice & Herald in a phone interview that private fundraising supports  the costs of two teachers in each classroom (given their bilingual model), supplemental expenses and extracurricular community programs.

With a total annual budget of $5 million (including funds from Israel’s Ministry of Education), Hand in Hand is working to open two new schools soon – one in Haifa and the other in Tel Aviv. Private donations, said Gordon, come from the U.S., Israel and Europe.

“This touches my heart in a special way. I want to do more than just send my check,” Rafal said, explaining why he established the matching donation (up to $1,000) opportunity.

FOR INFORMATION, visit For those who wish to donate under the matching grant, send contributions by Sept. 30, to Hand in Hand at P.O. Box 80102, Portland, OR 97280 or

IDENTIFY ANY donation as part of Dr. Keith Rafal’s matching gift.

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