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Hand in Hand's Alumni: Israel's Next Generation of Change Agents

As the 2020-21 school year comes to a close, new cohorts of Jewish and Arab students have graduated from Hand in Hand’s bilingual, integrated schools.

One of the questions we get asked most frequently at Hand in Hand is—who are the Hand in Hand alumni? How have they been affected by their education at our schools, and how are they effecting change in Israel?

We at Hand in Hand know that our alumni are ambassadors for shared society in Israel, as modeled in our integrated, bilingual schools. Yet as we base our work on data, we are always seeking more evidence of our impact.  To this end, we conducted an internal evaluation* with a representative sample of alumni. We’re thrilled to share with you, our valued partners, some of the illuminating findings.

Who are the Hand in Hand alumni and how has Hand in Hand impacted them?

A 2018 report from the OECD points to bilingual schools as a path toward reducing inequity in education, noting the strong academic performance of Arab and Jewish students in bilingual schools. We see this finding actualized in Hand in Hand alumni, the vast majority of whom, Jewish and Arab, attend prestigious institutions of higher learning, both in Israel and abroad. These institutions include: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, Technion, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, Columbia University in NYC, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Alumni are pursuing undergraduate and masters degrees in a variety of fields, including  law, medicine, psychology, business, sciences, humanities, international law and human rights, and environmental studies and global change.

Alumni are employed across a range of professions, with the majority working in the nonprofit, government, and education sectors, with others working in fields as varied as medicine, business, high tech, law, and the arts .

In addition to measuring their experiences after high school, the evaluation also sought to measure the impact of the Hand in Hand education on alumni’s perspectives, attitudes, values, and capacity to create change in Israeli society. The results demonstrate that among respondents:

  • 89% report that their knowledge of the other’s language has had a significant positive impact on their perspective of the other
  • 90% feel it is easy for them to connect with people from different backgrounds than their own
  • 73% strongly believe Hand in Hand equipped them with skills to positively impact society, including critical thinking and dialogue skills

Many alumni identify strongly with the values of justice, equality, social responsibility, shared society, and multiculturalism. A majority of respondents believe their values differ in significant ways from those of peers who studied at non-Hand in Hand schools in Israel. Many emphasized that a key distinction between their values and those of peers who did not attend Hand in Hand is acceptance of “the other” and an embrace of differences in culture, language, background, or perspectives. One alumnus noted: “I think going to an intercultural school provides a very different attitude towards, and understanding of, the essence of these values. I don’t think other people necessarily value them less, but I do think that most people who attended Hand in Hand schools sincerely wish other people to be treated in this way and live by these values. And I think we tend to see society as having the potential to embrace these values.” 

Another alumnus from the Jerusalem school said, “I took this (education) into all aspects of my life, not just those connected to the conflict. I want to always listen to other perspectives, so I have a fuller picture.”

The evaluation reveals that parents of alumni believe the Hand in Hand education decreased their children’s fear of “the other,” legitimized multiple narratives, encouraged a strong sense of self and multifaceted definition of identity, and instilled dialogue skills that enable alumni to embrace complexity.

These findings reveal that Hand in Hand’s values-driven educational approach—grounded on the pillars of bilingualism, multiculturalism, and social responsibility—has had a direct positive impact on alumni’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. As one alumnus from the Wadi Ara school noted, “it’s not just a theoretical discussion of shared society, or a limited experience; it’s living shared society every day.

How are alumni impacting society?

Hand in Hand’s alumni bring the values and skills taught in our schools to every aspect of their daily lives, including their workplaces, relationships, and communities. By doing so, they challenge the dogmas, misconceptions, and stereotypes dominant in Israeli society.

73% of respondents strongly believe they have the power to bring about social change, while 62% are actively involved in social change work at present. Many alumni pointed to their work in social change organizations, peace advocacy, public dialogue groups, and intimate conversations within peer groups and university courses, as opportunities in which they share, educate, and advocate for shared society, justice, equality, and multiculturalism. Our alumni work with existing organizations, while some have even launched their own nonprofit initiatives.

Some of the initiatives our alumni are involved in include:

  • The Rothschild Ambassadors Program, a prestigious youth leadership program focused on community activism and promoting equality and shared society
  • Kulan, an organization that raises awareness about violence against women in Israel
  • Blend.Ar, a unique Arabic course that combines housing, integration and volunteering in an Arabic-speaking community founded by a Hand in Hand alumnus
  • The Peres Center for Peace, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Kids for Peace, and Peace Players International
  • Additional initiatives include refugee aid projects, COVID-19 relief, and organizing Jewish-Arab groups to represent a shared voice at civil demonstrations and protests.

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The evaluation of our ever-growing alumni network reveals what we’ve long known from valuable anecdotal evidence—the graduates of these integrated, bilingual schools are agents for social change, who are advancing a more just and equitable reality for all.

We will increasingly assess the impact of our work through evaluation and data analysis to expand our understanding of the individual and collective shifts made through our schools and communities. And, we will use each evaluation to further hone and optimize our work in service of equality and a shared society in Israel.

*The evaluation drew alumni feedback through a quantitative online questionnaire and through qualitative, in-depth focus groups with a representative sample of alumni, and parents of alumni, from our three veteran schools in Jerusalem, Wadi Ara, and the Galilee. Equal numbers of Arab and Jewish alumni participated in the questionnaire and they range in age from 18-28, including both our early graduates and most recent graduates.

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