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Op-Ed published in Haaretz in Hebrew (translated)

We will keep building a shared society, brick by brick

Zohar Michalgrov

Kindgartens were closed on Tuesday. Maayan went for a playdate at Anir’s house, her friend from the Rosh Ha’ayin/Kafr Qasim bilingual kindergarten. This was her first time at his house and it took place while thugs and bigots wreaked havoc across Israel, and while Jews dared not step foot in Arab cities.

Hotheads tend to have shorter response times, so it took us peace-loving folk a couple of days to process the initial shock. Then, we launched our own counterattack, taking every opportunity to create connections, strengthen bonds, and rebuild our future.

So Maayan went to Anir’s house, and Nina visited Aboudi, and Tulay went to see Zohar. Fifteen wonderful children attend our integrated kindergarten, which is run by a nonprofit called Hand in Hand. The kindergarten launched this year, and operates in an environment that doesn’t quite know what to make of it. When I tell people my daughter goes to kindergarten in Kafr Qasim, the response is always somewhere on the surprise-spectrum—anywhere between wonder and horror. 

Our kids are young. They don’t understand the meaning of words like escalation, intimidation, cabinet, or parity. Their politics are simple and lovely; they stem from innocence and laughter and the humility afforded by their tender age.

Around our children there is a circle of families, which is steadily becoming a true community. One child attending a bilingual kindergarten can influence an entire family. Parents develop bonds, siblings join school events, grandmothers beam as they hear nursery rhymes in both Hebrew and Arabic. Two weeks ago, we all got together for an Iftar community event. We ate and celebrated and laughed together. We didn’t know what was to come. 

There is also a third circle—the two cities at the heart of this burgeoning bilingual community. Rosh Ha’ayin and Kafr Qasim are complex cities, with religious and conversative-leaning populations. Kafr Qasim bears the heavy weight of the terrible Kafr Qasim massacre. They don’t need to “import” any of their anger from Gaza or Al-Aqsa, as nearly every family still grieves the lives claimed by a crime that Israel refuses to take accountability for to this day. 

Then there was Covid-19, which raged on the majority of our first year in operation. Covid-19 also tried to divide us. We could have let it. But when the winds of war grew emboldened, we found ourselves in the heart of the storm. 

Last Thursday was particularly difficult. Social media was full of horror stories about what was taking place in Kafr Qasim, and posts about thugs organizing in Kafr Qasim to launch attacks on the neighboring Rosh Ha’ayin. In response, residents of Rosh Ha’ayin organized to “protect” the city. The previous day, local leaders met and issued a call for orderly conduct and peace. They exhibited true leadership at a critical moment in time. It still wasn’t enough.

On that day, we felt called to act. Mothers from our bilingual kindergarten organized a joint rally on the bridge that runs between the two cities, which included handing out flowers and candy to the Muslim residents on their way to Eid al-Fitr gatherings. Activists from the regional partnership group and the Deputy Mayors of both cities joined and issued a joint de-escalation call.

We were only about ten people on that bridge, a tiny group, but it was enough to lessen some of the tension. Over one hundred concerned residents from the region attended our next rally. 

This round of war and unrest has brought on terrible violence, especially in mixed cities and regions. It also brought home the understanding that the peaceful majority must work together now. Even under the threat of rockets, even in the face of mass rage. Some people call us delusional, and they might be right. It may be delusional to raise children in a shared environment while our people are killing each other. But we have no choice but to continue on this path, and encourage more families to join our wonderful, delusional world of integrated education. As we grow, so too will the partnership between the two cities, and the entire region. Try as some might to destroy our work, we will continue building our home—brick by brick. Like kids do.


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