Hand in Hand: Holding On To Our Values
Last month (November 2023), over 200 people from all around the world joined Hand in Hand to discuss how the organization is facing the ongoing crisis, and how we maintain our commitment to our causes, values and missions. Panelists Mohamad Marzouk, HIH’s Director of Growth; Efrat Meyer, HIH Jerusalem High School Principal; and Dani Elazar, HIH’s Executive Director led the discussion.
They answered questions from the community, shared their unique perspectives and offered hope during one of our organization’s most challenging periods. Here is a recap of this powerful discussion.
Leading Hand in Hand through difficult times
After October 7, Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian communities have lived in real fear. Some families have friends and relatives who were killed or kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Similarly, many families have friends or relatives in Gaza who have been killed or displaced. “So we are experiencing the entire situation in many ways,” says Hand in Hand’s Executive Director Dani Elazar. “We have experienced this tremendous earthquake. Everything is unstable, so we’re finding ways to cope with uncertainty.”
Hand in Hand is one of the only organizations that brings both communities together. After two weeks off school, Hand in Hand reopened to welcome the students and help them navigate difficult conversations. “Amongst all this fear, pain and mistrust, and with many questions, we came back together,” says Elazar. “This is the foundation we’ve built for many years. We work through our difficulties together.”
Holding onto our vision for the future
Mohamad Marzouk says he’s never experienced this level of fear amongst Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. “Both communities are interpreting what’s happening and the implications for the common future for Jews and Palestinians,” he says.
Marzouk has been active in this field for 30 years, and experienced many challenges during that time. “We’re still in the middle of this and I’m not sure where it will take us, but I can see that both communities insist on sharing common values and this gives us the power to continue,” he says.
Experiencing these difficult situations together brings the community closer. “We haven’t experienced anything like this since 1948,” he says. “But that’s why we should invest in building stronger infrastructure and platforms so we can continue working together.”
Leading the only integrated Jewish-Arab high school
Efrat Meyer is the head of Hand in Hand’s only high school, which means she navigates different challenges to many of our junior schools. But she sees her role as inspiring rather than difficult.
“I work with students who choose to come to school every day, while facing a hard and fearful reality,” Meyer says. “Yet they still study together and remain friends. Sometimes they argue, and decide together not to speak, but I think it’s a great privilege to work somewhere that Jews and Arabs can come together during these difficult moments.”
The school hosts dialogue classes which gives students space to speak, or to be silent, and learn how to feel and fear together. This helps the pupils heal, and gives them strength to look to the future and figure out what they can do next to continue living their values and working towards a just and peaceful future.
“We’ve changed the way we facilitate dialogue,” Meyer says. “Now we take it very slowly, and work either one-on-one or in small groups. We’ve all come to the conclusion that no one is going anywhere. We’re all going to stay here living in Jerusalem, working, having families, and we need to continue learning how to do this together.”
Working with parents
Just as Hand in Hand has adapted to the needs of our students, we’ve also created space for dialogue between adults within the community. “We must allow parents time to process and express themselves,” says Marzouk. “Our first concern was to create a platform for parents and adults to share how they feel without shame.”
That’s why the schools organized dialogue sessions for parents and for staff. “We found it very useful, with a lot of positive feedback from participants, saying it was meaningful in a time of polarization between two societies,” Marzouk says. “The goal is to continue creating space to validate the values, feelings and experiences of Hand in Hand’s entire community.”
“We’re creating a safe space for people to have a conversation,” Elazar continues. “There’s not much tolerance from Jewish society to be empathetic towards what’s happening in Gaza. We’re trying to create that safe space where people can speak about it in a safe way. That’s what makes Hand in Hand special.”
How we’re seeing these values unfold
The role of Hand in Hand has become even more important as a result of this war. With society becoming increasingly polarized, the organization serves as a glimpse into what true shared society looks like.
Spending every day with high school students, Efrat Meyer has experienced these values unfold in real time:
“One of our staff members has two kidnapped uncles,” Meyer says. “So she walks around with two yellow ribbons on her wrist. She’s Jewish, and one day she sat next to two Palestinian students, who were very suspicious.”
“‘What does this yellow ribbon mean?’ They asked. ‘What are you saying?’”
“And the staff member explained that she had two family members kidnapped, and this is how she shows support for their release. In a second, the girls understood, and checked to make sure their questions hadn’t made her uncomfortable.”
“And this is what we do here in Hand in Hand. The girls didn’t know what the yellow ribbon meant, and thought it might be something negative towards them. And just by sitting and talking and asking questions, they were able to understand one another.”
How we’re seeing these values unfold
Mohamad Marzouk believes that the shared Hand in Hand values will get us through this situation. “We know that crisis can also bring opportunity, like when we created the HIH Wadi Ara School in the shadow of the Second Intifada,” he says. “Like then, it’s us citizens who are responding to the crisis – not by retreating into polarization, but by building a future shaped by our values. This is leadership, and this is how Hand in Hand will grow, even now.”