Memorial Day at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School

Wednesday, April 17, 2018

This post comes to you from the morning of Israel’s Memorial Day at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School.

Two sixth-grade girls are alone in the big, empty gym.  One in a black shirt with white writing, her friend in a white shirt with black writing.  Soon there will be a joint ceremony here for Jews and Arabs, though in the meantime they are enjoying the empty space, laughing, singing into the microphone.  One of the adults comes in and reminds them that the siren will shortly sound. “Yes, that’s right” they recall, and place the microphone back on its stand. With intertwined hands they skip out together, but outside the door they separate and each goes her own way.  For before the joint ceremony there are separate gatherings for Arabs and Jews, as each side recollects its own narrative by themselves.

Two separate gatherings, a courtyard between them.  Two trees in the center are laden with construction paper leaves, on which, just an hour before, students wrote down their hopes— there will be peace, there will be no more wars, there will be tranquility, that I will have many friends.  The children’s leaves of hope flutter in the breeze, while in the background “David’s Lamentation” mixes with the Palestinian “My Homeland,” and Mahmoud Darwish’s “Think of Others” mingles with Leah Goldberg’s “Is It True.”

Then everyone begins gathering for the joint ceremony, Jews and Arabs, children, teachers, and parents.  The most important moments of the year are channeled into an hour where we all disagree about this painful place.  Soon two teachers will speak about their shared history in Jerusalem, from two sides of a borderline. Soon the students will clarify a disagreement they had in class about these same two sides.  Soon a teacher will step outside, eyes glistening with tears, and her friend will follow to comfort her. Soon we will cry through the Julia Boutros song “I Breathe Freedom,” and Aviv Geffen’s “Song of Hope.”  All of this will happen shortly. In the meantime we are waiting for the start of the ceremony. As quiet settles we hear the doves chirping on the roof beams of the gym. Nadia, our principal, stands up and begins: “I chose today to speak about peace.”

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