Now is the Time to Build

December 4th, 2014

The graffiti that accompanied the arson made clear that this attack was much bigger than the mere damage done to our 1st grade classrooms.  It was an attack on the possibility of Jewish-Arab co-existence.  As people heard the news that night and began to arrive in droves, they were silent with shock and horror, standing in the dark campus which was now drenched with water and pungent with smoke, trying to stay out of the way of the firemen and police running around, followed soon by media jostling each other as they ran after heartbreaking images. But soon everyone realized that 620 students, their parents and their teachers would arrive in less than 12 hours.  We needed to be ready to greet them at 7:30 AM and show them the path forward. 

The question we asked ourselves was not, why did this happen?  The context of conflict in which we live provides an answer to that question on a daily basis.  The question we asked ourselves was, what can be done? 

We have been answering that question around the clock since Saturday night as we take the many steps that need to be taken.  This includes repairing the classrooms and the further damage that has been discovered in the lobby area since then, and ordering desks, chairs, cupboards, supplies.  Upgrading the security at the Jerusalem school; organizing groups of parental volunteers to do guard duty at night; increasing security at our other Hand in Hand schools.  Determine the short- and long-term processing we must do with students, teachers and parents over the course of the year.  Navigate the dozens and dozens of media reporters who have been showing up throughout the week. 

And most of all, receiving hundreds, already thousands, of visitors, calls and emails with expressions of solidarity and support from throughout Jerusalem, Israel and the world.  Each person who has reached out to us to say that they stand with us, strengthens us.  I have witnessed this throughout the week.  I saw this in the parent who said Saturday she could not possibly feel safe keeping her child in the school after this attack, and two days later say that there is no place she would rather be.  In the staff whose tear-filled eyes are now wide with wonder at the flood of people bringing their good wishes, flowers, cakes, and whatever change they had in their pocket to help us out.  In the municipal construction workers who worked overnight so that we can try to get the children back in their classrooms before the week is out.  And in the students now bursting with energy and smiles, as they receive the many heartfelt expressions of support – from dozens of schools in Jerusalem and the country, to “the stars” of Hapoel Katamon soccer team, from to President Rivlin, to US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.   

And just as extraordinary, is that those who come and visit tell us over and over:  “I came depressed, hopeless.  And I meet all of you, and I see that what you do every day works.  I leave changed, invigorated and inspired.  And I am bringing this back with me to my own circles of work and school and friends.” 

Now, more than ever, is not the time for either pessimism or optimism, neither despair nor dreamy wishes.  Now is the time to work.  To build.  To walk together.  Day in, day out.  Year in, year out.  One student at a time; one school and community at a time, throughout Israel, until we are many thousands walking this path together. 

This is the most fitting response to this attack.  Your voice of solidarity strengthens not only us, but also the very values that represent Hand in Hand’s schools and communities.  For this we thank you - תודה רבה -- شكرا 

I will be in touch in the upcoming days with another brief update.  We are still assessing the full extent what immediate needs this situation imposes upon us, what costs will be covered by the municipality, what measures we must take.  And more than ever we must remain focused on our goal of a network of 10-15 schools over the next decade, with 15-20,000 Jews and Arabs proving that shared living works.   

Rebecca Bardach is a parent of a first grade student and staff ot Hand in Hand

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