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A Year in Review—Hand in Hand's First Ever Student Community

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, Hand in Hand launched its first ever shared Jewish-Arab university community—the Hand in Hand Student Community. The pilot program, which brought together twelve Jewish and Arab university students to live, learn, and volunteer together in Jerusalem, was designed to address a growing need among young adults for integrated frameworks in Israel.

Research shows need for integrated frameworks at university level

An internal evaluation conducted in fall of 2020 indicated that many of Hand in Hand’s Jewish and Arab alumni desire shared living and learning programs beyond elementary and secondary school. The evaluation also revealed that Hand in Hand alumni experience an unsettling division between Jewish and Arab students when they attend university, which stands in stark contrast to their Hand in Hand education. As part of the evaluation, 90% of alumni surveyed indicated that they would want to take part in a shared Jewish-Arab community.

The Student Community pilot was designed to meet this need. The program provided a select cadre of Jerusalem-based university students with an educational framework, guidance, and tools to build a shared community, facilitate dialogue, and undertake volunteering and social action initiatives fostering individual growth and shared society in the local community.

Of 120 applicants, a Hand in Hand committee selected 12 Jewish and Arab participants from both East and West Jerusalem, who have spent 180 hours this past year learning, training, and volunteering together. Through the program, participants deepened their socio-political awareness and enhanced their individual and collective identities as Jewish and Arab young adults committed to equality and shared society. Participants also developed their personal communication, community organizing, and mobilizing skills, enhancing their leadership capacity. Furthermore, they gained experience organizing, facilitating, and leading community engagement, and deepened their commitment to social change work.

Becoming social change leaders

Students met bi-monthly for learning and dialogue sessions—a total of 7 sessions per semester. The program content included lectures, films, academic texts, and tours as stimuli for cultivating critical thinking and deep discourse. These learning sessions addressed themes of identity, power dynamics, and Jewish-Arab relations, and dove into the specific socio-political context of Jerusalem. Participants also acquired activism tools through studying existing grassroots organizations and meeting with leaders and activists in the shared society field.

Throughout the first semester, students volunteered three hours per week in an educational or community setting. During the second semester, community engagement was dedicated to planning and implementing social action initiatives across Jerusalem. This type of community work provided participants with the opportunity to practice integrating materials they learned with the realities of everyday life for local residents, and to use these experiences as raw material to inspire their own social change initiatives.

We are certain this group of young Jewish and Arab young adults will play a role in advancing shared society in Israel, and affect change in their homes, workplaces, communities and beyond.

To support the Hand in Hand Student Community and other shared Jewish-Arab initiatives, donate today.

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