Last night, with around 100 other people, I attended a presentation about the Hand-In-Hand schools in three locations in Israel. The schools each have co-principals: one Israeli Arab, one Israeli Jew. Each classroom has 2 teachers, who each teach in their own language, and the pupils (age 3 to about 12) also equally represent the two groups, as well as being equally divided between boys and girls. Parents who send the children to these schools are idealists: most of Israeli society, including the educational system, is separate. One goal for my trip to Israel, for which I leave Sunday, is to vist and learn more about Israelis' attempts to make their society more open and idealistic. The timing of this event was thus very lucky for me.
Three individuals spoke briefly, showed a 10 minute video presentation about the school, and answered questions. During filming of the video, in the Jerusalem school, a suicide bomber blew up a bus so close by that teachers and children could hear the explosion and see the smoke. Children's and teachers' reactions therefore became part of the video. They seemed frightened, sad, resigned. Like their parents, the children seemed aware that their school was special -- and hopeful.
An interesting glimpse of the classroom life in the video was a scene where one could see a Christmas tree as well as obvious celebration of Chanukah. The Jewish parent who spoke also mentioned how his son had spent two nights at an Arab home during the Ramadan celebration. All agreed that the religious holidays were easier to handle than the Israeli national Independence Day, which Arabs call "the catastrophe." The school attempts to handle this virtually unreconcilable split with tact and good will. I hope I will learn more and understand more.
Although officially all Jewish Israelis eventually study Arabic as a classroom language, many in fact do not. One of the differences in this school is that the two-teacher classrooms provide immersion learning of both languages for all the children. According to the presenters, most Israeli Arabs under age 50 are relatively fluent in Hebrew, the dominant language of the country, while most Jews know little or no spoken Arabic (many can read it, because of the school classes). In the Hand-In-Hand schools, we learned, the Arab children become fluent in Hebrew, and most Jewish children become conversant, if not fluent, in Arabic. This seems to reflect the cultural learning that takes place as well.
Our local Jewish Federation contributes to the school as a part of our overseas funding initiative. Through funding this and other idealistic endeavors, we Jews here express our hope that a better society can grow and flourish in Israel. Our contribution another initiative, educational opportunities for Druze women (sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee), and the exceptional interest in the Hand-In-Hand school differentiate us from many other Jewish communities.