Coexistence Starts Young

Submitted by Wendy Weiss-Simon

birthday to you” — the tune is known the world over. The song, sung in Arabic,
was one of the first things my daughter learned when she started at the School
for Bi-Lingual Education last fall. This Jerusalem elementary school is possibly
the best-kept secret in Israel.

We heard about this Arab-Jewish school
through an ad in the paper. A new school with my kind of ideology, never
mind small classes and two teachers — a Hebrew speaker and an Arabic speaker
— in each class. Community based, the school concentrates on the students
with an interest in creating a connection among the parents. For Avi and
me it sounded perfect. Here was a place where we hoped that we could work
at building bridges between Israelis: Jews and Arabs, on a day-to-day basis.
But the sense of imminent peace that was felt last summer did not last, and
by October 2000 we were into a different reality. Still, no one backed out.
The parents and the teachers talked, the kids talked, the parents talked
with the kids and we kept moving forward, not always agreeing, but moving
forward. As far back as I can remember I believed in creating a “better” reality
than what we know. In Israel, for me, that means quality education for all,
acknowledging differences and challenges and teaching that every culture
has much to contribute to society.

My daughter, Noa, entered 2nd grade
at the bi-lingual school with the fear, anger and apprehension known to anyone
who has been moved to a new school in a new city. Her classmates could have
made up a Benetton ad. The air is alive with the sense of creating a new
reality. The walls are decorated with artwork in Hebrew and Arabic, about
Jews and Muslims and Christians, about books they have read and places they
have visited. Classes are taught in either Arabic or Hebrew, help is given
to improve the “other” language and in subjects like mathematics, exercise
sheets on the tables are in both languages for the student to choose. Students
use either language or both languages when doing written work. It’s a sight
to see.

Don’t misunderstand. It is not a bed
of roses, not by any means. Discussing Land Day, or Yom HaZikaron [Israel
Independence Day], listening to grandparents that were in the Palmach or
families that lost their homes, is difficult, but it is our reality and it’s
in our hands to make it better. And we are. By the end of the year, Noa was
being shuttled back and forth to her friends, both Arabs and Jews (and they
to us), and at her 8th birthday party, with smiles and gleeful enthusiasm,
“Happy Birthday” was sung in Hebrew, Arabic and English!

P.S. When Noa asked me what I was
writing about she said, “make sure they understand that it’s a good school”.
For me that says it all!



Visit The Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

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