I spent the day in a utopia. The best part about all of this? It’s real.
I’m volunteering with a mixed school in Jerusalem that is called Hand in Hand. It’s both Arabs and Jews, K-12. The school has been around since 1998 and now has over 600 students.
It’s a public school, and in order to understand just how special that is, you need to understand the Israeli school system. Within Israeli education, there are separate tracks for Arab and Jewish schools. That means different curriculum, different language, separate worlds. This type of school however, is rare. Classes are taught in Arabic and Hebrew, often with 2 teachers in every classroom. They have redesigned their history curriculum to include both narratives and they celebrate and learn about Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays. The first class to graduate high school was in 2011.
I spent the day with 3 graduates taking photos and interviewing students, teachers and people who work at the school. We are creating a project similar to Humans of New York, but about the school instead. It will be up on the Facebook page of the school in the next few weeks.
We asked kids questions like, “If you were any kind of food what would you be?” We asked older kids about what it was like for them to come back to school after this summer. Teachers shared what inspired them and the security guard told us he loves cats. Conversation flowed between Hebrew and Arabic without pause.
My favorite moment was when we talked with two 1st graders who’s classroom had been burned in November by extremists (for news coverage of the event see here). We asked if the boys were friends and one said about the other, “He’s annoying in class.” That moment captured for me the beauty of this place. It wasn’t about who was a Jew and who was an Arab. They were just normal 1st graders. But it was also normal to be asked a question in Hebrew and respond in Arabic or vice versa. It was normal to grow up with friends who are different than you. It was normal to have friends who live across the invisible lines that zigzag and cut through this city.
The school is idealistic and may be a bubble, but it is a beautiful bubble and a great place to start. For more info look up Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education.