Over 300 5th graders and their teachers from 10 Arab and Jewish schools in the Galilee met for an end-of -year fun-filled learning day at Bet Yigal Alon at Kibbutz Genossar, on the shores of Lake Kineret this past week. The event was organized by the staff of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations–which I direct, since last year, when it began to work in cooperation with ICCI–and Keren Tali of the Schechter Institutes of Israel.
The atmosphere was pleasant and normal, almost normative. One had the sense that Arab and Jewish children could actually get along in Israeli society! It was actually happening, and it was quite inspiring.
This is the culmination of the 6th year of this “Dialogue and Identity” program which has now been mainstreamed in 12 Arab and Jewish schools in Israel. It is part of the regular school life of students from varied backgrounds in the region, not an exceptional event or elective event for specific individuals or groups. During the course of the year, students meet uni-nationally in their own schools–Christian and Jewish separately–and there are also 4 encounters with “the other”. These meetings focus on getting to know the traditions and culture of “the other”, as well as one’s own traditions and culture.
At the end of the day, it was announced that the Arab and Jewish teachers from the program were going to organize a get-together to celebrate another successful year in this program! It was also announced that each class from this year would have 2 follow-up encounters next year with their counterparts.
The good news is that we have found funding to continue this program for next year, and we, together with the Schechter Institutes, are now looking for more funding to expand this unique program–the only one of its kind–in Israeli Society.
You probably won’t read about it in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Nor will you see it on CNN or FOX NEWS. But it is happening in Israel,in the midst of everything else going on in our country and our region, and it is becoming a part of normal life for a few hundred young people in Israel, and hopefully hundreds, if not thousands more in the future.