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Goodbye to the Jewish-Arab school that taught me the meaning of hope

For years, Jerusalem’s bilingual school gave an entire community reason to believe in hope and partnership. In Israel of today, it is nothing short of a miracle.

Thousands of people march through Jerusalem in support and solidarity with the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school, which was the target of a racist arson attack a week earlier, Jerusalem, December 5, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Thousands of people march through Jerusalem in support and solidarity with the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school, which was the target of a racist arson attack a week earlier, Jerusalem, December 5, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Today is the first day of September, the first day of school in Israel. Putting aside the years we lived abroad, this is the first time in 13 years that we are not sending our daughters to the Max Rayne “Hand in Hand” bilingual school in Jerusalem.

The process of deciding which school to send one’s child begins at a very early age. As young parents, it was clear to us that we didn’t want anything “special,” and that it would be best to send our girl to the neighborhood preschool, since this was her natural environment and it was important for her to learn about it. At the end of the year, after fundamental disagreements over the need for four year olds to prepare packages for Israeli soldiers and questions on who is authorized to teach them about Jewish holidays, we began looking elsewhere.

There are some schools of thought that argue that schooling and education are far less critical than what we tend to think. Perhaps this is true. Our entire family — not just our daughters — would not be who we are today without the bilingual school.

It is difficult for me to speak nostalgically, since not long has passed since we parted, and because we will remain part of the school’s community. And yet, as I write these words memories come flooding back — moments of overcoming and laughter, as well as pain and frustration. The singing in Hebrew and Arabic — full of hope and light — at the beginning of every school year, the first words they learned to write in both languages, the infamous arson, the hateful graffiti repeatedly spray-painted on the walls, the joint Iftar meal, the tours to destroyed Palestinian villages.

A burned first-grade classroom at Jerusalem’s bilingual school after it was the target of an arson attack, November 30, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A burned first-grade classroom at Jerusalem’s bilingual school after it was the target of an arson attack, November 30, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

There were also, of course, the astonished/worried/angry responses we received when we signed up our older daughter, including the question that seemed to repeat itself over and over: “What will happen if she marries an Arab when she grows up?” to which I would always answer: “I’ll learn how to make maqluba for Friday night dinners,” and so I did. Others wanted to know whether she and her sister would grow confused over their Jewish identity.

That question seems so baseless now. In their years at the school, my daughters likely dealt with their own Jewish identity much more than their peers who went to schools in which that identity was a given. At the bilingual school they learned to understand their Jewish identity without viewing it as a threat to or threatened by other religious and national identities. They learned to understand their Judaism not as an exclusivist identity that dictates power relations vis-a-vis other identities in this country, but rather as part of a rich cultural mosaic of which they are a part.

Our years at the school overlapped with the frightening escalation of extremism and fascism in Israel. It is difficult to imagine how we would have made it without this community, which offered us sanity and comfort. When we returned to Israel in the summer of 2014, straight into that cursed war, the joint marches organized by the school — without chanting, only marching together — were like a breath of fresh air in a reality where there was very little.

Like every educational institution, the bilingual school has its share of difficulties of problems. But it also encapsulates concepts that have long become cliches in Israeli society: respect, recognition, cooperation. In the Israel of today, this place is a kind of miracle, and I am grateful and proud that we were given the opportunity to be part of it for over a decade.

It will be very strange to start the year without the bilingual calendar, without knowing the date of Muhammad’s birthday or when the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas. On the other hand, I know it’s not really goodbye. We will continue to be part of the community. If there is still meaning behind the word “hope” in this place, it can be found there — between the hallways of a school on the border between the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa and the Jewish neighborhood of Pat.

This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      I personally these PLO schools should be banned in Israel, Let the Arab States set up a joint Arab-Jewish School in their countries first. Then, Israel will follow suit.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: I understand. Here in the U.S. many people strenuously oppose any attempts at cultural or racial integration – in fact, that’s what the whole charter school movement is about, the ‘right’ of white folks to keep their kids in white schools. Recently someone wrote in chalk on the sidewalk “diversity = white genocide”. You are not alone.

        Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Lewis

        Sorry, I strongly disagree. I would like to see integrated schools become more common, then the norm, then all but mandatory. Schooling is vital for assimilation. You want Israeli Arabs to be fully Israeli and not a 5th column you have to stop treating them as not part of the society.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          The Israeli Arabs treasure their Arab/Muslim identity and would violently vehemently oppose attempts to lure them into what “progressive” Israelis consider to be their superior culture and values which would strip them of their religion, language and culture. It was this which was the main argument the Arabs used in their arguments against the Zionist movement prior to 1948….that Zionism would serve as a Fifth Column against Islam. That is why Arabs can get along with religious Jews more easily than with the secular Israeli Left…they have much more in common in lifestyle and values.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Why should a Jewish kids learn about the date of Muhammed’s Birthday?
      This so-called “prophet” was a Pedophile Warlord who married Aiysha and consummated the marriage when she was 9 years old. He beheaded the Jewish men in a town in Arabia and took the women as sex slaves. Islam advocates the oppression of women, murder of Gays and the persecution of minorities. THat is why Islam is incompatible with democracy. That is why we are seeing the problems in Europe today.

      Reply to Comment
        • Mark

          @ Bruce
          In a decent society harassment of minors is illegal and individual cases should brought before the law. it is not a matter to be lauded and example to be emulated.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @LFA: ​It seems to me that only a begrudging, hate-filled wretch would respond this way to Orly Noy’s warm, open minded and thoughtful letter. A letter about fruitful and enriching coexistence. A person who can’t stand that, who can’t stand the idea of Jews and Arabs living and working together and finding common ground (because he wants to take their land and he needs the war of Gog and Magog to do it). It seems to me also that no small amount of hypocrisy is involved. Pedophiles from Brooklyn, and rabbis who tell the victims to apologize to their molesters for seducing them are one thing but we can go very much farther back. Shall we adumbrate the atrocities committed by Joshua? Shall we list the savageries and perversions of Deuteronomy? LFA is the first one to point fingers at others but what about the Torah he celebrates? (Genocide: Deuteronomy 20:16-17; sex slavery: Deuteronomy 21:10-13; death penalty for homosexuals: Leviticus 20:13.) Shall we remind folks of the ultra-Orthodox murderer at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem and the fundamentalist Jews who burned a Palestinian family alive? And the Jews who burned a defenseless Palestinian teen alive? Shall we not also mention the daily grinding human rights abuses and virtual slavery of the occupation? Shall we remind people of the utterly foul and threatening things the settlers say to women, documented here just the other day?
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/the-jewish-thinker/.premium-1.678337

        Reply to Comment
    3. Mark

      Eid al-Adha is coming up. Anyone who wants to know about it can find out on the internet. It’s only in recent years it was thrust at me annually, along with all the other Islamic festivities.

      It was never like this in the past. I have to do a bit of research to find out about Jewish, Hindu and other religious festivities. Why is that? Too much information is a phrase that comes to mind. I liked the days when religion was a private matter and of no concern to anyone except those involved. The fewer people who bought into this nonsense the better as far as I can tell. IMHO religion is more divisive in our society than “race”; the latter being wholly imaginary.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      All Islamic states run according to Sharia Law. This means:
      1. Women suffer “honor killings”.
      2. Gays are thrown off roofs.
      3. Transexuals are thrown off roofs.
      4. Adulterous women are executed.
      5. Minorities egs Shiites, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists are persecuted
      6. Apostates get executed.

      All these are practiced not just in the extreme Islamic States like Saudi Arabia but also in relatively “modern” Islamic States egs Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Dubai etc.

      In Judaism, the bulk of the extremely retarded and unsocial elements of Judaism’s Torah have been reformed away by Rabbis over the last 2000 years. The genocides, stoning to death, murder of apostates, polygamy for men only etc etc are no longer sanctioned by Judaism. That’s the difference between the 2 religions.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Two questions:
        1. Then why are you hostile to progressive forms of both religions, as you plainly are here? So interesting how you do that.
        2. Then why do you advocate mass population transfer and mass genocidal “eichmanning off” as in the glory days of Deuteronomy and King Joshua? Seems like you want to have your hasbara and holocaust propaganda cake and eat it too.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          1. There is no “progressive” form of Islam. A woman who ran 2 “progressive mosques” in Montreal and London was forced to shut these down due to fatwas (death threats) from the extremists.

          2. My belief in mass population transfer is nothing to do with any religion. Its simply about finishing off the 6 day war. They attacked us without provocation and then deviously changed their names to confuse the World. I simply believe we need to remind them what they are – by sending them home.

          “Eichamanning off” is my belief to permanently liquidate terrorists. None of this nonsense about jailing them and then releasing them in a future prisoner exchange. Their bodies should be burned to ashes and disposed of.

          Reply to Comment
      • JeffB

        @Lewis

        In Albania, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Turkey all homosexuality is legal. in Kuwait, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan Lesbianism is legal. That’s pretty close to the west of the 1950s. Certainly these are exceptions, and the majority of countries are horrific but the situation is not as blanketly bad as you paint it. I think some nuance makes sense.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      Classifying large groups of people by religion is crazy: the Buddhists right now in Myanmar would have disappointed Buddha, you can’t predict much just from the fact that it’s a Buddhist country. But there are progressive and reactionary strands of all the major religions; in Islam Sufi and other traditions were tolerant and experiential whereas other strands belonged to the off-with-their-heads mentality. So it’s not whether Israel is Jewish and the West Bank is Muslim, it’s the kind of Jews and Muslims that matter.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Your wromg. Islam in not like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism or Druzism. It is a religion that promotes fanaticism. Anyone who re-interprets Islam in a mild, reformed state, gets death threats.

        The exceptions are in Central Asian Dictatorships like Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan where the dictator appoints his own Imams that preach a “soft reform version of Islam.” These imams are protected by the police state. The same thing occurs in the Muslim Republics of Russia where Putin appoints his own clergy in places like Tatarstan. This scenario used to exist in Turkey where the Army controlled the mosque. Eventually, when the dictatorship falls, the old nasty Islam eventually re-emerges.

        Albania has a large atheist tradition due to its Stalinist past plus a large Christian minority. Lebanon also has significant Christian and Druze minorities. So in these countries, some of the laws are less rigid than Sharia.

        All this is not to say that all Muslims are bad. Some muslims don’t really believe in God but just follow the rules for the sake of tradition. Others don’t really know enough about their own religion. Some follow the “controlled version” of Islam that exists in places like Azerbaijan. Other muslims know the religion is problematic and feel that it needs reforming.

        Note: Islam claims that Muhammed is the last prophet. So Ahmadi Muslims are NOT considered Muslims by other Muslims. Ahmadis are presecuted in many parts of the World.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          ​All of this is fundamentally a distraction, a subterfuge, whether you realize it or not, no matter if you are so sunk into your propaganda that you believe it. That’s how propaganda works. Sure there are big and fundamental problems with Islam today. In the debate between Ayan Hirsi Ali and Manal Omar in the recent issue of Foreign Policy is mapped out the problems and the challenges and what needs to be confronted squarely. And it is done intelligently, not stupidly and not with ulterior motives. You are another matter entirely. The distraction and the lie you are tirelessly engaged in hereabouts is to say something like: “If only Muslim fanatics were different, or if only Islam were different, we right wing Jews (we fanatics) would share the land with the Palestinians.” It’s a lie. Drenched in ulterior motives. Abu Mazen has offered to do this. And you hate him for it. Your complaints about “Islam” are 95% an excuse, an ulterior justification. I appraise you as someone who will tirelessly find some reason you can’t make peace and share the land or offer equal rights. If it’s not “Islam” it will be something else. Everything you have ever said is consistent with this appraisal.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben:
            It is not a distraction. It is the entire point. The Jews dared to establish their own State in the Middle East – the heart of “Dar-al-Islam”.

            Any Muslim leader who makes a PERMANENT END OF CLAIMS PEACE TREATY with Israel gets the chop. eg King Abdulla of Jordan, Anwar Sadar of Egypt and others. That’s why Arafat refused all the offers made by Barak and Olmert. That’s why Hafez Assad refused all peace offers made by Rabin including getting the entire Golan Heights.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Excuse me but that is just nonsense. Your thinking is so static it’s growing mold. Simply the existence of the Arab and Saudi Peace Initiatives and the Egyptians role in these and other initiatives give the lie to your hide bound notions. And btw Arafat was dead for four years by the time Olmert and Abbas had their talks–the breakdown of which was in no way Abbas’ fault. Your entire argument is based on fictions. And your resurrecting Arafat from the dead shows how stuck you are in clichés and how much you miss Arafat.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Because Ben does not believe in Supernatural Books and Sky Fairies, he assumes that most arabs are also rational like him. Ben cannot grasp that for the great majority of Arabs, making a permanent peace with Israel is against the “Will of Allah”. His mental capabilities are too limited !

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Assuming this false propaganda were true, why would you employ it? Habayit Hayehudi and the vast majority of the national religious Jews believe the same stuff about the will of God being on their side and that withdrawing from the occupied West Bank is against the will of God.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Sydney Kaminsky

      Orly does herself no favours by the inappropriate use of invective against those who hold views opposed to hers. The phrase the “escalation of extremism and fascism in Israel” is fraught with problems most notably Orly’s self-evident misunderstanding of the term fascism. She has taken it out of its historical context (and actual meaning) and used it as a form of invective showing scant regard for the emotional impact that the word has on the Jewish psyche.
      The word ‘extremism’ is of course less emotionally charged and is of course open to debate with both the Left and Right leveling such allegations against each other.
      Whilst it is hard to criticise the motive of those who seek cooperation between Israels different communities it can be argued that such thinking is utopian, especially in the light of the growing Islamic extremism (note Orly that such terminology can be used to counter your views) throughout the region which is infesting the ‘Arab street’ with extreme anti- Semitism) and is pitting Jew against Arab.Couple this with the threat from ‘Persia’ (Iran)
      who giving significant support to Israel’s implacable enemies (Hamas /Hezbollah, then such initiatives, whilst being commendable in intent are being held hostage to global forces.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Orly’s self-evident misunderstanding of the term fascism. She has taken it out of its historical context (and actual meaning) and used it as a form of invective showing scant regard for the emotional impact that the word has on the Jewish psyche.”

        That is a false accusation. (And, by the way, an emotionally exploitative appeal to “the Jewish psyche.”) Orly’s use of the word “fascism” is entirely appropriate here. I am not sure you understand either the term “fascism” or what is going on in Israel. Let me give you a similar example in a removed and separate (but not unrelated) context, of the appropriate use of the word “fascism” in the contemporary context by an intelligent and sophisticated journalist:

        “Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.”
        https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/08/28/opinion/fascism-arpaio-pardon-trump.html

        Reply to Comment
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