Hand in Hand—Jews and Arabs Learning Together in Israel




What is Hand in Hand all about?

In Israel, you can find orthodox Jewish rabbis and Arab mullahs who share the conviction that Arabs and Jews can’t, and shouldn’t, get along. They are wrong. Hand in Hand is all about proving this point and bridging the socio-economic gap that separates Jewish and Arab Israelis. What started as an idealistic experiment seven years ago in a one room school in the Galil is now flourishing in three different schools touching 530 children and their families. This bold initiative in bilingual and multicultural education is the most promising and potentially far reaching program of its kind in the entire Middle East.

I first learned about Hand in Hand in the summer of 2003 through an introduction from Neill and Linda Brownstein in advance of my first visit to Israel. Neill is the retired founder and Managing Partner of Bessemer Venture Partners. The San Francisco Jewish Community Federation was one of the early supporters of Hand in Hand. I was going to Tel Aviv on business and figured it would make my overall trip more interesting to learn about some progressive philanthropic initiatives while I was there. Hand in Hand is a unique educational institution in Israel—a bilingual public elementary and junior high school program that equally embraces both the Jewish and Arab cultures and traditions.

Today there are three campuses that comprise “Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel.” The schools each have an Arab and Jewish co-principal and the classrooms have one Jewish and one Arab teacher. The curriculum is bilingual (Hebrew and Arabic), and the school strives to provide a progressive and multicultural educational program that is inclusive and represents the needs of both communities as well as individual differences between each child. Independent standardized testing of the students has demonstrated that Hand in Hand students consistently perform above the national average for Israeli students. Each year the school is adding new grades and has as its objective to offer classes for students in the Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Recognized and partially funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Hand in Hand schools have waiting lists of students who cannot be accommodated. Hebrew University, in partnership with Hand in Hand, has developed the first textbooks that incorporate both Hebrew and Arabic specifically for this groundbreaking curriculum. Hand in Hand has sown the seeds of tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and peaceful coexistence in Israel, and the first flowers of this ambitious experiment are starting to bloom.

On my first visit to Jerusalem I met with Bob Fenton, who helps with fundraising for Hand in Hand, and learned about the school’s origins and mission. I spent the next eighteen months meeting the co-founders in the U.S. and In Israel, meeting the teachers and some of the parents of students at the schools, and conducting site visits to the Jerusalem school (254 students, November 2004) and the newest school in the North of Israel, located in an Arab village called Kfar Kara in the Wadi Ara region (106 students, January 2005).

To access the Hand in Hand website directly:

www.handinhandk12.org/

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