By: Sophia Daniels
Jewish-Arab coexistence is possible and viable, a prospect clearly evidenced by The Yad B’Yad, or Hand in Hand, School. The school is bridging communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel by creating a shared learning environment. Each of their six existing schools brings the two groups together, proving that the divide among the two groups can still be remedied. Recently, founder and parent Mohammed Marzouk, along with Hand in Hand’s leader of International Communications and Community Engagement Noa Yammer, visited Heschel and spoke to the Israel Affairs club.
Marzouk grew up going to a Jewish school in Israel. When faced with the challenge of whether to send his children to a Jewish or an Arab school, each with its own set of pros and cons, he decided that there had to be a better solution. He shouldn’t have to choose between teaching his kids tradition and learning about their neighbors. Consequently, he started Yad B’Yad, where history and narratives from both religions are taught, to find a solution between the two.
The other visitor, Noa Yammer, is a Frisch alumna. When she made aliyah to Israel, she heard about Hand in Hand and was immediately intrigued. She was inspired by the school’s progressive methods in bringing two tense and polarized communities together. She began working at Yad B’Yad and leading the school’s international outreach.
Hand in Hand’s mission is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated and bilingual schools and organized communities. They currently operate schools in six locations with 1,578 Jewish and Arab students and more than 8,000 community members. Over the next ten years, they aim to create a network of 10-15 schools, supported and enhanced by community activities, involving a total of 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens.
Running a school like Hand in Hand is not easy. Yammer and Marzouk presented the Israel Affairs club with dilemmas that the school often faces. For example, how do you teach on the first day of school when half of your students speak Arabic and the other half speak Hebrew? Or, what do you teach your students about Independence Day in Israel when half of them experience it is as a day of mourning and the other half view it is a national holiday? These issues are complex and multifaceted, but Hand in Hand works through them, rather than dancing around them, in an effort to reach a balance between these two communities.
Junior Sam Nevins and Senior Aliza Nussbaum-Cohen thought that the school was effective in building understanding, which is often lacking, between Jews and Israeli Arabs. Nevins noted, “Many Jewish students never interact with Arab Israelis or Palestinians. Therefore both sides make assumptions about the other.” He added, “Yad B’Yad does not try to reconcile issues between the two sides of the conflict that happened in the past, but they work to create a future where both sides can coexist. I think that this is very important and effective.” He acknowledged, “Eventually these students will be the leaders in Israel, and they will have grown up without prejudices against one another.” Nussbaum-Cohen explained, “if these schools continue to spread and majority of schools are like this in Israel, it will help shape a more peaceful future.”