A group of eighth and ninth grade Jewish and Arab high school pupils from Rosh Ha’ayin and Tira, who have been meeting regularly for two years, created a WhatsApp group to stay in touch at their own initiative.
“The only Arab many of the kids had ever met was the school’s janitor,” says Anna Yakshtadt, social coordinator of the Rosh Ha’ayin school. “After joint classes in music, origami and other arts, a world opened to them. Now they know that both groups listen to the same music, wear the same jeans and go to the beach. That they are, in short, like us.”
Two 10th grade classes from Ramle, one Arab and one Jewish, study spoken English together with teachers Yulia Mark and Faten Mantsour meeting in advance to plan the lessons together.
Says Yulia: “At first my kids didn’t like the idea. ‘What? We’ll meet with Arabs!?’ they said. But we had an excellent lesson about prejudice and tolerance and while two refused to participate, the rest felt they were so well prepared that it went really well. Some of my pupils who started out with the most racist views came back and said, ‘They’re just like us!’
To mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21st, 30 11th graders from Arab and Jewish Jerusalem schools smiled, laughed, played games and interacted comfortably during a picnic after learning English together for the past several months. “Fun” was the word most often used by them to describe the program.
“I was nervous at first, but I learned from this experience not to be closed to people who are different,” says 15-year-old Shachar.
These initiatives – and nearly 50 more – are using the vast educational resources made available to teachers throughout Israel by the Shatil-led Education for Shared Living Forum. The Forum created a bi-lingual web site called Learning to Live Together featuring a 28-page Guide, Educating for Shared Living: How do you do that? Inspired by work in Northern Ireland, it is overflowing with practical ideas, lesson plans, articles, and links to short films and interactive presentations from a range of approaches. The Center for Educational Technology, a member of the Forum, provides on-site guidance and training to the teachers based on materials in the guide.
Reem Matani, a fifth grade teacher in Qalansuwa, whose class meets with a Jewish class from Pardesia for sports and science lessons, says she sees the program’s influence. “The kids work in pairs and help each other. At first there were fears, but now the children constantly ask ‘When are we meeting again?’
“When I was a young mother living in Be’er Sheva, far from family, I did experience racism, but the person who supported me most was a Jewish neighbor. She gave me exactly what a mother would give a daughter. I tell my pupils that what gives me strength is that I got to know both sides. And that’s what I want my children to know – not just the negative side we hear on TV and radio.”
Matani also used the guide to calm her pupils down after the government destroyed 11 homes in the city in January.
“I used materials in the guide to help them see the other side as human rather than resorting to racism or violence,” she says. “We talked about being a new generation that will do things differently; that our weapons are learning, understanding deeply while not being afraid to express our identity and letting our voices be heard.”
The Education for Shared Living Forum promotes the values of human dignity, pluralism, tolerance and democracy among children through professional development of teachers and the creation and implementation of educational programs. Comprised of 26 organizations, many of which are NIF grantees, the Forum works in collaboration with the Ministry of Education against racism and to prepare children for living in a truly shared society.