As we walked the halls of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School for students grades kindergarten through 12th grade (the school was founded in 1998 with 20 students and today has 696 students enrolled), the students were passing together between classes, laughing and talking as one might expect in any high school in Israel or America. But this is a different kind of school and there was much more than meets the eye here.

The students all appeared alike, but this is not a normal secular Israeli high school. It is a bi-lingual school, an experiment in bringing the diversity of students that live in Jerusalem together to learn about each other, to hear each other’s narratives, to discover the beauty in each other’s respective cultures, to work through stereotypes and prejudices, and to become friends and partners in a shared society.

The school is a microcosm of Jerusalem’s urban diversity and has students coming from Jewish and Arab neighborhoods all over East and West Jerusalem and includes Arab Christian, Muslim, Armenian Christian, Druze, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, and Ethiopian Jews, and increasingly more religiously observant Jewish students.

The high school is like all good academic Israeli secular high schools, but Yad b’Yad includes what the directors describe as “a unique and supportive environment as our students become teenagers and prepare for life as adults after school, with dialogue groups, expressive arts, volunteering, and extensive civic studies.”

In the elementary school, all classes are taught by one Jewish and one Arab teacher. The kids learn Hebrew and Arabic, and the reality of racism and violence that characterize so much of the contact between Israelis and Palestinians does not exist here. It is what Mohammed Darawshe, the Director of Givat Haviva, told us is “a perfect model of a school in a shared society.”

Yes, Palestinian Arab citizens and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have different perspectives and experiences than do Israeli Jewish citizens. But they talk and argue and listen and become friends.

I was moved deeply when I heard that during tense times such as the recent knife terror and the crossing points between East and West Jerusalem closed, Palestinian students living in East Jerusalem could not get home from school that is located in the southern area of West Jerusalem within sight of the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo beyond which is Bethlehem. So, what did they do? The Israeli Jewish students invited the East Jerusalem Palestinian students to stay in their homes until the checkpoints opened again. This could last days to weeks.

The school’s founders and leadership describe its mission as follows:

“Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities. We currently operate integrated schools and communities in six locations with 1,578 Jewish and Arab students and more than 8000 community members. Over the next ten years, we aim to create a network of 10-15 schools supported and enhanced by community activities, altogether involving more than 20,000 Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. Jews and Arabs – learning together, living together – and inspiring broad support for social inclusion and civic equality in Israel.”

Yad b’Yad is yet another grassroots effort to bring peace to the land of Israel/Palestine. Truly a bright light in our journey as a Temple Israel of Hollywood Leadership mission to Israel.

See the Yad b’Yad website for more information – https://www.handinhandk12.org/inform/why-we-exist

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