It’s common for Israelis to create WhatsApp groups to keep in touch. What’s uncommon is for a group of eighth and ninth grade Jewish and Arab high school pupils from Rosh Ha’ayin and Tira, to have met regularly over two years, and to have created a WhatsApp group together on 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. The two teachers meet in advance to plan the lessons together.
Yulia explains: “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. 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, on March 21st, 30 Arab and Jewish 11th graders in Jerusalem joined together for a picnic. They smiled, laughed, played games and interacted comfortably. They had been learning English together for the past several months.
These are three, out of some fifty initiatives that make use of the vast educational resources made available to teachers throughout Israel by the Shatil-led Education for Shared Living Forum. 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 life in a truly shared society.
The Forum recently created a bi-lingual web site called Learning to Live Together featuring a guide called “Educating for Shared Living: How do you do that?” with lesson plans and links to multimedia resources. The guide was inspired by work in Northern Ireland. The Center for Educational Technology, a member of the Forum, provides on-site 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 Pardesiya 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?’
Matani also used the guide to help her pupils process the government’s demolition of eleven homes in Qalansuwa in January.
“I used materials from the guide to help them see the other side as human…”” she says. “We talked about being a new generation that will do things differently.”