By Andy Pass, CEO
This past December, I had the opportunity to visit a very special school in Jerusalem, the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School. This school, which runs from kindergarten to twelfth grade, includes both Arab and Jewish children. Only an absolute optimist would consider the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel to be friends. Yet, in this one school, children from both communities learn together, hand in hand.
The composition of this school is relatively straightforward. The administration, including both a Jewish and an Arab head, strives to include an equal number of Arab and Jewish children in each class. Each classroom includes both an Arab and a Jewish teacher. Hebrew and Arabic are spoken equally within the classroom. Students do not view their teachers as “the Arab teacher” and “the Jewish teacher.” Rather, they view them as “my teachers.”
One idea struck me from the moment I walked into this school and continues as I think about my experiences two months later. As an outsider within the school, I could not distinguish between Arab and Jewish students. Instead of seeing students from a particular ethnic background, I saw younger children and older teenagers who came together as classmates and friends.
Significantly, Arab and Jewish children attend the school for different reasons. According to our tour guide, many of the Arab students attend the school because it is the best educational opportunity to which they have access. Jewish students, on the other hand, attend the school because their parents value the concept of egalitarian education. Regardless of why students attend this school, they are there learning together. The concept of “otherness” that causes so much conflict in Israel and other parts of the world is eliminated in this school. The school truly becomes one inclusive community.
It might be appropriate to ask why students learning together in a school are able to put their differences aside in order to develop a cohesive community. But the answer seems so obvious: It is much easier for children and teenagers to get over certain kinds of differences than it is for adults. They do not recognize ethnic and cultural differences. In our adult world, ethnic and cultural differences lead to war and death.
The real question is, how can the world learn from children who overcome differences in order to form cohesive communities? How can adults use the knowledge, or perhaps naïvete, of children to make this a better world?