It was a typical day in the life of a working parent. My 5 year old daughter, Sela, had an eye infection and I had work to do. She couldn’t go to school but had already started treatment in the days prior, so I, like many other hardworking moms, brought her to work with me.
Perhaps unlike many working Jewish parents in Israel, I work for a Bedouin organization, Tamar Center Negev, with a mostly Bedouin staff. Though this should not be an issue in 2017, we all know that in Israel this kind of intimate work relationship between Arabs and Jews is still rare. At Tamar, we are working to break the cycle of poverty and bridge the socioeconomic gaps between Bedouin youth and their Jewish peers. Through Tamar they receive the highest level of STEM education (5 units of matriculation), leadership development, and we engage their family in the process.
Sela was in great spirits that day, and she shined as her very friendly self. A girl’s girl, she warmed up right away to my young colleagues, Safaa and Khitam, two smart and beautiful Muslim Bedouin women. How could she not? Their dresses flowed, their scarves matched, and one of them told Sela she is a bride to be married this summer! Sela was elated by this detail. She showered the bride and her friends with hugs and drawings, the mark of Kindergarten approval.
The next day, with Sela back at school, I went back to the office. This morning, in conversation with Safaa she began to ask me questions about my life, my Zionism, and my aliyah. I answered with the same openness that she answers my questions about her life, as I work to learn about Bedouin society. It isn’t as simple as the polarizing news pundits and our leaders make it seem. I am Jewish and Zionist, I believe in the Jewish State, and I believe that for the future of the Negev, my home, the socioeconomic conditions of the Bedouin must improve. Our fates are inter-twined, our successes and our struggles.
After the barrage of questions ended, Safaa spoke, “you know, Sela is wonderful.” “Ravit, do you know that yesterday was the first time a little Jewish girl has hugged me? She wasn’t afraid of me,” Khitam added.
I was taken aback for a second. It hadn’t occurred to me, despite everything I know to be true about how isolated our societies are from one another. Khitam offered this next piece of wisdom, “Your Zionism is Sela.”
She is right, of course. My husband and I have actively managed to instill in my young daughter a very natural, organic comfort with Arabs. The fear and racism that is rampant in Israeli society has not been passed to my child, thanks to the Hagar School, where she is in Kindergarten and has Muslim teachers, and the Tamar Center.
I see my Zionism in Sela – a Zionism of love, understanding, and hope for a shared future with our Arab neighbors.
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