“This is the best place to be at this moment in time. It is the only place that is not teaching hatred and animosity. It is teaching how to understand and appreciate the other side.”

Today was an amazing day. I had the opportunity to visit the Yad B’Yad School in Jerusalem. The Yad B’Yad School seeks to educate Jews and Arabs in an environment of respect, appreciation for one another and dialogue. Rather than avoiding the issues that divide, through trained facilitators, the students explore the issues that separate the two cultures and learn how to appreciate that there is another side to the story. I had the opportunity to meet with students, teachers and administrators and learned about this unique educational institution.
Orfata, a teacher and pedagogic department head, (herself a parent in the school), is from the Arab village of Tz’fata. During our lengthy meeting, she shared with me the quote on the top of this page. Orfata is a proud Muslim woman who believes in the mission of the school – to build bridges between the Arab and Jewish Communities. The same can be said for Rebecca, a senior administrator who is a traditional Jewish woman who sends her children to the school and hopes that they will be able to build a better future for both people by understanding the Arab narrative as well as their own.In November when I visited Israel, the Yad B’Yad School was firebombed by a group of three Jewish extremists who didn’t believe in the message of peaceful coexistence. The arson consumed a Grade 1 classroom and the fire was fed by burning the classroom library of children’s books. What I learned today was that the community, even those who don’t believe in the school’s mission, galvanized and came out together in one voice that violence is not the solution.

This past summer as the rockets were falling on Israel from Gaza, the school was grappling with what to do on the first day of school. How would the children be able to start the school year after such a violent summer? The school leaders, faculty and parents met as groups and began the school year by working out their own issues. Then, after understanding themselves, they could begin the school year as a united community. The year started by having a united march, Jews and Arabs together speaking out against violence and in favour of working together to bring meaningful peace to the county. This can only be accomplished by listening to each side and respecting each other. The message I heard over and over today was, “You don’t have to agree, to be able to live together in harmony.”

Children have to be taught to hate, it’s not natural. Growing up together, going to school together, playing soccer together and learning about each other’s cultures, allows the children to become adults who are not programmed to hate.

yad-byad-yazmin-inbarThere are two pictures with today’s blog. The first is me with two high school students. Their names are Yazmin and Inbar. One a Jew the other Arab. They both plan on going to university, getting married and building a future based upon respect for all citizens of Israel. They are the future leaders who can bring peace to the region. The second picture is of a sign announcing that the holiday of Purim is around the corner and we need to celebrate and be happy. It is written in both Hebrew and Arabic. In fact, I sat in a Grade One class today and observed the co-teachers telling the story of Purim to the class. It was first taught in Hebrew and then in Arabic. What a beautiful sight watching Muslim children learn about and appreciate our Jewish laws, customs and traditions.

Such a school does have its challenges. However as Orfata said, “The other path has not worked. Let’s try the path of respect and the way to do this through the children.” I pray that it works so we can finally see a life of peace for all in Israel.

yad-byad2Over the course of this week, between continuing the planning of the Beth Zion Bar & Bat Mitzva trip, I will be visiting two more Yad B’Yad campuses. One in Jaffa and one in Haifa. I look forward to sharing with you upon my return how Beth Zion can become international leaders in their mission.

Rabbi P.