Chaim Peri
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10 tons of hope

In Acre, Arab and Jewish youths came together to pack coats and blankets for the needy in post-earthquake Turkey
A man walks among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Hatay on March 6, 2023, one month after a massive earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria. (OZAN KOSE / AFP)
A man walks among the rubble of collapsed buildings in Hatay on March 6, 2023, one month after a massive earthquake struck southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria. (OZAN KOSE / AFP)

There is great turbulence in Israel, but in Acre, it is like an oasis. The country is noisy and crowded – opponents and supporters of the legal reform are clashing with unusual intensity and fervor even for the place we live in, the discourse in the Knesset plenum is blunt and harsh and sometimes degenerates into racism. However, in the northern city of Acre, which itself has known quite a few days of tension in recent years, Arab and Jewish students came together on a mission to carry out a true act of kindness for the victims of the earthquake in Turkey. With great dedication and devotion, they packed up no less than 10 tons of equipment for the benefit of people who were left with nothing — 10 tons of hope for all of us.

This project was conceived in the Technological School Ort Acre, which is a unique high school where 120 Arab students study – students who, for one reason or another, did not fare well in other schools. This is not a “last chance” high school, because from here, under the leadership of one-of-a-kind principal Eyad Salih — a relatively young educator who is two meters tall and has a big heart — all of the graduates leave with their heads held high and proud, with vocational certificates in various fields that are useful for the rest of their lives, as well as some who also received matriculation certificates.

But in this school, studies are only part of the educational process. When the ground shook in southeast Turkey and millions were left without a roof over their heads in the freezing cold and it was announced in the media that the survivors urgently needed coats, blankets, and sleeping bags in large quantities, students at the high school decided to step up. “We try never to stand on the sidelines,” Salih always explains to his students, “that’s the worst.”

Requests for donations and assistance were written and sent out to several WhatsApp groups, and soon the operation spread its wings and flew, literally. The surrounding community found itself in one of its most beautiful moments. The high school students and their parents, residents of Acre and business owners, residents from all the surrounding Arab and Jewish communities — Jdeide-Makr, Jish, Kfar Yasif, Mazra’a, Tamra, Sahnin, Arabeh, Nahariya, and more — all reached out and donated generously.

For several days, more and more equipment arrived at the Technological School Ort Acre – “the school became one big shipping container.” At this stage, the students from the Manof Youth Village, a Jewish youth village near Acre, also joined the initiative. Manof is another wonderful educational institution for youth who have not found themselves in other places, but in Manof, the kids are already discovering their many abilities with sensitive and loving guidance of an educational staff that doesn’t give up. Together, the Arab and Jewish students packed the mountains of blankets, sleeping bags, and coats, as well as clothes for small children that were collected especially to be given to orphanages in the disaster area. They finally transferred this enormous number of items to a collection point in Haifa, en route to Ben-Gurion International Airport and from there to Turkey.

This is not the first time that Salih and his students mobilized together with fellow Jewish teachers and students for the common good – this event is simply another link in the chain. A year ago, shortly after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Technological School Ort Acre joined forces with Dor High School in Herzliya to collect large donations for Ukrainian citizens who suddenly found themselves refugees. Several months later, one of the teachers at the school took part in a joint Jewish-Arab aid mission in a transit camp on the Ukraine-Poland border, and the entire high school community was able to keep up with her and the delegation’s aid journey online in real-time.

What connects the Technological School Ort Acre and the Jewish schools are a shared worldview and educational methodology – the “Village Way,” based on the heritage of the Israeli youth village. In recent years, from this methodology has grown, among other things, the “Am Adam” project (People of Humanity), which was named in the spirit of a famous expression coined by A.D. Gordon. This is a project that connects Jewish and Arab youth, which, like the great historical figure Gordon, seeks to find the image of God in every person wherever they are.

The project has been going on for over six years, determined in its goal, moving forward despite the skepticism and the challenging external background noises, such as the “Guardian of the Walls” operation that particularly shook Acre, one of the flagship locales of the program. We believe in a connection that grows from the heart. Let the boys eat snacks together, talk about soccer, and volunteer shoulder to shoulder at Rambam Health Care Campus. The rest will come by itself slowly, sometimes even quickly. By volunteering, they do Tikkun Olam together – a Jewish concept in which we are big believers, especially in its universal meaning.

And other words that we believe in with all our hearts, taken directly from the opening sentence of a state education law that was enacted 70 years ago – “to educate a person to love other people.” Everything stems from here – these are words that every educator should always keep in mind.

And this is how Arab and Jewish youths found themselves together in Acre one winter day in February, packing 10 tons of coats and blankets for the needy in Turkey. “Maybe this is a drop in the ocean,” says Salih, “but at least we will know that our drop will arrive.”

In the proper country to which we all aspire, teachers are nation builders. May God grant that this wonderful oasis in Acre, a microcosm of a society led by education, is the marker for the future of all of us here – not other actions that are presently happening at the same time.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Peri is the founder and president of Village Way Educational Initiatives. He recently won Israel’s 'Presidential Medal of Honor' for his life's work in the field of education
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