I have two kids. A sweet girl with scabby knees who scales the monkey bars and wants to be a mermaid when she grows up, and a beamish boy who loves to sing and take apart watches and old radios and put them together again. My kids go to to a school in the middle of the country. It’s lovely. They learn to folk dance and take care of bunny rabbits. My daughter can read – and she reads to her brother before bed each night. Next year, she’ll learn to play piano, and he’ll take a class on how to build robots.
But you know what’s missing? Arab kids.
And that’s a big problem.
The good news: The schools in Israel do not promote racism. There are no songs or prayers calling for us to destroy our enemy. And our kids are told that “hating others who are different is bad.”
The bad news: Teaching that hatred and racism and bigotry is wrong is not enough. It’s too conceptual, theoretical, too cerebral. It’s a no brainer with no practicum.
Because our kids grow up separated from Arabs. And all they learn is what they glimpse on forays for hummus at Samir’s in Ramle, and it isn’t enough. All they learn is what they’ll see on TV when there’s a war, and that’s too much.
And this is a problem. Especially now. When there are stabbings and shootings and car-rammings. When our kids hear form other kids, and their teachers, and the news, and the adults that they love and trust that something terrible has happened, that an Arab murdered a Jew.
How are they supposed to feel?
When they learn about terror happening on street corners where they once stood, people who look like them and light Shabbat candles like them, and eat latkes on Hanukkah like them being knifed between the shoulder blades how can they not be afraid of the people who did it?
And yes, it works both ways. Arab children grow up separated from us, fearing us, and hating us, too.
Our kids don’t even have the words.
Yes, it’s true: Most Israelis know a few words in Arabic. “Open the door!” “Put your hands in the air!” “Drop your weapon, or I’ll shoot.”
And sadly, yes, these phrases are necessary when you’re in serving in the IDF because, YES, Virginia, there are terrorists. And yes, they want to kill you.
And yes, you can learn Arabic in school — or you can choose to learn French instead. But it isn’t mandatory. (“Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up in the army, heh heh.”)
And yes, children in Israel might trace their fingers around the script, the loops, the curls, under and over, and back again, they might know a few words, (certainly the dirty ones) but when we can’t speak the other official language — (let me repeat, THE SECOND OFFICIAL LANGUAGE) — of our shared country, how can we ever expect to get beyond the necessary commands “Open the door!” “Put your hands in the air!” Drop your weapon, or I’ll shoot.” ?
So yes: Damn right I want more for my kids then “the basics.”
But more than just words, I want them to have a real opportunity to meet Arab kids — kids who may pray differently, but who probably enjoy the same snacks. Kids whose first words were in a different language, but probably love swimming in the same big blue sea. Kids who may be shy at first — as my kids will be, too — but who will find common ground because kids always do when given that chance.
Our kids deserve this. We need mandatory programs in place that force us to get to know one another in a safe environment, where trust begins.
Even on the smallest scale, it can save a universe.