By Karen Abu Adra, Deputy Director for Partnerships

Why are you dressed like that and what ARE you doing here? Sarah is a young Muslim Arab teacher from East Jerusalem who wears the hijab. She teaches Arabic in a Jewish school in Jerusalem, a rarity anywhere in Israel but especially in the tinderbox that is Jerusalem. She knows the looks and the questions she will get but is always looking for the way to connect to her students and to share a bit about herself.

Bilal Abu Shqeir, an Arabic teacher at Hagar, launches his workshop by asking the participants, all Arab teachers who teach in Jewish schools in Jerusalem, to share a positive experience they have had in their schools. Almost everyone talks about the joy they feel at breaking down the stereotypes of Arabs that their students bring. This is the perfect lead in to  Sweet Tea with Mint, an anthology of short stories that Hagar developed and published in partnership with Ben Gurion University with a grant from the European Union.

Each story centers on a Jewish, Christian or Muslim holiday and was written by well-known Arabic and Hebrew children’s authors Ronit Hacham, Hadil Nashaf and Sheikha Helawy.  They introduce readers to the terms associated with the holidays, like Iftar, sahur, Kol Nidrei prayers. They are engaging stories whose main characters are often girls, and many are set in mixed cities in Israel or in places, such as Morocco, where Jews and Muslims were neighbors. Values, traditions, and activities associated with the holidays are woven into the stories. Thus, the seed is planted for envisioning a shared society where Jews and Arabs are equal.

The teachers read the first section of In Fatma’s Footsteps, a story about Ramadan. In a few short paragraphs, they are introduced to Ramadan fasting, with an opening paragraph that is  photographic in its description of the setting, and the story is rife with examples to illustrate such literary terms. Ideas for lessons popcorn through the room, and the teachers are shocked  to know that such a book- with every story written in Arabic and Hebrew- exists and that the story has so much educational value.

Making Minority Culture Vibrant and Visible

Though no official statistics are kept, based on our research, there are a number of schools in Beer Sheva where the Arab enrollment reaches at least 10%. These students study the regular Israeli curriculum where Arab history, tradition and culture are given virtually no expression. In schools in Israel where only the majority religion is taught, the anthology introduces elementary and middle school children to the traditions of others and subtly encourages a more inclusive, tolerant perspective. Hagar’s specially trained teachers come to the target school, train their teachers to use the anthology and provide copies of the anthology, a teacher’s manual, and follow up support.

The anthology was designed and developed by Hagar first and foremost as an aid to teaching in the multicultural classroom of bilingual schools, but  with its success in this arena and the positive feedback, we saw the revolutionary potential so we immediately began laying the groundwork to embed this program in the curriculum of mainstream monolingual schools in the area. Now this effort is in full swing with this first training in Jerusalem, which has the potential to bring the anthology to 17 schools in the city, and another to be held before the start of Ramadan in the Bedouin school at Abu Tlul.

If you, your school or youth organization  is interested in becoming part of this program, please contact Merav Raz (merav@hajar.org.il). If you are interested in donating to support this worthy program, contact Karen Abu Adra (karen@hajar.org.il) or follow this donation link.

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