Arab Mothers Are the New Jewish Mothers

Article Summary
A new study reveals that in Israel, 94% of Arab high school students from well-off homes are interested in continuing on to higher education; a third of them want to study medicine.  Smadar Shirin draws the obvious conclusion: In Israel, Arab mothers are the new Jewish mothers.

The media has paid precious little attention to a study whose results should shake Heaven and Earth: 94% of Arab high school students “from the high socio-economic level” are interested in continuing on to a higher academic education. A third of them want to study medicine.

Diligent talk-back readers, who found this item when scouring the depths of the internet, responded cynically and jubilantly. Some exulted over the difficulties experienced by the high school kids from the [Arab] Triangle [concentration of Israeli Arab towns in central Israel] on their psychometric tests. (Hebrew is their second language, not their mother tongue, thus English is their third language. This forces them to study in overseas universities, not in Israel.) Others announced that even if they would fall from an airplane in the middle of the night, they wouldn’t allow Dr. Ahmed to resuscitate them.

I don’t want to be regarded as a party-pooper, but I must ask: Why do we always do this— express vulgar and racist opinions, and concern ourselves with trifles while purposely overlooking the big picture?

The central message of this pioneering study, conducted by the Triangle Research and Development Center on 700 [Arab Israeli] high school students, is that the Arab Israeli mother has taken the place of the [Jewish] Polish mother. That’s the type of mom who traditionally whips out a photo of her three-year old twins and declares, “This one is the brain surgeon, that one is the lawyer.” It seems that precisely the Arab Israeli mother—the one forbidden by her father, husband, and all the village elders to educate herself and expand her horizons—wants her children to achieve what she couldn’t fulfill herself. Even when her financial situation isn’t so great, she works part-time to finance private lessons for her kids. And why? Because one thing she learned in the university of life is that higher education is the key to success. And if that key is in your hands or your head, then everything is possible.

I wouldn’t want to change places with the mother from the Arab Triangle, who is already reaping the fruits of her labors. (When was the last time you encountered a Jewish pharmacist? Soon you won’t see Jewish doctors in the ER, they will clock in and then fly off to somewhere abroad.) And since I am a peace-loving pacifist, I won’t declare that the ticking academic time-bomb is more dangerous to the future of Israel than Iran.

Instead I want to talk about ourselves. About our society. About my children and yours. They don’t dream about studying medicine, engineering or computers. They dream about being famous, never mind why or how. And why? Because we, the mothers—second generation to Warsaw or Casablanca—have demonstrated to them that the most important thing in life is to sing on TV or strut and preen like a model.

We don’t always do it consciously or purposely. For every parent who stuffs their child with “educational” utterances such as, “Why study a profession from which you can’t make ends meet?” there are ten, even twenty, who transmit the very opposite messages in the their day-to-day lives, even as they pay lip service to the benefits of schooling and a higher education.


When the child asks for help in arithmetic or building a Noah’s Ark, they respond, “I have no strength for this, I did my own homework a long time ago, this teacher certainly has a lot of nerve to impose homework on the parents.” Instead of investing in books, they buy their little girl more clothes (“if she dresses nicely, she’ll be more popular”). And instead of taking the kids to watch the anemones bloom, Mom and Dad run around with them from competition to audition.

The Israeli child shuns higher education not because he is dim-witted, but because he mimics the empty lives of his beloved parents who are his model. And if this research has some impact on the Jewish high school student, he would be wise to adopt the ancient Arab proverb that says, “Don’t be envious, compete.”

Found in: israel, education

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