Classes in Jewish Culture to be Part of Arab Curriculum

Article Summary
With the opening of the school year, middle school students from the Arab sector will be learning about Jewish traditions and customs through educational videos, writes Omri Meniv. Jewish and Arab educators conceived of the program in an attempt to prepare Arab students for life in Jewish surroundings.

A new Education Ministry program was crafted to fight the trend of the Arab sector to dissociate from [mainstream] Israeli society, via an experiential study of Jewish culture in the Arab schools.The program will commence at the beginning of the new school year [August 27] in the fifth through sixth grades of 68 Arab schools, for a total of 30 hours a year. In this program, the children will learn about religious laws pertaining to the Sabbath, the distinctions between secular and religious Jews, various styles of Judaism, the synagogue and Jewish prayer.

The special project will also teach Arab pupils about affectionate Hebrew nicknames, popular games and even about the characteristics of customary Jewish celebrations and parties. They will learn the difference between Yom Hazikaron [Israel's official Memorial Day for Israeli fallen soldiers and the victims of terrorism] and Holocaust Day, and even the special characteristics of the kibbutz.

Ever since the Al-Aqsa Intifada and October Riots at the beginning of the previous decade, the Arab sector has distanced itself significantly from Israeli society. [This Intifada began in late September 2000 and ended roughly around 2005. The death toll, including both military and civilian, is estimated to be 5,500 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis.] This tendency was expressed by self-imposed segregation of the Arab educational system by abandoning public education and ignoring some of the directives of the Education Ministry. By contrast, attempts have been made in recent years to add classes on Arab culture to the curriculum of the Jewish sector. Thus criticism has been expressed that while Jewish students learn about the Arab lifestyle, this phenomenon is not reciprocal. Thus, for example, televisions in Arab schools now transmit satellite shows from Arab countries, while in the past they transmitted Israeli channels.

In light of the situation, the Abraham Fund organization in Israel, which has worked since 1989, to advance coexistence, equality and cooperation among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens conceived the new program. The program’s objective is to make contemporary Jewish culture accessible to Arab students. The program earned the approval of the Education Ministry, and will hit the road next week.

Arab educators were involved in forming the program, which is based on the [frontal] teaching concept accompanied by “special effects” offered in a way that speaks to children in their language. For this purpose, the Children’s Channel produced several short, 15-minute films for the project. One of the films — designed to explain the types of dilemmas that emerge between secular and religious Jews — displays a Sabbath-observant child who is invited to a birthday party of a secular child she likes, and does not know how to act under the circumstances. Another film, dealing with Purim, portrays a girl masquerading as a fairy who feels fat [in her costume]. [This Jewish holiday commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction in the ancient Persian Empire, a story recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. Purim is the Jewish Carnival with children in disguise parading; celebration by giving mutual gifts of food; public recitation of the Scroll of Esther.] Yet another film portrays a new immigrant from Russia who finds it hard to “fit in” at a Lag Ba’Omer [Day that commemorates the end of a plague. Bonfire is the symbol of the holiday] campfire organized by her classmates.Finally, plays and activities on the theme of Jewish festivals will be offered as part of the program.

Dr. Hani Mousa, [the first Arab to hold position, for the last 14 years, as the head of Hebrew education in Israel’s Arab school system] head of the languages branch of the ministry’s pedagogic department, explained, “We must expose the [Arab] students to Jewish culture, especially contemporary culture, because we live together in this country.” Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu, Executive Director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel, said, “We understood that teaching Hebrew in the Arab education system is not enough to prepare the children. We want to prepare them for encounters with Jewish children of the same age, to participate in social and recreational activities in a Jewish environment, to integrate in campus and academia life, and afterwards, in the workplace.”

Found in: jewish culture, jewish, israel, education, curriculum, arab sector, arab

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