Last Friday, I walked into a room full of smiling teenagers, a rare and special sight. Even rarer, though, was who the kids were.
“This is Itamar,” a tall girl wearing jeans, t-shirt and red sneakers says. “She is 16 and live in Raanana. She like…” Her English wasn’t perfect, but the effort was extraordinary. And the mix-up with he and she is understandable; in Hebrew, the word he means she and ho means he. She introduced Itamar and his family and then Itamar introduced her. The other kids, sitting around in a semi-circle, were laughing and rooting them on.
“OK, what do you give them?” says a man standing up amidst the group. I stood and watched with a mixture of fascination and awe. A woman turned around to greet me.
“Hi, I’m Dalia,” she says, sticking out her hand to shake mine. We quietly exchanged first and last names and then she introduced me to the man sitting on a chair next to me. Slowly, I learned that she is the head of Q School, the seated man is the father of one of the girls in the group, and the man standing is the facilitator in charge of the kids. The girl with Itamar is named Yasmeen and is in fact Dalia’s daughter. In a quiet voice, I applauded Dalia—and her co-partner Michele—for coming up with this idea and making the group happen. She smiled wide and brushed off the compliment.
I glanced at Simone, who was completely animated. When she saw me, she smiled and waved and quickly turned back to the group. They were rating Itamar and the girl’s presentation of one another.
Two weeks ago, I got an email from Michele, a mom of a 9th-grade girl at Daniella and Simone’s school:
We would like to invite your child in grades 8-10 to participate in a new program that we are starting with teens from Q Schools, in Tira. I have been meeting with Dr Dalia Fadila, of Q Schools in Tira in order to create an opportunity for kids from our area from the Jewish and Arab sectors to get to know one and other. Q Schools – English Language and HR Development, founded by Dalia, proposes a unique approach to learning/teaching English suited to Arab students and stemming from the need of these students to develop personally and professionally. To that end, Maayan and I met with Dalia and her daughter Yasmin yesterday to work out the details of a 10-week program. The program will be held in English. The group of 20-25 students will have a facilitator. We are seeking to put together a group of 12 Jewish kids in grades 8-10 who would like to participate in the program together with the kids from Q Schools… The first session will take place Friday, April 19. The program will be based at Q Schools in Tira. The kids will also have off-site programs in Raanana and other locations… Please call me with any questions or about additional details including the suggested curriculum, field trips, activities, expectations etc. Please email me back with your child’s contact details if he/she/they want to participate… It should be the beginning of a great experience,
Michele & Maayan
Dr. Dalia Fadila is provost of Al-Qasemi Academy, an Arab college of education. She has acted as the president of the college during 2006. She is also a fellow member of the “EU Visitors Program,” and “US International Leadership Visitors’ Program”. Dr. Fadila is an expert on organizational development and a researcher of American literature, women’s literature and ethnic studies. She has led and managed national and international seminars and projects on issues of gender, culture, identity and education. Of deep concern to her are promoting quality education for the Arab students through establishing an alternative schooling system, and empowering Arab women as educators, entrepreneurs and leaders. She has established private schools for teaching English called Q Schools – English Language and HR Development that proposes a unique approach to learning/teaching English suited to Arab students and stemming from the need of these students to develop personally and professionally. Dr. Fadila is currently also faculty member of the International School for Leadership and Diplomacy at IDC-Inter Disciplinary Center in Herziliya and member of the governmental civil-service higher committee and other national and international forms dealing with Arabs in Israel.
After reading the email, I approached my girls, asking if either or both was interested. Simone jumped, while Daniella showed interest but gave her Friday babysitting job priority. I immediately emailed to say Simone was in, and soon, other people’s emails were flooding my inbox. Within a few days, a group of Jewish kids from Raanana had formed: 4 boys and 7 girls. Minutes later, carpools were in place.
All week long, Simone kept asking me what exactly they were going to do in Tira at the Q school. Even though I couldn’t answer her concretely, she was excited for the first meeting, up early to get breakfast and dressed on her day off of school.
“Have fun!” I called to her before she left. Part of me wished I could go too.
After Itamar and the girl, two boys stood up in front of the group to introduce one another. All I heard was that they both love the same video game and that whenever they visit family or spend time with friends, this game is the focal point. When they finished, the facilitator again asked the other group members to rate them on a scale of 1-10.
“9,” the Arab girl next to her says in a shy voice.
“I’ll give them something between a 6 and a 7 but not 6.5,” another Jewish girl says. Most of the Raanana kids come from English-speaking homes, primarily American, and they are clearly comfortable speaking English and therefore more vocal.
I leaned toward Dalia to tell her that I would love to do a yoga session with the group, if Simone allows me. She loved the idea and told me that in three weeks, the Tira kids will be visiting Raanana with our kids and they will do activities at the park and that I could do an outdoor session there.
“The truth is before moving to Israel a year and a half ago, I had a vision. Maybe you could help me,” I say. Dalia nodded her head, all ears, willing to listen. “I really want to teach adults—Arab and Jewish—for yoga to be the common language.”
“Let’s talk,” she says encouragingly. “I’m sure we can make something happen.” I searched in my purse for a business card and handed it to her. She gave me hers as well.
When Simone got home from the first meeting last week, I asked her how it went and what they did. She told me they sat in a circle and introduced themselves and they had to think of an adjective that best described them.
“There was the girl, her name’s Nadine, and she said she was shy. And I thought I’m shy too so we could be friends. After the circle we had to get up and find a partner and I went over to her. She’s really nice!”
I asked how her English was and if she lived in Tira.
“Actually, she lived in Washington for 10 years so she sounds American. And she lives somewhere outside of Tira, but I don’t know the name, can’t pronounce it. But we were talking about how we don’t like living here and wished we could have stayed in America.” Simone enjoys watching my reaction, seeing if she can get a rise out of me.
She was dynamic, her voice all excited, and I loved her enthusiasm about the program.
“Next week we have to make a Power Point presentation about our families and present them. Can you or Abba help me? They have the computer and screen there so I just need the disc-on-key.” Every week the program will be different to keep the kids engaged and learning about one another.
I leaned down toward the man seated on my left. Dalia explained he is Nadine’s father, the one Simone partnered with last week.
“How old are the kids when they start to learn English?” I asked.
“Our kids first learn Hebrew as their second language in third grade. Then in fourth grade they start English.” I was impressed. Not only was his English excellent after almost a decade in the U.S. but also that the Arab curriculum introduces other languages at such early ages. Many Israeli Jewish kids learn Arabic in middle school but not all. Our school, for example, used to offer it but because there were so many non-native Hebrew speakers and so much English being spoken in school, they decided Arabic was too much for them on top of the Hebrew.
Still, despite learning English at a young age, many of the Arab teenagers were hesitant and searching for their words during the introductions.
I told him how great that was that they were tri-lingual even if it wasn’t perfect.
The facilitator called up the last pair to the front of the room: Simone and Nadine.
Nadine started: ‘This is Simone. She’s 13 1/2, born in California. Her father is French and named Philippe, and her mother is American and is called Jennifer.” And she went on to name Daniella and Benjamin and their ages and to recite our chronology of moves from California to New York to Israel and back and forth again.
The room burst into applause. “10 ½! ”
“I give them a 12!”
“Oh my god they knew everything about each other!” all the kids shouted at once.
Simone and Nadine, new friends, bowed and smiled and took their seats on opposite sides of the room.
Life goes full-circle, I think to myself. In 1990, when I first came to Israel and decided to stay, I worked with an Israeli sociology professor at the University of Haifa, helping her translate and edit her research on Arab-Jewish co-existence. Together, we produced a paper called “Jewish‑Arab meetings: The program of Beit Hagefen,” in which I wrote up my observations at Beit Hagefen, a Jewish Arab Center in Haifa. Those were the years that Yitzhak Rabin was in power and peace talks dominated world news. I enrolled in an Arabic conversation class and tried to learn the basics but couldn’t pronounce more than hello, how are you? I insisted that Jews should speak Arabic and Arabs should speak Hebrew, and that only once everyone spoke the same language could there be dialogue.
Twenty-three years have passed and I am living a version of my dream through my youngest daughter. I couldn’t care less that she hasn’t yet mastered Hebrew or that Arabic isn’t offered in her school. I couldn’t care less that she and Nadine share America in common. I am deeply proud that I am raising an open-minded child who understands that language and words can lead to new friendships and endless possibilities.