All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on the television news and you will be flooded with human hatred presented as if it is the norm to which we are ever doomed. Nonsense. Hatred is carefully taught, nurtured by fear. Love is carefully taught, nurtured by trust.
It took two Israelis, geniuses of hope and diligence, Lee Gordon a Jew and Amin Khalaf an Arab to start Hand in Hand, a network of schools across Israel that is obliterating discord and bringing together thousands of Jewish and Muslim parents who want to establish a new normal in which their children can live in a world of integration, inclusion, respect and friendship. From pre-kindergarten on, children learn not a fear of difference but a regard for it. Bureaucratic snags along the way needed to be and were conquered as an increasing numbers of parents both Jews and Arabs asking for schools to be established in their areas.
Hand in Hand is working to see, over the next 10 years, 10 to 15 more schools involving more than 20,000 Israeli citizens. What do the schools offer? Students are split nearly fifty-fifty along ethnic lines. Coursework is done in both languages and when Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holidays appear on the calendar, students celebrate them together, acknowledging the customs that are their own and learning how to appreciate those that belong to their classmates. Caring about each other’s well-being is normal.
Academic achievement is outstanding. Hand in Hand students often outscore their peers on the Israeli matriculation exams, are disproportionately represented at national contests and academic fairs, and have a higher rate of college attendance. Requests for enrollment by both Arabs and Jews in the two new kindergartens in Haifa and Tel Aviv are outpacing the available space. Is it clear enough that people want to live in peace without the dread of yesterday’s acrimony?
To hear the children talk about their lives together is a lesson in what the world could be. One eleven-year old Arab boy says, “A lot of people don’t believe it’s possible to learn the way that we do, together.” He knows that his Jerusalem school of 530 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade could one day shift from the exception to the rule. He knows that learning together is the start of something big. Thanks to Lee Gordon and Amin Khalaf, there is an increasing number of Israeli children who are getting to live as children with strong friendships across all cultural borders because growing up hand in hand, they are not dependent on the news industry for their view of each other.
Thanks, in large measure to their parents who wanted a life of harmony, they got to know each other in safety. With an eye towards recorded history, we hope that there are years of life-long love letters of friendship between the students of Hand in Hand that we can read in generations to come and see how fear turned to trust. Maybe these children will grow to be the adults in whose hands policy is made, in whose hands the future sits.
When love and respect trump hatred and fear, the world will be safe for all our children.
From me to you with love in the air,
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