BY RABBI MICAH LAPIDUS / AJT //
Editor’s note: From May 8 to 23, the Davis Academy’s eighth-graders toured Israel, where they visited iconic sites like the Kotel, Masada, the Dead Sea and the beaches of Tel Aviv. On the second-to-last day of their trip, they made a special stop at a cooperative village north of Beit Shemesh, on the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line. Here, Rabbi Micah Lapidus shares his thoughts on the experience.
Our day started with a visit to Neve Shalom, also known as Wahat Al-Salam. This village was founded with the explicit purpose of fostering coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.
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From an American point of view, this may seem like no big deal, but in Israel it truly an anomaly. Twenty percent of Israel’s population is Arab, yet most Israel trips taken by Jewish schools from the U.S. involve little or no interaction with Arab Israelis.
And as it turns out, Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel also have little meaningful interaction. Arab children attend Arabic-speaking schools, while Jewish children attend Hebrew-speaking schools; and military service is compulsory for Jews but optional for Arabs. The unintended result of this segregation is that both cultures rely primarily on stereotypes and national narratives rather than personal relationships when thinking about the complex identity issues that face Israel.
By contrast, the villagers of Neve Shalom believe that Jews and Arabs must learn to coexist on a basis of mutual respect and acceptance. They believe that they are living life as it should be rather than as it is. But, as the administration of Davis Academy, our goal in visiting Neve Shalom was not to answer these questions for the kids, but simply to raise these questions.
We don’t want Davis graduates to be blindsided when they get to high school or college and encounter a wide array of opinions (many of them misinformed). Instead, we want them to be able to speak from experience.
As is the case with our facility at Davis, the central institution of Neve Shalom is a school. Their pre-K-through-sixth-grade program is one of five bilingual schools in Israel. Arab and Jewish children attend the school in equal number and have equal amounts of instruction in both languages.
Of course, this confluence of cultures does require careful attention to detail. For example: If you think Davis has a lot of days off for holidays, imagine what it must be like at the Neve Shalom school!
On our trip last year, we were only able to view the playing school children from afar. This year, thanks to the persistent efforts of Moral Sigal and Rich O’Dell, we were able to do an activity with Neve Shalom’s sixth-grade students.
We sat in a circle on a shady field, and a few of their students did some gymnastics. One of our own students joined in the fun by doing his inimitable robot dance, and then a child from Neve hopped in and started break dancing as well. It turned into a good old-fashioned dance off!
Then we broke into groups and learned how to write salaam in Arabic as well as our names. We also took a bunch of pictures, exchanged info and presented the school with a copy of our new music CD, “Be a Blessing,” which they plan to use to help teach English. The student singers and artists were particularly proud of this gift.
It’s clear that our visit meant a great deal to the Neve Shalom community, as they posted a lovely blog (with photos) only a few hours after we departed.