Like many American immigrants in Israel, I found myself last Thursday night at a
table filled with family, friends, turkey and all the Thanksgiving fixings. With
this celebratory gathering I realized: Israel has no Thanksgiving
We observe a lot of holidays here, but not one that brings
all Israelis together the way Thanksgiving does for Americans of diverse
backgrounds and origins.
This reflects our larger society: 20 percent of
Israel’s citizens are Arab, but Jews and Arabs in Israel live largely separate
lives. And yet we have citizenship in common. Israeli Arabs hold the same ID
card and passport we do. They pay taxes. They vote. Arabic is an official state
language alongside Hebrew. We have a future in common. And every day we make
choices as to what kind of future this will be.
Four years ago, when my
husband and I had to make the decision about where to send our oldest child to
school, we faced this dilemma head on.
The Israeli school system is
tracked – with Hebrew-language (secular, religious and ultra-orthodox) and
Arabic-language tracks. On the one hand, this reflects the major social groups
in Israel. It respects their differences and communal preferences. On the other
hand, however, it perpetuates these differences, providing no space for students
of disparate communities to come together in a broadly inclusive framework,
where they can learn about or from each other, understand their differences, or
identify or create common ground.
And if today’s students become
tomorrow’s citizens, what happens when children grow up rooted only in their own
community, and without any opportunity to interact with others; to be challenged
by and appreciative of diversity; or to jointly forge something meaningfully
shared? Those were the realities we faced as we deliberated.
Should we go
with the natural choice – progressive Jewish schools similar to the Jewish day
schools both of us grew up in? Or consider something totally out of the box: Yad
B’Yad, Hand in Hand (HIH), a bilingual Jewish-Arab school? Deep inside I knew
there was no debate. We started at Hand in Hand, where two of our children
It’s a school where Jews and Arabs study
They learn both Hebrew and Arabic in a bilingual framework.
They learn about and observe each other’s holidays. They learn to appreciate and
celebrate their own cultural traditions and that of one another.
learn about each other’s histories. They learn how to examine things from
different perspectives; to ask questions; to discuss; to listen. They learn to
debate and to disagree and develop deep friendships.
This has been an
enormously rewarding experience.
But it can also be difficult for
children growing up in a divided society. But the alternative is no less
I saw this one morning a year before we had to choose our
children’s educational path as I entered my son’s daycare and the four-year-old
brother of one of his friends was playing while waiting for his
He held his hands like a gun. As his mother came down the stairs
he called out excitedly: “Mommy, Mommy, I killed Arabs, I killed Arabs!” I
looked at his mother – a distant colleague, who worked at a local well-respected
think tank – expectantly awaiting a shocked reprimand in this blatantly
“Come, sweetheart,” she said instead. “We’re
And she took his hand and led him off to the car.
that either this did not bother her, or that she could not be bothered to
address it is, unfortunately, all too commonplace. For this one anecdote, there
are dozens more from my own experience, from friends, from colleagues, that show
that it’s not just fear and hatred that are pervasive, but so too are
indifference and hopelessness about viable alternatives.
The shouts of
“death to Arabs” that take place at Jerusalem soccer games and appear on walls
after extremists’ “price tag” attacks are inarguably racist.
This type of
indifference is far more difficult to contend with.
After all, I don’t
want my children to grow up hating others because they are not like them, or
because they are not Jewish. And I don’t want my kids hated because they are
Jewish. Above all, I don’t want any child in Israel growing up believing that no
alternative to this kind of separation and hate is possible.
And I am not
alone in this feeling. The Jewish and Arab students, teachers and parents at
Hand in Hand to engage in both recognizing our differences, and creating
something shared. Which is why we need an Israeli equivalent to Thanksgiving. We
need a day that supersedes our differences – a day that can bring us together to
celebrate and appreciate the core values and hopes that all citizens of Israel
It may not overlap with Hanukka again in our lifetime, but it will
nonetheless kindle light in the darkness, and help us repair the divisions that
separate us in Israel.
The author is a parent at Hand in Hand Jerusalem
school and works at the Hand in Hand organization.