(photo credit: AP)
For five days this summer people looking to learn Arabic will have the opportunity to be totally immersed in the language and culture by living in the Beduin village of Darajat, located north of the Beersheba-Dimona road in the Negev.
Tomer Kahana is an Israeli tour guide whose life is dedicated to acquainting people with the Beduin. This exceptional language course is the result of Kahana's desire to enhance the lives of Beduin by bringing them some tourism business, while simultaneously introducing Israelis and others to a culture he believes with which people should be familiar. The program, now in its third year, is based on the idea that language is more than just words and grammar; that to really speak a language, one must know its cultural essence.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., participants study in a classroom, learning the basics of Arabic. A lot of the real learning though, will take place before and after school. Living among the villagers, students will interact with their host families and residents, learning and using conversational Arabic.
Participants will find themselves immersed in Beduin culture; they will learn how they earn their livelihood; watch them play traditional musical instruments, bake bread in outdoor ovens, dress their brides for a wedding and produce handmade jewelry.
Though the program is only five days long, Kahana asserted that, "You can't learn the complete language, but since it's so intense, you can learn to express yourself.
"There are people learning Arabic all year, but come to boast their conversational skills," he noted.
Yitzhak Abu Hamad, one of Darajat's village leaders and principal of the school, is the lead teacher in Kahana's program. He acknowledges that it is impossible to fully learn Arabic in only five days, "but it's not just about the language, its also about the experience."
Judy Erez, 28, did the program two years ago, hoping to harmonize her relationship with the Arabs who live here.
"It was very special. It was a little bit intensive but it was a lot of fun," said Judy about the program. "It was like going to another country - different language, different culture."
Judy definitely harmonized with at least one Arab during the program. Yitzhak, who, she says, was her favorite part of the program, was at her wedding a month ago, and sends her greetings every year before the holidays.
"He is a very special person; a very warm person," said Judy about Yitzhak, "He has a lot of passion for the program."
Jennifer Byk, 65, an English teacher from Yehud, spoke excitedly about the intricacies of Beduin culture.
"It was an eye-opener in terms of meeting people of a different culture," she said, "It was fascinating to see the things they did have, as well as what they didn't have."
Byk, who gives English lessons in a prison, says that she uses the vocabulary she learned on the program to converse with the Arab inmates.
Despite sleeping on a mattress on the floor during the five days, she says she is "dying to go" back.
The program, which runs from July 26-30, cost NIS 1,850, including complete board, and is open to everyone age 11 and up.