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When she moved to Israel six years ago, Fatini Spiliopoulos didn't speak a word of Hebrew and worried about making friends in her new Jaffa neighborhood.
But after a cousin brought her to the Arab-Jewish Community Center, Spiliopoulos, 19, said she had found a family. Now a pianist in the center's musical ensemble, Spiliopoulos said she valued the time spent with her Christian, Muslim and Jewish peers.
"A lot of kids come to the center," she said. "Poor, rich - it's a place where everybody gets along, as if everyone is a brother or sister."
Located atop a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, members of the diverse Jaffa community work, play and learn there together. Co-founders Hadas Kaplan and Ibrahim Abu Shindi received the Victor J. Goldberg Institute of International Education Prize Thursday for their grassroots effort.
Victor Goldberg, former vice chairman of the institute, said he designed the prize to recognize joint peacemaking efforts of Israeli Jews and Arabs.
An international board of seven corporate, political and academic leaders chose Kaplan and Abu Shindi out of 11 applicant pairs to be the second recipients of the award.
"Their selection highlights the importance of uniting the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel," Goldberg told some 100 Jaffa community members and political leaders.
Abu Shindi, a lifelong Jaffa resident, said he had approached the Tel Aviv municipality with the idea for a center that would encourage face-to-face contact in the troubled community. The city donated a centrally located plot to the project, which has been operating for 13 years.
"You can't change prejudice in one year," Abu Shindi said. "If you want to change it's got to be through intensive coexistence projects."
Founded on the belief that tolerance should begin at a young age, the center provides a wide range of venues for Jews and Arabs to interact - everything from soccer and day care to computer classes and political speakers.
Kaplan said she hoped the success of the project would inspire others. "Art, music, dance helps," she said. "Not just to speak but to do something together is really great."
Several people at the event, including Abu Shindi, said Jaffa was an ideal location for such community-building projects because it comprised diverse communities living side-by-side, interacting and coexisting peacefully on a daily basis.
"This city is a symbol for democracy, pluralism and tolerance," said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, adding that the center was a "small step toward a better future."
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