A higher grade

Jerusalem's Bilingual School lays the cornerstone for its new campus

student school 88 (photo credit: )
student school 88
(photo credit: )
"There is a particular day that we have to struggle through every year," Josy Mendelssohn, co-chair of "Hand in Hand" explained to the assembled guests. Explaining the philosophy and workings of the Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Jerusalem to the representatives of the Rayne Foundation and other dignitaries, Mendelssohn was referring to Israeli Independence Day. "It is perceived in a totally different manner by the Arab population of Israel. The Arabs call it Nakba, meaning catastrophe. For the Jews, it is the major event in the modern history of Israel. We face the issue each and every year - and we do not try to run away from it, though it is not easy," she said. The delegation from the Rayne Foundation had come from Britain to participate in the ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone for the new campus of the Max Rayne School, popularly known as Jerusalem's bilingual school, to be located at the junction of the Pat and Beit Safafa neighborhoods. The Hand in Hand center includes both Arab and Jewish students, and extends from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The school is jointly administered by two principals, one Jewish and one Arab, and all classes are taught by both a Jewish and an Arab teacher. The Hand-in-Hand Association also operates two additional bilingual schools. The new building was designed by architect Prof. Zeev Druckman. When completed, in an expected two years, the school will extend over 5,300 square meters, with options for future expansion. The organizers had been concerned that rain would spoil the event and that a group of rabbis from the nearby Pat neighborhood, who have publicly opposed the project, would attempt to disrupt the festivities. But neither the rain nor the protesters were in attendence. Neither were any representative of the municipality, although the school is recognized by the Jerusalem Educational Authority ("Manhi") and by the Education Ministry and is described by the Jerusalem Foundation as one of its "flagship projects." British Ambassador Simon McDonald did attend the brief cornerstone-laying ceremony. (The municipal spokesperson did not respond to In Jerusalem's questions for this report.) The municipality has, however, recently decided to allow the school to add a seventh grade for next year, so that the school will "grow" as the students progress. The organizers hope that eventually enrollment will extend to 12th grade with 500 children, while maintaining even proportions of Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking children. Among the Arab children, approximately one-third are Christian and two-thirds are Muslim. Addressing the donors and notables, co-principals Dalia Peretz and Alla Hattib explained that the bilingual school is also a multicultural school. "We try to bring to the children the cultures - and not only the languages - of the three religions-cultures that are present here: Jewish, Christian and Muslim," they said. Lady Rayne, representing her now-deceased husband Lord Max Rayne and the Rayne Foundation he established, and the members of her delegation were also taken on a guided tour of the school, which is currently housed in the former Denmark School Campus. "Since this is a totally new experience," Peretz said, "the teachers themselves work on developing the programs, which are dedicated both to the Jewish and the Arab identities. The children are taught to encounter both their own cultural and national identity and their neighbors,'" said Amin Halaf, Arab co-director of the Hand-in-Hand Association. Architect Druckman explained the vision behind the design for the campus. "The buildings will not be too high, only two and a half stories, so that they will blend in with the surroundings. This is going to be a true campus - a street, built above an orchard, will meander across. The complex will be composed of four separate buildings, with the kindergarten classes at the entrance, then the library, the main classes and the art rooms and administration, and at the end of the street, the gym hall. "Actually," Druckman continued, "this is going to be a small town, with corners and places to stay and spend time. The entire complex will be made of stone, glass and iron, for a total cost of nearly $11 million, most of which has already been raised through donations. Dan Meridor, international president of the Jerusalem Foundation, read a dedication to the school in Hebrew, Arabic and English, then placed the scroll in the cornerstone of the building. Said Meridor, who has been very involved in negotiating the contribution from the Rayne Foundation, "It is important to have such institutions. I realize that not all parents would like to send their children to such a school, but it has to exist - especially in this city, where a third of the population is Arab. "We have to facilitate natural encounters for the children in order to provide them with a place to meet and know each other and each other's cultures and religions. It is the proper way to learn to live together." As Meridor himself acknowledged, most children come to the school because their parents are already convinced that bilingual/bi-cultural education is important and worthwhile. But principal Hattib and director Halaf both added that "in addition to the central issue of coexistence, we want the school to strive first and foremost to reach and maintain a high level of education." Said Hattib, "Lately, we are seeing children whose parents have registered them for this school because it's a very good school. The coexistence and multicultural issues actually come second for some of these parents. I think that this is the best proof that we are headed in the right direction." The Rayne Foundation, which has provided the bulk of the funding for the new facility, was established by Jewish businessman Max Rayne of England, who was knighted by the Queen of England in 1969. Through the Jerusalem Foundation, the Rayne Foundation has supported projects to promote health and welfare, with a focus on promotion of coexistence within the city, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood medical center, enrichment activities for girls in Beit Hanina and a computer lab at the A-Tor School for Boys. Additional funds have come from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and England.