The Yad b'Yad School in Jerusalem has the look of most Israeli public schools. A little bit frayed around the edges, overcrowded, and noisy. Looking around at the furniture and the classroom accoutrements, the school, like most, lacks anything that might typically be called state of the art. But Yad B'Yad is not typical Israeli anything. Yad B'Yad brings together thousands of Jewish and Arab kids in six schools and communities throughout Israel, including this one we visited in Jerusalem.
We're at this particular school because I somehow imagine that it's worth our time and attention. Despite a Middle Eastern landscape that gets greyer by the day, I get to show our kids - and to remind myself! - that there's a place that seeks to shed light and banish darkness. That there's a place where Arab and Israeli kids can describe their lives and their differences and their similarities without fear. This truth becomes even more poignant when Noa, our school guide, explains that public schools in Israel are based not on one's zip code but rather religion. That is, if you're Jewish you go to a Jewish school, if you're a Moslem you go to a Moslem school. In other words, the country's educational system minimizes integration. I think in the States it was called separate but equal.
It is a sobering phenomenon for our kids to realize that the Israeli kids to whom they've become so close over the past 6 years, have no Arab friends, no Arab connections. And we're talking about Haifa, the most successfully "integrated" city in Israel.
We file to the library to await our high school reps, watching kids at school - running, laughing, screaming. A Moslem teacher who was part of a Yad B'Yad delegation to the States comes in to say hello. She had come to our temple as a part of her tour. She tells us that Shabbat at our temple was her first time ever at a Jewish prayer service. She tells us that she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the music and the particular sensitivity showed to some deaf folks who were in attendance that night. This makes all of us so proud to represent our temple.
When the high schoolers come in, we are struck by their beauty, their depth, and their conviction. We know that this is not an average place. But in the presence of so many "not average" students, it is breathtaking. Looking at these students one realizes that it's essentially impossible to tell the Israeli Jews from the Israeli Arabs.
In the days and months and years after our nine 10th graders reflect on our experiences together in Israel, from the warm welcome in Haifa to the warm weather virtually everywhere, from climbing down a mountain in Arbel to climbing up Masada, from singing Bim Bam in a tight little Shabbat hug circle at Robinson's Arch to laughing - everywhere! - I find myself hoping that it is this library conversation with 6 inspiring students from Yad B'Yad that sticks most closely. Because this is where the hope is. Of course, there's so much good and so much energy in this place, so much promise and guts and genius. This is the priority of peace: without it, nothing else will ever count for much.
It's time to shut down and get the kids out to Tel Aviv and Jaffa for their last day. I want our community to know that our kids were wonderful and fun and cute and hysterical. At every location, they represented TBA as a place of compassion and understanding. It was not just a pleasure for me and Heidi and Francie to lead them through Israel; it was an honor. They remind us all that Jewish life is all about connecting to people and places in time, in history, in the moment.