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Breaking Barriers – a Postcard from My Jerusalem

September 20, 2011 – 9:35 pm4 Comments

A Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli girl practice basketball together as part of PeacePlayers International, which builds on the model established by Hand in Hand.

The following is a slightly edited version of a letter by Merav Carmeli recently sent to some friends back in Australia. Merav, along with her partner Nathan and three young children, moved to Jerusalem from Melbourne late last year. Prior to moving to Jerusalem, both Merav and Nathan were teaching at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University.

We arrived in Jerusalem from Melbourne about ten months ago. Yesterday, in addition to my daughters Layla and Ella, I picked up another child  – “G” who is in our daughter Ella’s Grade 1 class at the bilingual Hebrew/Arabic school. Before I proceed with what happened yesterday afternoon, I should note that this time around, “My Jerusalem” has become a Jerusalem of Jews and Arabs. Since Layla and Ella started at the “Hand in Hand Bilingual School”, I find myself getting excited each time I go to pick them up (Nathan, my partner, does morning drop off). It is like witnessing a vision of the End of Days happening in miniature every day. It is all very simple. Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers run around together without making a big deal about it. Each class has a Jewish teacher and an Arab teacher and the kids learn everything in both languages. Ella’s first word in Arabic was “Habibti” (cutie) – one of her Arab kindergarten teachers from last year used to call her this with great affection.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s story (which I am recounting second hand because I was at a great Zohar class at the Hartman Institute). After mucking around in the park near us, all the kids came home (Layla, Ella, our son Lev, and “G”) and ate dinner together. Actually the kids ate more than usual becuase they were copying “G” who ate heaps! After dinner, the kids kept playing and then Ella stood up next to “G”, played with his hair, looked at him with a crush, and asked him, “Tell me, are you a Jew or an Arab?” (His mother is Jewish, his father Palestinian). “G” answered, “I am nothing!” in a naive childish voice. Ella persisted and asked again, “But what are you more – Jewish or Arab?” “G” replied, “I dunno!” and they went back to playing on the i-pod.

“When “G’s” father came to pick him up, they left the apartment, and then after a few seconds the door opened, and “G” stood at the door and yelled out, “Can I come back tomorrow?” Nathan told him that he wasn’t sure that tomorrow would work out because Ella has English lessons. “G” replied, “Oh, then can all of you come to my place tomorrow?”

That’s it for now from Jerusalem.

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  • Leonie says:

    You say it all when you talk about your partner. Not a husband. A different morality.

    Honestly, where do you stand? In ten years will you allow your sixteen-year-old daughter to hang out at their places? And maybe marry a classmate? It seems so innocent when they are young. It is good to be a dreamer, good to believe that the Moshiach is already here. World peace sounds so wonderful.

    But then, maybe part of the fault of casting your lot in with a mixed up group is coming from down under. It seems peaceful in multi-cultural Australia and you could grow up as a Jew never ever meeting racism, but then…. remember the Indian student bashed up and killed for being Indian in Melbourne? And the race riots not so long ago in Sydney? And the rest? Just not official. You thought that you grew up in peace in Isael too. I hope that you never have to face reality in a country that is really at war.

    Maybe, just maybe the children in this school will convert to Judaism. Problem solved. As the Beatles sang: “And the world will be one.”

  • Rachel SD says:

    Hi Merav,

    It sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing :-)

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Merav. That is the only method of schooling in Israel that I’ve heard of so far that makes sense.

    Teaching kids to speak one another’s language, to understand one another’s lives, is surely the most fundamental step in building a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.

    For kids to grow up without filtering friendships through ethno-religious frameworks is tangible evidence of the potential for true coexistence ‘between the river and the sea’, to steal back a phrase from the detractors.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    It’s hard to imagine anyone could oppose a school like this – but see this – see this article about the school being vandalised with racist comments. http://www.handinhandk12.org/News/Vandalism

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