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TALI’s Dialogue & Identity Program Successfully Brings Together Israeli Arab and Jewish Schoolchildren

| 25/10/2022

صباح الخير סבאח אל שיר Morning Song

On a bright morning, the voices of 1,200 Arab and Jewish children rose together in joyous song: a song of love and laughter; a song in Hebrew, Arabic and English, a prayer for peace.

Schoolchildren singing at ‘Morning Song’ festival

This is not common in Israel – unless you are a student, teacher or principal involved in Dialogue and Identity, a TALI Education Fund program nurturing Arab-Jewish co-existence in Israel.

The ‘Morning Song’ event, co-funded by the European Union, celebrated its 16th year and has been successful in pairing children from Jewish and Arab Christian/Muslim schools.

 A “Life-Changer” for School Culture

Two of the 38 elementary schools participating in ‘Morning Song’ were Yokneam’s TALI Tidhar and Haifa’s Sisters of Nazareth. Their principals, Haifa Najjar and Sofi Rachum, extol the immense benefits Dialogue and Identity brings to their schools.

“The program has been a life-changer. Dialogue and Identity has shown them that an Arab is a person just like them.  Not an enemy. We are all human, each with our own unique story and history,” says Sofi Rachum.

Born in Morocco, Sofi arrived in Israel, just a year old, in 1965.  She herself had to overcome family stories of prejudice and mistrust. “We came from an Arab nation and I remember always being frightened. I grew up with stereotypes. I had to travel a lifetime of learning to get to where I am today. My students in Dialogue and Identity won’t have to make that journey.”

During the year, 38 paired TALI and Arab schools (up from 24 last year), met four times, alternating visits between schools. Haifa Najjar, from Sisters of Nazareth, Haifa, has worked closely with TALI Tidhar for seven years.

“Both peoples have always had the same vision – living in peace. Dialogue and Identity is allowing us to convert theory into practice,” explains Haifa.  “Once I meet the ‘other’, I can better understand him.”

The two principals: Sofi Rachum (L) of TALI Tidhar and Haifa Najjar (R) of Sisters of Nazareth smile outside the Dialogue & Identity ‘Morning Song’ event

The program, in partnership with the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue, accepts only one class per school a year.

Rachum feels the program’s goals are being met. “We are planting and sowing seeds. Over the last decade, every one of my classes left the program with a changed understanding of Arabs, their religion and culture. This understanding will make a difference in the years ahead as these students grow and mature.”

Haifa Najjar grew up in Fassuta, a small Melkite Christian village near the Lebanese border. Most of her family still lives there today. Under her direction, Sisters of Nazareth ranks as one of Israel’s top schools. “Last year, six of our graduates were accepted to the Technion Medical School,” she proudly relates.

“We follow the same football (soccer) teams!”

Dialogue and Identity is an integral part of the Sisters of Nazareth school culture.

“The curriculum is really fantastic and so is the staff!” shares principal Haifa Najjar. How does she know the program is succeeding? “When we met for ‘Morning Song’ my kids ran to the grass to be with their Yokneam friends. I swear, I could not tell the two groups apart.”

Elias Bkheit and Eitan Brisman, students who attended ‘Morning Song’ would agree.

Elias Bkheit (L) and Eitan Brisman (R) smile outside the TALI ‘Morning Song’ songfest

Both felt the event was very moving. For Elias, whose English is excellent “because of the American TV shows I watch,” the event was “awesome.”  He is saddened by hate words that hurt. The program has helped him see that Jewish people are just that – people. “It should not be about religion. We are all basically the same.”

Eitan Brisman agrees. He made a good friend from Sisters of Nazareth – Adi. “Adi and I play the same computer games, like the same music and follow the same football teams. I have his phone number and I’ve already called him.”

This year, the two classes formed a WhatsApp group and they continue to text each other.  In 2022, there can be no better proof of co-existence.

Dialogue and Identity enables children to study the “Three Religions in the Holy Land” curriculum in their home schools. They present their own traditions in a series of meetings between the paired TALI and Christian/Muslim schools. Last year, the program received a substantial grant from the European Union.

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