Israel: Language as a cultural bridge

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue May 19 18:22:56 UTC 2009

Language as a cultural bridge

The Abraham Fund, a coexistence NGO hopes to expand Arabic education
in Israeli schools to 5th and 6th grade students. The program teaches
young children Arab culture and language in an effort to tear down
cultural walls
Josh Lichtenstein

The Abraham Fund initiative is a coexistence NGO working to eliminate
cultural stereotypes and promote equality within Israeli society. The
organization was founded in 1989 with the mission of providing
financial assistance to coexistence projects throughout Israel.  In
2004, the Abraham Fund created its first pilot program to promote
coexistence among elementary school children by introducing Arabic
into Israeli curriculum. The organization hopes to utilize language
and cultural understanding as a means to improve Jewish-Arab

Students learning spoken Arabic
Currently the Education Ministry requires compulsory Arabic classes
for students in 7th, 8th and 9th grade. The Abraham Fund hopes to
influence government policy to expand the program to 5th and 6th

One of the Abraham Fund's main concerns is that Israeli students are
being taught classical Arabic and not spoken. If Israeli students
begin studying Arabic at an early age they will be less likely to
develop societal stereotypes. By starting Arabic language education at
an earlier age, the Education Ministry will have to re-evaluate how to
train teachers working with 7th, 8th, and 9th grade classes, who will
have a higher proficiency of Arabic than ever before.

Currently The Abraham Fund is offering free skype counselling for
teachers who want to brush up on their Arabic or access new
educational resources.

Program hopes to expand
The program has been implemented in over 100 schools throughout Haifa,
Jerusalem, and the north of Israel. Initially the program found that
Jewish students were not interested in learning Arabic. For many kids,
Arabic was seen as the language of the enemy and not rather than a
necessary tool in today's Israel. But this is gradually changing.

The program has designed a curriculum with an emphasis on speaking,
and finding mutual cultural symbols that relate to all religious
groups in Israel. Some 85% of all teachers in the program are Arab.
Many Jewish students have not been exposed to Arab community leaders
in such a close environment and the interaction with their teachers
enables them to do so. Instead of reading about Muslim holidays and
customs in text books, children get to relate to educators that can
present a more accurate representation of their culture firsthand.

In the past many kids reported feeling scared every time they heard
Arabic being spoken on the street or on a bus. But once they are able
to recognize a few words, the language becomes less threatening and
more accessible.,2506,L-3717964,00.html

A 5th grade student from Jerusalem said, “It's fun and very
interesting to learn a new language. The songs and games are fun.
Saidah is a great teacher. She lets us play games in Arabic and we
learn a lot”. The children no longer feel threatened when they see a
woman wearing a burka because they have formed a bond with their

Assistant executive director Josh Simon told Ynet, “The project was
made possible by a generous grant from the Jewish Agency, and we hope
they continue their support so we can expand the program in the
upcoming school year.”

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