Speaking Each Other's Language

Bilingual Hagar Program Educates in Coexistence

Shelter: The Hagar school’s library doubles as a ship-themed bomb shelter.
Courtesy Hagar
Shelter: The Hagar school’s library doubles as a ship-themed bomb shelter.

By Katherine Martinelli

Published November 29, 2012, issue of November 30, 2012.
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(Students at Hagar are not allowed to commemorate the Nakba, a day of mourning for Palestinians displaced in 1948, because of a 2011 Israeli law prohibiting public institutions from doing so.)

Of course, times like these, when Beersheba is under constant threat of rocket attacks from Gaza, are particularly trying. Last year, after a rocket landed perilously close to the school, an American donor provided the funding to transform Hagar’s bomb shelter into a ship-themed library. “I think that the story of the library ship is the story of Hagar,” Damri said. “We know that we have to use the bomb shelter, but let’s do it [so it is] less traumatic. Let’s create something together, so we feel that this is our haven.”

Political situation aside, for many instructors, co-teaching in a bilingual setting poses its own challenges. “It’s not difficult, it’s just different,” Arab fifth-grade teacher Sakena Ghara said. “It’s different from any framework I’ve been used to previously, and it needs a lot of creativity, originality and qualifications to implement it.”

But the school’s teachers express fierce loyalty to the program. “This place is so special, and I never thought I could connect with a place like this,” Jewish kindergarten teacher Lital Hermon-Elbaz said. “I was a fighter in the army at the checkpoints, and [Hagar] was the place where I got work. Now I’ve been headhunted from other schools, and I said, ‘No, I love this place.’ My best friend now is Arab.”

As the school grows, it will undoubtedly face countless hurdles. Next year, the school will add a sixth-grade level and begin teaching those students history, a topic fraught with conflict and multiple narratives. And when Hagar adds a high school, it will no doubt have to contend with touchy issues like dating between Arabs and Jews, and how to prepare the Jewish students, but not their Arab peers, for army service.

“These are all issues that we haven’t addressed yet, because we’re young and we’re not there yet,” development director Keren Simons said. “We’ve never said this is all going to be fun. We commit to respect and also to discuss and to figure out stuff together…. And also to give the kids credit, because the kids believe in what school they’re in. They’re not oblivious to what’s happening; they’re very knowledgeable, and they’re being taught how to be analytical…. I have faith that it’s going to work out well.”

Katherine Martinelli is a freelance food and travel writer in Beersheba, Israel.


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