Understanding Their Neighbor’s Language


Contributing Editor Nathan Jeffay got it exactly right when he said that “the order of the day needs to be cohesion within Israeli society” (“Israel’s New Language Barrier,” Sept. 26). In the aftermath of heightened Jewish-Arab tensions surrounding the Gaza conflict, the last thing Israel needs is a renewed legislative effort to strip the Arabic language of its official status.

On the contrary, work on the ground has been heading in the opposite direction. The Abraham Fund has been working with Israel's Ministry of Education for the past eight years to insure that every Israeli child — Jewish and Arab — grows up understanding their neighbor's language. The Our Language as a Cultural Bridge initiative seeks to mandate the teaching of conversational Arabic language and culture in Israel’s Jewish schools beginning in the elementary grades, taught by Israeli Arab teachers; to bring Hebrew enrichment and Jewish culture learning to Arab schools; and to create opportunities for kids in neighboring Jewish and Arab communities to participate in shared social experiences across the ethnic divide that separates so much of Israeli society. 

The program has grown steadily since its launch in 2005 to include 186 Jewish and 65 Arab schools during the most recent school year, reaching nearly 25,000 students in total. Language as a Cultural Bridge is now a required and publically funded component of the curriculum in 100 percent of the Jewish elementary schools in the Northern and Haifa Districts of Israel, an important stepping stone on the path to our goal of a full national mandate.

A new multi-year study demonstrates that the program is successfully countering anti-Arab attitudes among participating youngsters, attitudes increasingly present within Jewish-Israeli society at large. Among the principals of the participating Jewish schools, fully 91 percent now believe that Arabic as a second language should be part of the nationally mandated school curriculum. And 89 percent of the program’s Arab teachers have come to believe that there is a greater possibility of achieving coexistence.

The Abraham Fund Initiatives