"I Learned that Jews and Arabs Have a Lot in Common"
"I think that Jewish youth usually don’t know enough about Arab culture. Only what we see in the media, but not enough to talk to people our age. I learned from my Arab friends that we have a lot in common.” – Tamar Aviv, 16 years old from northern Israel
The Misgav area in northern Israel is made up mostly of small Jewish towns, alongside a few Arab villages including Sallama. The towns are united under one regional council with the same laws, streets and land. Building a shared society is a major challenge for everyone who lives there – and one taken on by Dror Israel’s youth movement, which has members and activities in both the Jewish and Arab areas.
“We have been doing activities together all year. We’ve been meeting one another, and the groups have learned to get to know one another,” tells us Yuval Arad, the area’s youth movement coordinator.
“During Ramadan, something special happens – it’s a highlight of the year and the kids have joint educational and community activities together. They get to know one another and also the culture different from their own,” says Shahdi, the youth activity coordinator in Sallama.
This year, with the pandemic impacting communities in Israel and around the world, the Israeli government released special regulations for Ramadan, and the Muslim community is celebrating this year differently from all other years. Muslim families are forbidden from visiting one another, breaking the fast together, or going to the mosque together. This community-based holiday has taken on a completely different atmosphere, with each family celebrating separately at home.
The youth movement wanted to find a way to emphasize community despite the situation, and bring together Jewish and Arab participants to celebrate shared society.
Shahdi and Yuval decided to bring Jewish and Arab peers together for a few conversations via Zoom in which they learned about the Muslim holiday Ramadan and the Jewish holiday Lag Baomer.
“We did a quiz asking the people from Sallama about Jewish holiday traditions, and asking us about Ramadan traditions. Some answers we knew and some we didn’t. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to get up before dawn to eat before the start of the fast. They even go to work like usual. I knew this as a fact but I never really thought about it,” says Uri Arzi, 16 years old, from Misgav.
The high-schoolers then got together in groups of four to pack small gifts and distribute them to homes of families in Sallama for Ramadan. The gifts included dates – traditionally the first food to break the fast each day – and masks to help the residents of the town take care of themselves and one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yuval reported, “There were two kinds of responses from Sallama residents. Everyone was happy to get the gift packages. Some were a bit in shock to see this kind of activity, and some thanked us and said that it was moving and wonderful to see this kind of shared activity”.