When social distancing measures create separation and insolation, it takes pioneering educational projects like “Mifgashim LeDaber” to cross social and national divides.
Beginning during Israel’s second nationwide lockdown, under the strictest social distancing measures, Dror Israel’s youth movement embarked on a new initiative aiming to bring together Jewish and Arab high schoolers from across Israel. Called “Mifgashim LeDaber” (Meeting to Talk), the series of six meetings is designed, first and foremost, to create meaningful personal encounters. The participants meet on Zoom to learn Hebrew and Arabic together, but along the way they share about their lives and have a chance to ask one another questions. Along with learning basic vocabulary, the meetings help them to find common ground.
In Israeli society today there are not many platforms for meaningful engagement between Arab and Jewish youth. Learning in two parallel education systems, even two teens who live in the same neighborhood in one of Israel’s few mixed cities will usually have only minimal incidental interactions. This formal and informal separation can increase feelings of distrust, alienation and animosity.
The online program is in its pilot run. Dror Israel’s youth movement paired 19 groups from Arab branches with 19 groups from Jewish branches. Each paired group is led by one Arab counselor and one Jewish counselor.
One of the Jewish counselors, Yifat Ariel, 23, organized a Zoom call for the movement branch in Rishon LeZion to invite them to pair up with the branch from the northern Arab city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye. “When I first told the teens about the idea of the course, they were in shock. It took them a while to absorb the idea – meeting with Arab peers on Zoom! It felt so foreign to them. After a few minutes, their shock turned into excitement. They asked why we hadn’t done something like this before! After all, they are all members in the same youth movement.”
Yifat also shared the following story of one of the Jewish participants. “She was really excited by the idea of the meeting. But as we got closer to the first online session, she got really nervous. She sent me lots of messages about how she didn’t know how she would feel on the Zoom call, how she was even kind of afraid of the encounter, how maybe she just wouldn’t come at all. After we spoke, she decided to come and try. Towards the end of the call, she was more relaxed and even shared a bit about herself.”
In the meetings, the teens learn new words and try to use Hebrew and Arabic to participate in games, complete challenges, and get to know one another. They discuss topics that are connected to their lives and their shared experiences.
Following the completion of the pilot program, “Mifgashim LeDaber” will begin a second course and will invite double the number of groups to participate.