Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

2021 Winner


“With each new student, school, community, and partner we are sending out ripples of change that lay strong foundations for an equal, pluralistic society for Jews and Arabs, where everyone feels they fully belong.”

Dani Elazar, CEO Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel

Hand in Hand’s story

In the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, co-teachers Sirin and Chaim welcome their second-grade students after summer break. Sirin and Chaim ask half the class to hold hands and circle the other half while music plays. When the music stops, the students face each other. Sirin says, in Arabic, “Ask your friend: What excites you about coming back to school?” The next time the music stops, Chaim prompts, in Hebrew, “What was the most fun thing you did over the summer break?” Over the course of the school year, these Arab and Jewish children will study together in both Hebrew and Arabic, learning one another’s language, history and heritage. They will celebrate the stories, songs, symbols and traditions of Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays. They will learn, as they are learning in this circle activity, to listen to each other, to trust each other and to laugh with each other.

This vibrant, multicultural atmosphere is characteristic of Hand in Hand schools, but it is rare to find outside of Hand in Hand. Israel’s education system is segregated along religious and ethnic lines. Often, individuals from different communities do not encounter each other until they are young adults, at which point many are locked into one or the other side of a complex and violent conflict that has been going on for generations.

In 1998, Hand in Hand introduced a transformational alternative to this segregated reality by bringing together its first integrated, bilingual classes of Jewish and Arab students. Recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Hand in Hand’s award-winning public schools now serve over 2,000 Jewish and Arab students, in preschool through grade 12, in locations across Israel. Teams of Jewish and Arab co-teachers use innovative methods to enrich students’ sense of identity while fostering respect for their peers. Equality, empathy, responsibility and respect are the pillars of a Hand in Hand education. Students learn to think critically, disagree respectfully and consider history from multiple perspectives.

Over the years, Hand in Hand’s model has broadened from a network of schools into a three-part model of shared living and learning that includes integrated schools, inclusive communities and more and more public partnerships. Hand in Hand staff, parents, students and alumni are part of a countrywide movement driven by shared values and the choice to build sustainable change that extends far beyond school walls. Hand in Hand’s community programs engage thousands in building a proud shared society of inclusion, equality and respect through dialogue and language programs, cultural events and celebrations, lectures and workshops, civic engagement and activism, leadership seminars and countrywide conferences. By collaborating with municipalities and the Ministry of Education, Hand in Hand’s work is increasingly influencing the national education system from within. Every day, in Hand in Hand schools and communities across the country, thousands of children and adults learn not just to tolerate one another but to respect, embrace and learn from each other. They discover that diversity is not a threat. Rather, it is an enriching experience and a tremendous opportunity to grow, as individuals and as a society.

Mistrust and fear between Arab and Jewish communities within Israel is deep, stemming not only from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also from the spatial separation of Jewish and Arab communities, as well as the division of the public education system into siloed school streams along ethnic and religious lines. This greatly contributes to the divide between the two groups. Most Jewish students in Israel have little to no exposure to Arabic or Arab culture in a school setting, with both communities denied the opportunity to build the inter-communal relationships and partnerships that are fundamental to building a more pluralistic society.

Connect with Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel