We’re just now winding up the 2012 – 2013 year of Arabic classes or Hebrew speakers at the JICC. After 10 years of offering the courses, this year we had a bumper crop – 100 students in 7 classes over 5 levels!
These courses are not something we take for granted. When we started, we offered a pilot Arabic course in the Morasha Community Center, where we were based at the time, in parallel to a Hebrew course that was taking place at the Beit Hanina Community Center. The two groups met from time to time, which is no small feat, since it was then the height of the second Intifada. The peak event was a joint meeting at the old Beit Hanina Community Center, which was just a stone’s throw from the Qalandia military checkpoint, on May 15, Naqba Day (Day of the Catastrophe, the day after Israel declared its independence). Our students received the warmest of receptions, while just a kilometer north of there were violent outbursts at the checkpoint.
After the pilot years, with our growing partnership with the Jerusalem Foundation, we held courses at the Hand in Hand School for Bilingual Education, who let us utilize their facilities. There was a beginner’s course and a (very small) intermediate course.
We’ve been hosting the courses at our current facility on Mt. Zion since we moved here at the end of 2006 (this is as far back as we’ve been documenting them on our blog). Since then, we’ve been growing from year to year, adding classes and levels, until we finally reached the 100 mark.
This year, too, we went back to the Hand in Hand School, this time on their new campus. They were looking for a group with Arabic advanced enough to engage in conversation with participants in their Hebrew class for Arabic speakers during the class breaks. (We tried it before with beginners; it wasn’t too successful) We were happy to expand the physical outreach of our classes. Thus, this year the 10 students in our most advanced class (level 5) studied at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Bilingual Education, which is now located in the southern neighborhood of Pat, just a few hundred meters from Beit Safafa. In parallel, at the JICC building, the other 6 groups in levels 1-4, continued learning.
What makes our classes so special? First, the teachers. They’re the ones who make the classes so enjoyable and effective for the students. They don’t just teach from the book (although there is a book, and students do learn to read and write), they bring their whole selves into the classroom and teach Arabic as their own – teaching their culture, bringing their stories from home and from their families, learning through songs (on CD’s), making it fun. They go on tours of the Old City. When the Old City is blocked off and classes can’t be held at the JICC, classes meet in students’ homes.
Second the students – all use (or are exposed to) Arabic on an almost daily basis. They’re students, teachers, volunteers, activists, workers in the field, and more. Maybe one could be you? But act fast, places are filling up. We already have at least 25 already signed up for next year.