Throughout this past year, students studying Arabic for communication at the JICC have been treated to a wide variety of cultural events, with the goal of enabling them to more fully understand Arabic cultures and experience. Last week, on May 5, students enjoyed an evening with Palestinian director Sahera Dirbas, a Palestinian director, originally from Haifa, who currently lives in Jerusalem. Students saw the film, “Jerusalem Bride,” which tells about the complicated fabric of life of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem today – the poverty, unemployment, problems of young couples in finding work and housing, and the difficulty in building a family. After the film there was a 1 1/2 hour discussion with the director on these and other issues.
On April 15, one of our long-time teachers, Dr. Anwar Ben-Badis, took students on a tour of the Musrara neighborhood, focusing on the history of Arabic culture in the neighborhood and contrasting it with the neighboring sections of the Old City. (The neighborhoods of Talbiye, Katamon and Musrara are examples of neighborhoods that are today distinctly Jewish, in the heart of west Jerusalem. However, for the first few decades of the 20th century, prominent Arab families, largely Christian, lived in these areas.) Anwar led participants to a number of houses built with Arab architecture, and told the story of each house. Another stop on the tour was the “Under the Bridge” coffee house outside of the Damascus Gate. Operated by two brothers, they shared with the students their experiences of leaving their houses. One brother still carries the keys to his house.
On February 25 Anwar led students on a tour the Old City, concentrating on Sufi sights. The Sufi movement grew from within the Islamic world in the 8th and 9th centuries. Sufi philosophy, which continues to be a part of the Islamic religion today, holds that God is found in everything, and everyone has a personal connection to God. Today Sufis live simply, wearing wool garments (the word Suf means “wool” in Arabic). The Sufi centers is Israel today are in Jerusalem, Acco and Jaffa. The tour took students to special Sufi gathering sights (zawai), which were built by rich Muslims, and are often found beside mosques. They served as hotels, bath houses, health clinics, and religious schools. One of the zawaii today serves as a branch of Al-Quds University. One of the former bath houses holds a theater today, and another, a gallery.
These tours were two examples of a range of cultural activities our Arabic students have been encountering over the course of the school year. Others included: a concert by the YMCA Jewish-Arab Youth Choir, lectures, poetry readings, and more. We are also holding cultural encounters with various Arab cultural figures, such as a poet, artists, musician, actors, etc.These events are helping to bring the Arabic language and culture alive, beyond the regular textbooks.
The JICC has been offering Arabic language for communication almost since its establishment, thanks to the ongoing support of the Jerusalem Foundation. Since September we’ve been teaching over 120 students in 8 classes, over 5 levels in weekly classes. They cover the entire spectrum of the population – young people and seniors, professionals and students – all seeking to be able to use Arabic to communicate with those they share the city with.
In addition to these activities that are offered for all students, participants also expand their knowledge of local Arabic language and culture in other ways. Some of the students, who teach adults Hebrew, have Arab pupils. They have organized for the Jewish students studying Arabic to meet up with the Arab students studying Hebrew, for each to practice the ‘other’s language and to get to know each other as well.
It’s such a joy to come back every year to these courses, a staple of the JICC’s annual programming, which are constantly filled to capacity. Indeed, the national daily newspaper Ha’aretz recently published a lengthy article about the plethora of Arabic-language classes popping up in Jerusalem, mentioning us quite extensively.