Beit Berl Hand in Hand Beit Berl School
Beit Berl, which opened its doors to its inaugural class in September 2015, is one of Hand in Hand’s newest schools. It was initiated by a group of Jewish and Arab parents who wanted to have their children live and learn together. Even though this school is located in a busy, densely populated area in Israel, Hand in Hand is the only meaningful and long-term program bringing residents of these neighboring towns together every day. The Beit Berl school brings together families from Jewish Kfar Saba and Arab Tira and Taybe; the area known as the Triangle. The school is located on the Beit Berl College campus on the outskirts of Kfar Saba.
Hand in Hand is working continuously to receive full recognition from the Ministry of Education for our Kfar Saba preschool, which is currently run privately, housed under the auspices of Beit Berl. We are also working with Beit Berl to develop an academic training path to train teachers who would be certified to work in the bilingual multicultural school environment that characterizes Hand in Hand schools.
The Beit Berl preschool doubled in size from the first to the second year of operation, and started the 2018-2019 school year with two preschool classes. Local families were so enthusiastic about the school that we began working with municipal authorities to open a Hand in Hand elementary school as well. In September 2018, Hand in Hand Kfar Saba opened a semi-private 1st grade class. In the 2020-2021 school year we have now tripled in size, and we now have a new fourth grade class.
As in the other Hand in Hand preschools, the Beit Berl elementary school will center on the co-teacher model, placing one Hebrew-speaking and one Arabic-speaking teacher in each classroom. The program is fully bilingual, with children playing and singing in both languages. As a result of their daily interactions, the children’s language skills in both Hebrew and Arabic grow day by day. They learn about and celebrate Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions and holidays; they learn to be respectful of the other, and become friends.
As the school year progresses, not only are the children creating friendships, but so are their parents. Over the last three years, the community organizer has been working with a small group of activists who are committed to Hand in Hand in order to set up and run events and activities for the community. It is a young, energetic community and we have high hopes for what they will achieve!
Situated on the Beit Berl college campus on the outskirts of Kfar Saba, Hand in Hand is beginning to impact the local communities in our feeder towns. Civic organizations like local libraries and municipalities have enacted concrete measures to support Hand in Hand and broader shared society efforts. For example, the local library in Kfar Saba, like those in Jaffa and Haifa, have started offering bilingual story time to encourage families to learn together.
The Hand in Hand Beit Berl community is led by a steering committee of parents and other members that meet several times per quarter to plan activities, ensure the maintenance of the school grounds, and navigate the relationship with the municipality.
In addition, Hand in Hand’s Beit Berl community organizes activities like Arabic language courses, community dialogue groups, holiday celebrations, and other recreational and enriching community building programs aimed at deepening social ties and addressing social tensions.
For example, at the school’s yearly Iftar dinner, a traditional feast during the holy month of Ramadan, every family, whether Arab or Jewish, brings a dish to share. After the meal, volunteers put on short plays for children of Ramadan-related stories. The evening generates a powerful sense of togetherness and friendship; year after year, Jewish participants report feeling enriched from having learned much about Ramadan, while Arab participants feel gratified to share their tradition, particularly as the themes of the month center on giving.
Likewise, community members tackle difficult topics during critical dialogue sessions on the National Days, discussing strategies on how to best approach political topics with their young children at home. Parents of our younger preschool group discuss why they chose an integrated community and school for their family, and how to best shape childhood experiences of Israel’s Independence Day and Nakba Day. Both of these evenings cover highly sensitive topics, and are conducted in a respectful, positive atmosphere, allowing for greater empathy and understanding between parents and the community.