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A higher grade: Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Jerusalem

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Jerusalem - "There is a particular day that we have to struggle through every year", Josy Mendelssohn, co-chair of "Hand in Hand" explained to the assembled guests.

Explaining the philosophy and workings of the Hand-in-Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Jerusalem to the representatives of the Rayne Foundation and other dignitaries, Mendelssohn was referring to Israeli Independence Day.

"It is perceived in a totally different manner by the Arab population of Israel. The Arabs call it Nakba, meaning catastrophe. For the Jews, it is the major event in the modern history of Israel. We face the issue each and every year - and we do not try to run away from it, though it is not easy", she said.

The delegation from the Rayne Foundation had come from Britain to participate in the ceremony marking the laying of the cornerstone for the new campus of the Max Rayne School, popularly known as Jerusalem's bilingual school, to be located at the junction of the Pat and Beit Safafa neighbourhoods.

The Hand in Hand Center includes both Arab and Jewish students, and extends from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The school is jointly administered by two principals, one Jewish and one Arab, and all classes are taught by both a Jewish and an Arab teacher.

The Hand-in-Hand Association also operates two additional bilingual schools.

The new building was designed by architect Prof. Zeev Druckman. When completed, in an expected two years, the school will extend over 5,300 square meters, with options for future expansion.

The organizers had been concerned that rain would spoil the event and that a group of rabbis from the nearby Pat neighbourhood, who have publicly opposed the project, would attempt to disrupt the festivities. But neither the rain nor the protesters were in attendance.
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Neither were any representatives of the municipality, although the school is recognized by the Jerusalem Educational Authority ("Manhi") and by the Education Ministry and is described by the Jerusalem Foundation as one of its "flagship projects".

British Ambassador Simon McDonald did attend the brief cornerstone-laying ceremony.

(The municipal spokesperson did not respond to In Jerusalem's questions for this report.)

The municipality has, however, recently decided to allow the school to add a seventh grade for next year, so that the school will "grow" as the students progress. The organizers hope that eventually enrolment will extend to 12th grade with 500 children, while maintaining even proportions of Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking children. Among the Arab children, approximately one-third are Christian and two-thirds are Muslim.

Addressing the donors and notables, co-principals Dalia Peretz and Alla Hattib explained that the bilingual school is also a multicultural school. "We try to bring to the children the cultures - and not only the languages - of the three religions-cultures that are present here: Jewish, Christian and Muslim", they said.
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Lady Rayne, representing her now-deceased husband Lord Max Rayne and the Rayne Foundation he established, and the members of her delegation were also taken on a guided tour of the school, which is currently housed in the former Denmark School Campus.

"Since this is a totally new experience", Peretz said, "the teachers themselves work on developing the programs, which are dedicated both to the Jewish and the Arab identities. The children are taught to encounter both their own cultural and national identity and their neighbours", said Amin Halaf, Arab co-director of the Hand-in-Hand Association.

Architect Druckman explained the vision behind the design for the campus.

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