August 26, 2019

New School Year Brings More Shared-Life Education in Israel

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As a new school year begins, so do many Shared Life Education (SLE) programs that promote encounters, dialogue and cross-cultural education between Jewish and Arab students and teachers. The past year saw the expansion of veteran programs and new initiatives taking root. Numerous civil society organizations have brought innovative and engaging ideas to the Ministry of Education, which has approved many of their SLE programs and in some cases, provides them with financial and administrative support and has expanded certain programs throughout the country. This post includes updates, below, on many of the SLE programs currently running.

Shared Life Education aims to advance cross-cultural familiarity, mutual respect, recognition and partnership between Jewish and Arab children and youth as well as their educators and families, enhancing knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to promote a more shared society in Israel. As discussed in the 2016 Task Force briefing paper Shared Life Education in the Israeli Public School System, this field encompasses a wide range of educational models – including Hebrew and Arabic language programs, group encounters, bilingual schools, teacher integration programs, and more – and has been growing consistently in breadth and professionalism over the past decade.

In recent years, more and more SLE programs have been incorporated into the Israeli public-school system—particularly significant because Arab and Jewish citizens attend separate Hebrew and Arabic public-school streams. While there are political, cultural, religious and linguistic roots for the separate streams, the result also poses significant challenges to creating meaningful interaction, awareness and familiarity between Jewish and Arab educators and students. Increased recognition of the value of SLE has promoted greater cooperation between civil society organizations, which develop and implement programs in cooperation with individual schools, and the Ministry of Education to make them a growing and meaningful component of the educational system.

As a result, SLE programs grew during the last year and many have grown further towards the 2019-2020 school year, including new programs beginning this fall. The shortlist below highlights some of these developments, many of which receive direct financial and pedagogic support from different departments in the Ministry of Education. Though these initiatives represent only a small and partial sample of the SLE field, they shed light on the various types of models currently implemented and their ongoing growth, as they alone encompass tens of thousands of participants and hundreds of schools.

More data on these models and organizations, as well as on numerous other organizations active in the SLE field are included in the Task Force briefing paper.

Merchavim Institute for the Advancement of Shared Citizenship in IsraelMerchavim-training-for-Arab-teacher-integration-captioned
Arab Teacher Integration in Jewish Schools: Operated by Merchavim since 2013 and adopted by the Ministry of Education in 2014, the Arab Teacher Integration initiative places Arab math, science, and English teachers in Jewish schools with the goal of promoting cross-cultural familiarity while filling the need in Jewish schools for teachers in these subjects. According to the Merchavim Institute, in 2018-2019 the total number of Arab English, math, and science teachers in Jewish schools reached 442, nearing the target of 500 teachers set by the MOE in 2014 and showing a 23% increase since the 2017-2018 school year. Most of these teachers were recruited and placed by Merchavim or referred by teachers already integrated. While the Arab teachers are placed and employed directly by the Ministry of Education, they are eligible to receive ongoing support and a range of professional development resources from the organization. Merchavim continues to advocate for Arab teachers’ integration vis-à-vis the government and schools nationwide on an ongoing basis and to raise awareness of the program’s success.

2018-2019 also saw an 18% increase in the overall number of Arab teachers in Jewish schools from 2017-2018, reaching a total of 946 teachers in all subjects.

Promoting Diversity in Israel’s Formal Educational System through Performing Arts: This relatively new program, facilitated and operated by Merchavim, was established by the Morningstar Foundation as a two-year pilot in the 2017-2018 school year, creating arts matriculation tracks in Arab high school students while matching them with Jewish schools. The program both strengthens arts education in Arab schools, which largely lack any such frameworks, and uses the study of these fields as an opening to shared life education. The program combines arts studies – music and theater, with a visual arts track opening for the 2019-2020 year – with shared citizenship studies, including joint meetings and performances, workshops, and seminars for participants, and ongoing guidance for schools and teachers.

Over the past two years, 141 Arab and Jewish high school students participated in the pilot program for music, and an additional 16 in the theater program. The program will continue in the 2019-2020 school year and additional schools have already been approved for participation, with the number of participants expected to increase to roughly 470 in the program’s third year.


Center for Education Technology (CET)

Shared Education: ‘Shared Education’ in Israel promotes cross-cultural familiarity through joint learning in mixed settings, and is based on an educational model developed in Northern Ireland.[1] The program pairs Jewish and Arab classes from “twinned” schools to jointly study one topic under the guidance of teachers from both societies and alternating locations between the schools. Since 2013, CET and the Ministry of Education’s Headquarters for Civics Education and Shared Life have helped conduct numerous Shared Learning initiatives in Israel along with civil society organizations and local authorities. Currently, 180 schools in Israel take part in Shared Education, encompassing 600 teachers and 3,000 students. In the 2019-2020 school year, the number of participating schools will grow to 264.

In Jerusalem, Shared Education is led by the Jerusalem Municipality’s Education Administration and in Ramle and the Sharon / Triangle Region by the MOE Central Branch and in cooperation with local authorities. In the North, Haifa, and Central districts, the model is led and facilitated by the Abraham Initiatives (below).


Abraham-Initiatives-Shared-Learning-captionedThe Abraham Initiatives

Shared Learning: The Abraham Initiatives launched its English-studies focused Shared Learning program in the 2018-2019 school-year in 10 pairs of schools and in 2019-2020 will double its activity to operate in 20 school pairs in the North, Haifa, and Central districts, involving approximately 1,600 Jewish and Arab elementary and middle school students. The organization facilitates the program, develops the pedagogic model and materials and conducts professional development for the participating educators, with support from CET and the Ministry of Education’s Headquarters for Civics Education and Shared Life (see above).

What do you know about the Arab citizen? Launched in 2018-2019, the program offers a lecture series by notable figures from Arab society to 10th-grade classes in Jewish schools as part of their civics education track. Each series includes four encounters in which students meet and hear from Arab professionals and public figures in fields such as sports and media. Lecturers share their experiences and challenges as Arab citizens in their respective fields, discussing both personal experiences and wider issues relevant to Arab society. The program ran in four schools in its first year, with each encounter including 80-100 participants, and will operate in 10 schools in 2019-2020, involving approximately 1,000 students.

Spoken Hebrew in Arab schools “Ivrit Be’Salam: At the end of this past school year, the Abraham Initiatives ended its five-year program teaching spoken Hebrew in over 30 Arab elementary schools for children in grades 3-6, following the formal adoption of the concept by former Education Minister Naftali Bennet under the title “Continuous Hebrew.” As part of the new government program, Arab children from the first grade have additional Hebrew classes, including spoken Hebrew.

Spoken Arabic in Jewish Schools: The Abraham Initiatives and Merchavim
Arabic in Jewish schools is only mandatory between 7-9th grades and focuses mostly on literary Arabic. Believing that greater bilingualism in Israeli society is a cornerstone of shared society, the Abraham Initiatives and Merchavim each developed and implemented programs to enhance spoken Arabic skills for Jewish elementary school students, taught by Arab teachers. The Abraham Initiatives’ Spoken Arabic program “Ya Salam” has been implemented for over 10 years in 200 Jewish elementary schools at the 5th- and 6th-grade levels, integrating 100 Arab teachers into the Jewish education stream. Merchavim’s Let’s Talk program was implemented in 39 schools in Israel’s Central District from 4th to 6th grades. Both also included Jewish-Arab encounter programs. The Ministry of Education has announced it will formally adopt teaching spoken Arabic to Jewish students in grades 5 and 6. The Abraham Initiatives and Merchavim are currently working on preparing a new textbook to be used by the MOE in this new nationwide educational change.



Shared Society in the Negev: Ten pairs of Arab and Jewish high schools in the Negev region participated in the three-year ‘school twinning’ program in 2018-2019, encompassing 500 participants. The students in grades 10-12 engaged in monthly dialogue sessions, with each group choosing a joint challenge unrelated to Jewish-Arab issues, such as road safety or recycling, and conducted a study and presentation regarding the chosen issue with the goal of forging interpersonal relationships that are as free of tension as possible. Teachers from both societies who accompany the program were able to establish professional relationships as well and the program provides participating students with a “Social Matriculation Certificate” by the Ministry of education.


Givat Haviva

“Yihiyeh Beseder” Hebrew Language Enrichment: The program offers weekly modern Hebrew classes to Arab middle school pupils taught by Jewish native Hebrew speakers. Its goal is to expand participants’ proficiency in contemporary Hebrew, from language relevant to the job market and academia to slang, while promoting cross-cultural familiarity by integrating Jewish teachers into Arab schools. The program operates nationwide with the support of the Ministry of Education and has expanded from 73 schools in 2017-2018 to 104 in 2018-2019. The total number of participants in 2018-2019 reached 28,864, an increase of more than 3,000 participants over the previous year and of more than 19,000 since 2015-2016.

Encounter and dialogue programs: Givat Haviva enhanced its various encounters and dialogue programs for Jewish and Arab children, ranging from 2nd to 12th grade and covering a variety of topics such as art, environment, and shared public space, bringing 25 pairs of Jewish and Arab school classes to meet and work together. Year-long encounter programs for elementary school children involved around 660 participants, while year-long activities for high school students involved around 740 participants and joint weekend dialogue retreats brought 3,000 Jewish and Arab high schoolers together.


A New Way

In the past year, A New Way’s school twinning program expanded its activity from 60 school classes to 68, conducted 30 parent-student events, 40 workshops for its teaching crews, and dozens of discourse meetings, volunteering events, music and art workshops and outdoors activities. The program also extended its civics shared learning program for Jews and Arabs from a one-year to a bi-annual program for grades 10 and 11, in which Jewish and Arab students study civics together throughout the year and take their final exam in a two-language version customized for the program. The organization also held a shared life conference in the northern region, with the participation of the mayors and education directors of Nazareth, Midgal Ha’emek, and Yafiya municipalities, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Education, local representatives of foundations, and dozens of educators

Bilingual Schools

Hand in Hand (HIH)Hand-in-Hand-captioned

In 2018-2019, the six bilingual Hand in Hand schools included 1,850 Jewish and Arab students, showing 17% growth in the past two years, with over 1,200 additional pupils currently on the HIH waiting list. Additionally, 3,000 adults participated in HIH community programming throughout the year. In the past year, the Hebrew University also launched a course at the HIH Jerusalem school titled Bilingual and Multicultural Education – Hand in Hand’s Approach that provided 15 Jewish and Arab education students with tools for incorporating multicultural values into the classroom, and has agreed to continue and grow the project in future years. Various schools in Israel have also partnered with HIH to benefit from its multicultural curricula and environment, including seven different schools in Jerusalem who have sent their students to study civics on the HIH campus, and the Reali School in Haifa, which sent 400 of its students to learn about growing up in an integrated environment through encounters with HIH Galilee students. To watch the new school song of the Max Rayne Jerusalem School co-written by the students in Hebrew and Arabic, click here.



The past year at the bilingual Be’er Sheva school began with the opening of the Bridge to Peace Center for early childhood education, which is home to two kindergarten and first grade classes. The total number of pupils at the school in 2018-2019 was 360. In the past year, Hagar continued to bring its Hebrew and Arabic short-stories anthology, Sweet Tea with Mint,  approved by the Education Ministry, to separate Jewish and Arab schools throughout Israel through training workshops for teaching staff. As well, Hagar received final approval from the Be’er Sheva municipality and Israel scouts to pilot the first-ever Arab-Jewish Scout troop in Israel, called “the Adam troop,” which will operate as part of the Hagar’s after-school programming and be open to all youth in Be’er Sheva. The troop will offer multicultural programming and focus on shared values between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Its activity will begin in the fall of 2019.


Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom

The bilingual school located in the cooperative Arab-Jewish village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam was founded in 1984, and in 2018-2019 included 278 children from nursery through primary school, showing 22% growth over the past three years. The children come from 22 different communities, and in the past year, the school began a series of parents’ meetings toward building a stronger school community, as well as held an activity for parents to help shield children from harmful content on the internet. The school was awarded the title of “Experimental School” by the Ministry of Education in 2017, a category for schools seen to have potential influence on the school system and was a finalist for the Ministry’s Award for Excellence in 2018-2019.


[1] For more on Shared Learning, see IATF SLE paper, p. 21, footnote 74.

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How Can We Help?

Do you need support integrating these resources and issues into your philanthropic, communal, or Israel education work? Reach out for consultations, connections to experts, program support, training, or to plan your next event or mission. If you’ve used our resources, tell us about your experience!

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