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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Cultures in Collision

November 24, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

Seeking to move forward in recruiting schools for our experimental project of simulations of regional planning dilemmas, I called the principal of the middle school in M., a large Moslem village a few miles away. There was a lot of noise in the background, and I had the impression he didn't really understand my explanation, but he suggested we meet, at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday. While the school is a large complex, visible from the highway, it is not obvious how to get to it on the village roads, but after asking a couple of pedestrians, I managed to wend my way to the school. The campus consists of several large, modern buildings clustered on the mountainside, surrounded by mostly rocky empty land, with some informal parking areas for faculty and visitors. After parking on the wrong side of the campus and getting directions (to drive across the asphalt playing field) to the middle school building, I found my way to the principal's spacious office with its cabinet of shiny athletic trophies. It was 8:35.

The principal, Sheikh O. welcomed me (sheikh is a title for a graduate of a Moslem seminary -- sort of like Rev.), but said I had come at an unfortunate time -- what with Ramadan the whole schedule was shortened, and so the break at which the teachers would be available wouldn't come until 9:25. However, in the meantime, I was welcome to stay in his office, at the conference table, and occupy myself, which I did, doing some work I happened to have in my briefcase and wondering why he had asked me to come at 8:30.

At 9:25 Sheikh O. returned, with D., responsible for environmental education, and A., in charge of informal programming. I gave my shpiel, explaining that we are enthusiastic about regional planning as an educational tool because it teaches listening and democratic decisionmaking; it encourages students to articulate a vision and then implement it; it stimulates interdisciplinary learning involving geography, history, environment, and civics; and it deals with real-life issues. I emphasized that our concept is to train the teachers and then provide them with consulting, materials, and a budget, so that they can develop their own simulations with their classes, based on real planning dilemmas facing the community (e.g., where to build the road/stadium/industrial zone, expansion vs. green space, conflict with other communities, etc.)

D. first responded that such a program is far too abstract for ninth graders; what could they understand of the issues of land-use planning? This is appropriate for 11th or 12th graders; we should give them such dilemmas to solve. Moreover, he said, you shouldn't come into the classes by yourself, you have to find an Arab partner, with whom you will work together with the students. When I explained that I didn't intend work with students at all, but only to help train and support the teachers in the school, he relented, and even said, well, if you are offering inservice training, I'd be happy to sign up.

A.'s concern was, how can you talk to the students about land development? When our students look out across the valley and see the development of the Jewish communities of Karmiel and Misgav, knowing that those communities are sitting on our village's land, how can we talk to them about development? Aha, that's just the point, I said; our goal is to help the students understand the processes that led to this situation, and to learn how to work constructively toward a fairer future.

Sheikh O. seemed to appreciate this point, and wanted to talk about the riots of October 2000 (the highway in front of the village had been closed by burning tires and flying rocks for a couple of days then). He wanted to emphasize that while the demonstrators had a case and a just cause, their methods were not acceptable, and just a few hotheads had caused a great setback to the whole community. D. and A. agreed vehemently, and excused themselves to go back to class.

Sheikh O. then launched into a lengthy lesson on the history of Moslem cooperation with and respect for Jews, from Mohammed on, and indicated that he felt that we should be emphasizing the past harmony between the religions in our educational efforts with the youth of today.

I thanked him for his time and interest, and we agreed to "be in touch..." I don't think we will.


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