A mini-van with 18 high school students aboard will stop at the museum of Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot, north of Haifa, on Sunday afternoon. The students will spend four hours — viewing an exhibit, watching a film, taking part in a seminar — learning about the Jewish ghettoes established by the Nazis during World War II.
The students all are Arab.
The Muslims and Christians from Kfar Yasif, 15 minutes southeast of the kibbutz, are participants in an innovative educational program, the Center for Humanistic Education, established five years ago at the kibbutz’ Ghetto Fighters’ Museum. The program teaches such “universal” lessons of the Holocaust as persecution and propaganda to groups of Jewish and Arab teens — separately at first, then in a joint gathering, with teachers, at the end of the school year.
Begun during the early days of the Oslo peace process, the center faced a precarious future when violence between Arabs — both Palestinians in the territories and Israeli Arabs inside the Green Line — and Jews increased last year.
“This year is more difficult than other years,” says Raya Kalisman, a veteran Israeli educator who founded the program with Salem Jubran, an Arab writer and educator.
“Everything is more complicated.” The Arabs participants are “bringing much more anger,” Kalisman says in a telephone interview. “But they’re coming.”
“No schools,” including two from Kfar Yasin, “dropped out,” she says. “It proves that this kind of project is a necessity. It is a place where you can talk about your pain.”
Some 200 Arab student are taking part in the center’s activities this year; some are training to be docents, or paid educators/counselors.
“I know they don’t have an easy time in their villages,” where fraternization with Israeli Jews is discouraged, Kalisman says. “It’s like treason in some villages to listen to the pain of others.”
Two Arab girls answered that “We are not traitors to the Arab,” she says. “We think listening to the pain of others makes us better Arabs.”
The center has received coexistence awards in recent years from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Knesset speaker Avraham Burg. And Karen Shawn, an educator in Englewood, N.J., who founded the museum’s International Book-Sharing Project, was honored as the Covenant Foundation’s Outstanding Jewish Educators award this year.
The kibbutz, founded in 1949 by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, housed the world’s first Holocaust museum, which today includes an extensive archive, an art gallery and a separate children’s memorial.
“The story, if told in the right way, can be relevant to everyone,” Kalisman says.
Many of the Arab students bring their parents to the museum, she says, and they tell their parents, usually for the first time, about the Holocaust. “They’re telling the story as if it’s their story.”