As part of IAS, all students receive two host families—one Arab from a nearby village, and one Jewish from a local Kibbutz. Students repeatedly describe their families as one of the highlights of the program. Unsurprisingly, family time is a profound experience for the hosts as well. Last semester this was especially true for student Miguels Barro’s families who had a much more expansive experience than they had imagined when joining the program. (And if you haven’t already, read about Miguel’s theater project in Baqa here!)
Ori and Adva, residents of Kibbutz Ein Shemer initially enrolled as a host family after their oldest son, Gali, read about the program in the kibbutz newspaper, thinking it would be a good way to improve his English and as a way for their other kids to meet someone from another culture. Ultimately, it proved much richer then they imagined: “It was a major experience for us as well, not just the kids, to teach him Hebrew and to learn Arabic. And learn about Portuguese. To have a guest for a long time, to consider other person’s needs, Miguel really took part of our family in this time. Things like helping Gali with homework and more.” Miguel truly became a part of the family, from smaller habits like changing dinner time to accommodate his schedule or teaching him their Shabbat traditions, to taking a Saturday day trip to Haifa when Miguel needed transportation help and making a stopover at the beach—something out of the ordinary for the family.
As Adva explains, “For our family it was meaningful, it brought us closer together. Opening the house, the various activities—Gali even did a school project on Portugal, becoming a part of our family in everyway. Before Miguel was here, I was afraid of a strange person in my house, but when it happened all the fears went away. Letting someone else be part of your family is an extreme psychological experience. He become a part of the family, he became part of our heart.”
Even more exciting, given the Israeli-Palestinian conflict orientation of the Intensive Arabic Semester, was Adva’s request part way through the semester to meet Miguel’s “other” family in Baqa, which she felt strongly would make the entire experience more meaningful, despite that it was initially scary for her to visit Baqa. During the second Intifada, Adva had had Molotov cocktails throw at her while driving near another Wadi Ara village, an event which obviously had lasting impact on her pysche.
Ori explained that this meeting was particularly important for the kids, “The meaning of this relationship is for [them], when you know the other side in a personal way, it doesn’t seem that big. To know he is a whole person, he is one of a group. And they are such an amazing family, nice and welcome. [It gave them] an idea, not just what’s seen on the news.”
Adva agrees about the significance of the exchange, adding: “It is important to see that we are people, they are people. The children see that they are people. [It is] something we can do to bring people together, to know that there are more similarities than disagreements, motherhood or parenting is something we share. That’s more bonding than any identity issue. It’s a small step when you do it with one family, they see a Jewish family and also we an Arab family, they see it’s not ‘the Israelis’ or ‘the Jewish family,’ they know our names. This is the real changing—you can know what the other people do. They want we want for our children. The project happens when they come to see the Jewish/Arab house. It changes everything. Maybe this is the real peace. To see the other in his house.”