Text and photos by Lydia Aisenberg
Left: Josh Klein with teaching colleague Marc Buckley during recent visit to Israel and Palestinian West Bank cities and villages. Below: Josh Klein with bus driver Bader Kabaha from Umm al Kutuff during Intensive Arabic Semester in 2009 on a day trip to the Golan Heights
Launched in 2009 the MASA-Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester recently graduated the fifth group of students to undertake the 5-month program teaching spoken Arabic, Arab history, Middle Eastern studies, Israel studies in the context of Arab relations, some basic Hebrew and a great deal more.
Jewish and non-Jewish graduates of the unique program can be found today in the USA, Canada, Britain, Russia, Czech Republic, Norway, France, Germany and Sri Lanka and also in Israel as a number of Semester graduates chose to remain in Israel either to continue conflict resolution and Middle East studies at Israeli universities or become new immigrants and settled in Tel Aviv and one graduate nowadays living in a kibbutz, the latter nowadays teaching English to Arab students of a Baka al-Gharbiya after school center.
When American program graduate Josh Klein – who had previously participated in a Birthright program – decided to join the first Intensive Arabic Semester project he was already a hard working and successful lawyer. Fascinated by the Arabic language, culture and possibility of spending a longer period in the region, Josh jumped at the opportunity of joining the then newly launched program and these days has no regrets about that particular decision.
Not only did his experience during the program further deepen his interest in the language and additional topics dealt with over the five months - unknowingly Josh was treading a path to a very different professional future upon his return to the States. He switched from law to teaching World History and French!
The Intensive Arabic Semester graduate recently returned to the region, together with first time visitor to the Middle East, friend and history teacher colleague, Marc Buckley. The high-school teachers spent a few weeks photographing, filming, documenting, interviewing and studying the conflict from all sides, angles and perspectives available to them.
The mission to seek a more balanced view of the history, people and events of the region was made possible by the parents and pupils of Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland who raised the funds to send Josh and Marc on a very special and challenging fact finding mission.
Severn School was founded in 1914 as a preparatory school for the United States Naval Academy but in present times a day school enrolling boys and girls in grades 6 through 12 and is the oldest private school in Anne Arundel County.
“Marc Buckley and I thought it was important to develop a curriculum based upon the modern history of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, because it is a subject which directly and indirectly touches a myriad of global issues in today’s world. Many of our students go on to study foreign policy, Middle East history, Arabic, and global economics, at the university level; resulting in our wanting to create a well-researched primer course for them on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with all its multiple layers and perspectives,” explained Josh.
After a more than hectic couple of weeks in the region this writer caught up with Josh whilst he and Marc were resting up in the Wadi Ara kibbutz of Barkai. The 1949 founded Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, a neighboring community to the Givat Haviva Institute in Wadi Ara, had been Josh’s home away from home in 2009 and where a warm welcome from kibbutz members and Intensive Arabic Semester staff awaited the two history teachers making history of their own on behalf of the Severn School in Maryland.
Josh Klein holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Miami School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. Colleague Marc Buckley teaches Global Studies and Foreign Policy at Severn School and he earned an M.A. from Washington College and a B.A. from Gettysburg College.
For a number of days the twosome were joined at Kibbutz Barkai by friend and fellow American, Aurora Carlson, a graduate of John Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and currently residing in Jerusalem and also, just by chance, Ruth Arkush from Britain who had just completed a year studying Hebrew and Arabic at the Hebrew University as part of her degree from the University of Manchester in England, came to visit Givat Haviva and was invited to join Josh, Marc and Aurora on a tour of the area led by a staff member of the Givat Haviva International Department, responsible for the Semester program since inception.
Josh and Marc accepted the gauntlet of challenge thrown down by their school to come back with first-hand knowledge from looking at all sides possible of the conflict and to prepare a presentation for their students, their parents and teaching staff at Severn School. They approached the challenge with a breakneck itinerary as explained by Josh.
“Our itinerary included tours of West and East Jerusalem; a meeting in Ramallah with the former Minister of Justice for the Palestinian Authority and with the former president of a Palestinian university; a visit to the South Hebron Hills and Susya with “Breaking the Silence;” in-depth conversations with residents of Hebron and Bethlehem and walking tours of their respective cities; round table discussions with USAID workers, local reporters and a human rights attorney; a two-day visit to Tel Aviv; day trips to the Golan Heights and Haifa; a morning exploring the history of Zionism and the kibbutzim movement with Lydia Aisenberg at here kibbutz, Mishmar HaEmek and a tour of the Green Line and Security fence with her; and, finally, in-depth conversations with Israeli-Arab and Palestinian residents of Wadi Ara,” said Josh recapping their extremely crowded itinerary.
In retrospect Josh, what part did your participating in the MASA-GIVAT HAVIVA INTENSIVE ARABIC SEMESTER in 2009 bring about not only your changing professions but also bringing about the impetus to undertake, together with Marc, this daunting task of presenting the Middle East of yesteryear, yesterday, today and possibly tomorrow, to audiences in Maryland, USA?
“My time with Givat Haviva allowed me the opportunity to explore multiple perspectives in the modern and ancient histories of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I now share many of the lessons I learned in the Intensive Arabic Semester program while teaching/living in Wadi Ara with my students and colleagues,” answered Josh.
“When my fellow history teacher Marc told me that he wanted to go to Israel and the West Bank in order to enhance his curriculum, I immediately thought to introduce him to my friends and former professors at Givat Haviva,” he concluded broadly smiling whilst Marc nodded his agreement at the lawyer cum teachers choice.
Left: From the Intensive Arabic Semester album of 2009 – Josh Klein (first on left) during visit to the Bahai Temple and Persian Gardens in Haifa and above: trying out the enticing pomegranate juice in the old city of Acre
Graduating the first MASA-Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester in 2009
Circa 2012: Josh Klein (second from right) with Ruth Arkush, Aurora Carlson and Marc Buckley, out and about in the Dotan Valley with the International Department, Givat Haviva during recent visit and below: at the entrance to the West Bank Jewish settlement of Hananit on the Amir mountain range overlooking the Jezreel Valley