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Coexistence in Israel: Jewish and Arab students write inspirational children’s book together

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The book, written in Hebrew and Arabic is aimed at kindergarten-aged children and tells the story of a black and white striped zebra who can’t decide whether to join the white animals or the black animals

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a beautiful show of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel, a group of teenagers has jointly published a dual-language colorful children’s book written in Hebrew and Arabic.

Aimed at kindergarten-aged children, the book entitled Colors in the Jungle, tells the story of a black and white striped zebra who can’t decide whether to join the white animals or the black animals that live in the jungle. 

Its message, the students said: the importance of understanding that we can all live together in harmony.

Speaking to IsraelNewstand, one of the students, 17-year-old Lavee Yacoby from Ramat HaSharon said that this has been an almost-two year process, adding that he and his fellow teammates were “very excited” that the book has come to fruition.

Asked how it all began, Yacoby said that “two years ago, my school, Rothberg High School visited the Terra Santa School in Jaffa.” 

“It’s a Christian-Arab school but from what I understand, there are a lot of Muslim students at the school as well.”

The idea to bring the two schools together was the brainchild of Yacoby’s teacher Iris Aviel, who together with Terra Santa, decided on the collaborative book-writing project with the 10th-grade students from the two schools.

“We visited their school and they came to our school – we had a total of five meetings. When we visited, we took a tour of the school and met the students, and it was just really nice to see how much respect we showed each other,” Yacoby emphasized.

Jewish and Arab students from Rothberg High School and Terra Santa School in Jaffa meet each other. (Courtesy Lavee Yacoby)

As part of the book-writing project, there were 10 teams with several students in each. “Each team had Jewish students from our school and Arab students from Terra Santa,” he said. “Our teachers gave us the main theme – that the story had to be set in the jungle and “from there we can add what we feel is relevant and appropriate.”

Explaining the book more in-depth, he said it all begins with the Zebra in the jungle, which is split into two sides.

“The one side of the jungle is the white animals and the other side of the jungle is the black animals, and the animals on both sides try to convince him to join their side. In the end, he realizes how he can be with both sides – all animals – because he’s white and black – and everyone can live together in peace.”

He added that their story about the Zebra was the main premise for the book but facets from the stories made by the other 9 groups were also implemented into the book.

“At the end of the book, there’s also a message for parents and kindergarten teachers that includes questions they can talk about with the kids,” he pointed out. “Some of these questions include asking them about what happens when we meet kids who are different from them. ”

The back of the book also includes all the students’ names alphabetically with the names alternating between Jewish and Arab students to make it clear that it was equal teamwork from everyone in both schools.

Students reading ‘Colors in the Jungle’ to kindergarten children in Ramat HaSharon.

He told IsraelNewsStand that the experience of working together with Arab students his age was “really interesting because I don’t know if I would get this opportunity anywhere else.”

“I don’t know of any other school that does this kind of stuff,” he said. “It was amazing to see how we’re ‘20 minutes’ apart.”
“We’re not that different from each other at the end of the day,” he stressed. “We all have similar hobbies, we volunteer, and the funny part was a lot of the Arab students we worked with [on the book] volunteer with Magen David Adom during their free time and so do a lot of my classmates.”

“It just shows that that’s a place where they do meet and find common ground, which I think is good – it tells you something about how life-saving can be a common practice where coexistence exists,” Yacoby added.

He said that “out of the five meetings, we had at least three, where we just got to know each other and really speak to one another,” emphasizing that he discovered things about their religion he wasn’t aware of.

Asked what it meant to him to be part of such a beautiful project, Yacoby said that coexistence between Arabs and Jews is where Israel is heading.

“In this country especially, we are all intertwined,” he explained. “We are all heading to the same place and I think it’s great we got to do this now. It doesn’t matter – if you live in Tel Aviv or Jaffa.”

“I’d always heard stories about coexistence in Israel, but to actually live it and be a part of it had a really big impact on me,” Yacoby said.

He said that he hopes the book will encourage Israeli and Arab school children to meet each other at a younger age, even as far back as kindergarten.

“This goal of the book is for little kids in kindergarten to hopefully meet at that age and explore a little,” Yacoby continued. “My brother, when he was little, his best friend in kindergarten was Arab and they didn’t even notice it – it was so natural, so hopefully kids at this age could start meeting up and getting to know each other.”

Over the last few weeks, Yacoby and other students from his school have also been going around to about 30 kindergartens in Ramat HaSharon to read the book to them and talk to them about the story and its meaning.

“Being able to publicize it has been a lot of fun – just getting to tell people about it and read it to the kids, and learn about how we can implement [coexistence] into our lives,” he said, making it clear again that this success thanks to his teacher Iris.

Yacoby shared a strong message about peace and coexistence in Israel, pointing out that he is aware that around the world, people say a lot of negative things about the country and “it’s hard to believe in coexistence [in Israel].”

“But When it comes to living it, seeing Arabs and Jews together – whether in Jaffa or Tel Aviv – the less we notice [difference], the more we progress. And this is the way it should be – there is no reason for ‘why not,'” he said. 

“We are much stronger unified – together – and I hope [coexistence] will become stronger and more powerful,” Yacoby concluded.

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