A Jewish-Arab school in Israel offers hope

Tomorrow morning I will deliver a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Bradenton. It will be a message of hope and peace from a land too often divided by mistrust and war.

The Hagar School in Beersheba is probably the first organization in Jewish history to be named for Hagar, the wife of Abraham, and the mother of Ishmael.

The school was established six years ago by two courageous women: Hagit Damri, a Jew, and Amal Ahljooj, a Bedouin.

Their idea was to create a first-rate, bilingual school in which an equal number of Jewish and Arab kids would study and play together, along with learning about each other’s culture and heritage.

They developed a PTA where the parents get to know each other. They and their children go on hikes together, have parties together, and learn mutual respect for one another.

Israel’s Ministry of Education has given the school its official support. And they named the school after Hagar!

At first, people said that such a school could never succeed. Jews and Arabs in the Negev live side by side, but in separate, segregated worlds.

They speak different languages, they attend different schools, they have almost no contact with each other.

The obstacles to true peace are insurmountable.

How can you ever reconcile these conflicting understandings and goals?

Perhaps precisely because there is so much bad news coming out of Israel every day, precisely because I know that it is only the strength of the Israeli army that keeps Israel safe, precisely for these reasons it is good to know that there are a few dreamers out there, dreamers who are also builders.

One small school is something. Therefore, I rejoice in the news that there are now a number of schools in Israel that are devoted to trying to bring these two peoples together in mutual respect.

I hope and pray to God that they succeed.

And I can only imagine how pleased Hagar, the ex-wife of Abraham, would have felt if she knew that this school in Beersheba, which is the very place where she used to live, is named for her!

If you want to share my dream, and the dream of the Hagar School, I invite you to go online and learn more about the school at

Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbi of Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Shabbat services are held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 941-755-4900 or visit