Digging Up Abraham’s Roots: Arabs And Jews Explore Shared Heritage

By Hanna Szekeres, NoCamels January 22, 2012 Comments

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Could this biblical phrase, which was written in the Middle East nearly 2,500 years ago, be any more appropriate for the region today?

That phrase could well be the motto for Israel’s Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, which has created a program for Jewish and Arab schoolchildren to teach them about their ancient shared heritage.

The Bible Lands Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the history of the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Its Permanent Exhibition, which is made up almost entirely of the former private collection of Dr. Elie Borowski, spans from earliest civilization to the Early Christian era in the Lands of the Bible.

The artifacts on display bring to life the rituals, religions and daily life of the nations and cultures that lived in the region thousands of years ago. These ancient treasures have inspired the rich variety of innovative educational programs offered at the museum. One of them is the unique coexistence educational program titled “The Image of Abraham.”

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Participants in the program come from Arab and Jewish schools in Jerusalem and trace the common elements in the Arab and Jewish culture. During the yearlong program that, they learn about the role of Abraham, or Ibrahim in Arabic, as a Patriarch in Judaism and Islam.

Each meeting explores a new subject relative to the ancient world and the journey of Abraham with a series of gallery tours, games, guided discussions and creative workshops.

Yehuda Kaplan, Education Director at the museum, tells NoCamels: “I think this project is a very modest attempt to make a change in our troubled and diverse community, by giving the young generation the opportunity to meet and learn about each other’s lives.”

“Unfortunately Jewish and Arab children living in Jerusalem hardly have a chance to meet, learn and play together, since they live in two almost isolated societies, physically and foremost mentally, with a different education system.”

He adds: “I hope that this opportunity opens the children’s (and their parents’) eyes to the idea that their neighbors have many things in common with them and that by working together they can accomplish great things.”

The many workshops of the program offer an insight into an ancient world and way of living, but it also encourages the two groups to share their present-day culture with each other. In one of the workshops for example, the students are introduced to ancient games and how they were played, followed by the playing their favorite modern games.

Another workshop is focused on language. As Hebrew and Arabic share many common and similar words, the children teach each other their favorite words and expressions, which are then compiled into a bilingual dictionary distributed to everyone at the end of the project.

Exploring the themes of leadership, responsibility and hope, the students tour the galleries, play games, build kites and fly them together in the Jerusalem skies as a symbol of the yearning for freedom and peace between both people.

“I believe that education as a tool and frame is the key to transform the scary and unknown ‘others’ into neighbors with names and faces,” says Ruty Geva, PR manager of the program. “Education is the most important path to peace and co-existence, specifically the education of the next generation.”

The museum’s focus is on children, but also offers programs for parents, which offers an opportunity for them to meet and discuss the project and to see and experience their children’s change of attitude.

At the end of the program, the students, teachers, parents and guests are invited to see the exhibition of the group art project. This year, the exhibition is entitled “Journey of Abraham,” and features large models of the four main stations that Abraham visited during his journey: Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt and the Desert.

Each team concentrated on one of these regions and the models will go to each of the three participating schools following their debut in the Bible Lands Museum.

Due to the success of the program and by request, a new pilot project was introduced based on the story of Noah and the flood, which appears both in the Bible and in the Koran.

Every year more than 250 fourth and fifth graders from Jewish and Arab backgrounds, many teachers and hundreds of parents learn about Abraham through Bible Lands’ program. In the last 15 years, the program has reached more than 15 ,000 people from each side. This year, for the first time, the project had staff applicants who were participants when they were children.

Photo courtesy of Bible Lands Museum

Digging Up Abrahams Roots: Arabs And Jews Explore Shared Heritage
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