February saw a very special meeting between two groups from Word-for-Word, the bilingual program that encourages Jews and Arabs to learn each other’s languages.
The groups meet separately every week so that each can focus on acquiring the necessary skills to truly engage in conversation in the second language. These sessions also provide a new and exciting platform for adult locals, many of whom have lived in Akko for their whole lives, to challenge themselves, make new friends, learn or improve their skills in either Hebrew or Arabic, all while strengthening cross-cultural community ties in Akko.
But the true highlight in the Word-for-Word calendar is when we bring the groups together so that they can try out their new language skills in real conversation while learning about the other group’s customs, culture, religions and life stories. It is in these meetings that the ripples of change that Word-for-Word initiates truly come to the fore.
Ramda Salem, assistant program director at the community center in the Old City of Akko where the Hebrew-learning group meets every Thursday, described her experience of participating in the meetings:
“Learning the other language is not just about language. It is about understanding the other side’s culture, religion and way of life. When we meet and we can speak each other’s languages, it is like a bridge between us Arabs and Jews. It makes Akko more like one big family. It is such a special thing.”
Shlomo Elbaz, a long time participant in the Arab-learning group, added the following:
“In Akko, all of us, Arabs and Jews, live together. Learning and meeting brings us closer together in a real way. It connects us. This is the best chance at peace we have.”
Excitement about Word-for-Word’s success and the participants’ pure enjoyment is spreading and we have already had to open up a new group to accommodate for the growing interest of people who have heard about the program and want to experience it for themselves.