No name. Just “55.”
Okay, see you soon! My parents replied. I looked at my older sister nervously.
You see, it’s not so easy to get a taxi in Israel for a family of five. Until this past trip to Israel, we would send my dad to the front seat, while my mom, two sisters and I would pile into the back of a rickety white sedan and hold our breaths. Israel’s recent enforcement of seatbelt laws, however, has thrown off our routine. Calling a cab company and explaining, in broken Hebrew, that we are five people and will need to get to Tel Aviv on Tuesday at 10:15, and then Zichron Ya’akov on Thursday at 7:30 is not always pleasant. That’s why, when they asked for his name, my parents were satisfied with our Arab driver’s response. We finally had a relaxing ride and had a good amount of traveling to go, so why sacrifice comfort for surrendering to your conscience’s suspicion? We called the company and he returned the next day to drive us to Jerusalem.
Now, my dad is always looking to start a conversation with cab drivers. He takes advantage of every opportunity he has to practice his spoken Hebrew with a Sabra, so, naturally, he struck up a conversation with “fifty-five.” A few well thought out questions and sentences on my dad’s part were met with measly, quiet responses; it went back and forth like this for some time. After a lull, the driver suddenly said: I have three daughters, too. Pleased that he had recognized some common ground, my dad responded with an excited really? Yes, he told us. And six sons. Tensions soon eased and the conversations began to flow much more comfortably. He showed us a picture of his one-year old twins and finally told us his name: Ibrahim.
As we were driving around Jerusalem, Ibrahim started pointing certain things out to us: recent constructions, hospitals, famous buildings, and his family’s neighborhood. Then he pointed to a building that looked like any other in Jerusalem: a nice sized structure made of Jerusalem stone that could easily be a decade or two old. That’s where his kids go to school, he explained. Then he continued speaking. Although he encountered some difficulty in expressing himself in English, we could tell he was explaining something extremely important, something he was passionate about.
And then we understood: this is a school in which Arab and Jewish students learn together. It starts in Pre-K and goes up to ninth grade, he explained, and they are currently building a high school. So far there are four schools in the country associated with this organization called Hand in hand, יד ביד, or يداً بيد which works with the Ministry of Education. It thrives on the donations of Americans.
After that ride, we enjoyed many more question-filled and informative ones with Ibrahim. By the time we reached our final destination, my mom exchanged information with him and promised to bring the message of the organization back home. He also gave us a gift: a book compilation of the individual stories of Arab and Jewish families that attend the school. His story was included.
Although he was born and raised in Bethlehem, he rarely goes back now. As an Arab driver, he encounters many difficulties and a good deal of insensitive behavior. Tourists and Israelis have avoided riding with him, and he has been subject to inspections at Ben Gurion Airport. Arabs get angry when he plays Israeli music and vice versa; his car stereo is always off. He was instrumental in starting the education efforts of Hand in Hand.
It’s people like Ibrahim, organizations like Hand in Hand, that keep the prospect for peace alive for me. In this world of chaos and terror, it is imperative for us to believe that planting the seeds for toleration today through education and future generations will ensure a peaceful tomorrow.
For more information on Hand in Hand: http://www.handinhand12.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.display&pageID=1
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