“Our lives and their lives are, in many ways, not so different”.
– participant in the program
If you’d asked the children taking part in the Esther Lynne Burnett Learning Together Program a year ago what they felt about taking part in a shared living program, many would have felt apprehension or even fear. Now, after 11 learning and sports days from October 2019 to March 2020, these children have broken down barriers, created new friendships, and built bridges between groups that rarely interact.
The Esther Lynne Burnett Learning Together Program brings Jewish and Arab children together for a program of learning English and tennis at the Israel Tennis & Education Center. This unique program is at the forefront of shared living programs in Jerusalem, and is one of the most successful examples of projects which we support creating opportunities for different population groups to meet in a meaningful way and promoting tolerance, acceptance and dialogue.
Many Jews and Arabs sadly have false stereotypes about one another. In a complicated region, and a particularly complex city, it is all too easy for even children to absorb what their families or peers think about the ‘other’ – whether they be Jewish or Arab. Because of this, it is incredibly important to reach children before their views become entrenched, and expose them to other children who they might not otherwise encounter.
The Learning Together Program began five years ago, and aims to create links between schools in east and west Jerusalem. This program, named in memory of Esther Lynne Burnett, brings together children from two schools – the Silwan Elementary School in east Jerusalem and the Paula Ben Gurion School in west Jerusalem.
Through innovative joint learning and professional tennis coaching, the children develop their English language skills, enabling them to communicate with one another in a ‘neutral’ language and forge long-lasting friendships. On the tennis court, the sport allows the children to learn about fairness and tolerance in a fun atmosphere, and cultivates social cohesion and intercultural relationships.
When the coronavirus pandemic caused both schools and the Israel Tennis & Education Center to close, the program was put on hold. The final sessions of the program, including a special event to close the program, were cancelled.
Despite its premature end, the children have expressed their desire to continue with the program and it is clear that it has had a profound impact on many of the children. One child remarked that he was initially somewhat afraid to meet with Jewish children but that he now can’t wait until the next time they’re all together. When the coronavirus passes, it looks like it will be game, set and match for some real, new friendships between young Jews and Arabs.