Repair Interview: Tamar Alon and BINA / Arab-Jewish Community Centerby Leah Koenig | May 24, 2010 | 1 comment
In a country where stories of coexistence all too infrequently make headlines, the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Israel is nothing short of inspirational. Centered in the mixed Jewish, Muslim and Christian neighborhood of Jaffa, the center promotes coexistence as well as leisure and educational activities for its 3,000 members. The dance, art, sports, music, theatre and language programs as well as community service work and student tutoring/mentoring help strengthen all three communities, while bringing them together for dialogue and social interaction with one another.
The AJCC staff is greatly aided by volunteers – especially those from Tikkun Olam – a yearlong service program run by the organization BINA. Tamar Alon, who worked at AJCC with BINA volunteers for several years before joining the BINA team this year, spoke with me about the special partnership.
What is the Arab Jewish Community Center?
The idea behind the center was to create a space where both Arab and Jewish people could come and enjoy leisure and educational activities as well as social gatherings. Until it launched in 1993, all community centers were oriented either for Jewish or Arab residents. AJCC creates an environment where both feel comfortable and are engaged in joint activities, which promotes coexistence.
Was the AJCC the first center of its kind in Israel?
It’s the only one. Jaffa is a mixed city – throughout the decades Jews and Arabs have both lived there, but not necessarily in the same neighborhoods. The center is located in Ajami, which is mainly an Arab neighborhood but is surrounded by Jewish neighborhoods.
What are the main activities offered?
There are activities all day long for adults and children, but in the day it is mostly geared towards schools. There are dance, music and sports activities and coexistence activities where the children will learn a song together in Hebrew and in Arabic, then create some kind of art work around it. These kids would not generally be in the same schools, so they might not meet under certain circumstances. We also make a big deal here out of celebrating and learning about all of the holidays – Passover, Ramadan, and American holidays like Thanksgiving.
How did the center interact with BINA?
BINA sent teenagers from their yearlong program Tikkun Olam, which allowed them to create real relationships with the patrons. They are also older than many volunteers who come to Israel [out of college versus in high school or on a gap year], so they could take responsibility of initiating and facilitating a club. There was a chess club, and American sports club where they’d go play tag and capture the flag. There was a science club, where they built a volcano – it taught the participants more about science, and gave them a project to work together to build.
Also, if the volunteers had a degree or specialized in something particular – and many of them are – they were able to use those skills. I had a volunteer who dance for 10 years, so she started a hip-hop class. She did not speak Hebrew at all, but it worked. Before that class, there had never been hip-hop in Jaffa – the kids would see it on TV, but nobody would think of providing a class. At first, some of the parents came to the class to observe because they didn’t know what it was. But once they saw it, they loved it. Some of the mothers would come up and say, “Could we have a class for us?
Did you have lots of volunteers besides BINA?
Yes, many – we had people coming on a year course or other gap year program, people on Fulbrights or just random people coming to study or do coexistence work. I had many volunteers and was always happy to have them, but I always remembered the BINA ones the best.