A new children’s book offers hope for a shared future

The children’s book Sweet Tea with Mint and Other Stories spreads hope that a different future is possible, one shared by both Jews and Arabs. In this way, its unique perspective differentiates it from other children’s books in Israel.

Marcelo Weksler

The first time I was introduced to the children’s stories in Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories, I was enchanted. In all, the anthology is composed of six stories, three written by Ronit Chacham in Hebrew and three written by Hadeel Nashef, Al-Tayeb Ghanayem, and Sheikha Hussain Haliwa in Arabic. The stories were then translated to Arabic and Hebrew, respectively. They focus on the Jewish holidays as well as Arab holidays, both Muslim and Christian. Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories is the heart of a new educational curriculum that was developed by Hagar: Jewish-Arab Education for Equality in Beer Sheva. But they also stand alone as touching and powerful stories.

Each story brings a different perspective on the bleak situation of racism, separation, exclusion and fear under which we live here in Israel. However, they also offer a glimpse into a forgotten past where Arabs and Jews lived together, creating hope for the possibility of a shared future between Arabs and Jews. This sense of hope differentiates Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories as unique from other children’s books in Israel.

In the educational process, recognizing the “other” that I am in conflict with is a particularly difficult task. Promoting awareness amongst teachers of the importance of this issue is sometimes even more challenging.

Illustrator: Assaf Benharroch

Illustrator: Assaf Benharroch

Among the staff of pedagogical instructors in the Department of Primary Education at Kibbutzim College, of which I am the head, we have discussed this issue in great detail: What are the best ways to deal with the topic of the “other” with young teachers-in-training? How do we teach a work methodology that deals with racism, bias and exclusion inside the classroom and then encourage the student teachers to utilize the same lessons in their daily life? How do we build an investigative process around these subjects with future teachers and translate this process into action with the children they will teach in their classes?

The publication of Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories comes at precisely the right time when we are faced an uptick of expressions of racism in heterogeneous classrooms. After reading the book, our educators were enchanted, so we decided to adopt it as part of our first year primary education track syllabus and curriculum for teachers-in-training at Kibbutzim College.

Through the lenses of these stories, student teachers will discuss an alternative view of reality based on a shared past of Jews and Arabs in The Land of Israel and the Middle East and North Africa. They will discuss the process of seeing the “other” as part of their own community and the significance of the roles we play in the texture of our shared community. With the assistance of the supplemental teaching guides that accompany the stories, student teachers can develop lesson plans that integrate the stories with the creation of art, movement, theater and discussion in the classroom.

When you read the stories, you sense the unique fragrance that gives hope to those of us looking for a brighter future for ourselves and our children. We want our children to see a future without the fear, anxiety, and racism that we see today. The importance of the book is not just in its stories about Jews and Arabs living together as part of the human community, but also in its equal use of Hebrew and Arabic, without preferring one language over the other. This is a very important statement, particularly in these tumultuous days. Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories is also significant in that it touches on the deep human understanding of children’s characters as they are presented through stories surrounding religious festivals and traditions.

For example, in Ronit Chacham’s “Language of the Mute”, the characterization of the mute child and the narrator’s vivid descriptions create a story filled with the colors, smells and the tactile feeling of the breeze from the Sea of Galilee. We see in front of our eyes the alleyways of ancient Tiberius with living characters, some of who are intolerant while others are merciful. We feel the pain of the mute child and the intelligent observations of the girl narrator. In particular, we see real life in a place where there are conflicts, with highlights of compassion and caring between people, whether they are Jews or Muslims, stallholders or Torah scholars.

Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories is a unique, bilingual contribution – in Arabic and Hebrew – to children’s literature in our time, and is also highly significant for preparing teachers-in-training for their role in primary education.

For further details on the book and the curriculum please contact Hajar association

The book, and the curriculum built around it, is a joint work of Hagar: Jewish- Arab Education for Equality and the Department of Education at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. It is funded by European Union Peacebuilding Initiative. On January 12, 2016 at 5:30, Sweet Tea With Mint and Other Stories will have its official book launch at Ben-Gurion-University of the Negev.

Dr. Marcelo Menachem Wexler is Chief of the Department of Primary Education at Kibbutzim College.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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Comments

  1. Children’s literature is so powerful. What a wonderful book.

  2. Reblogged this on estherartnewsletter.

  3. How do I get a copy of this text?

  4. I am a Ganenet at a bilingual (English/Hebrew) Gan in Tel Aviv. I’d love to introduce this book to my kids. What is the youngest age the stories would be appropriate for? And where can I find it? Thanks!

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