At Boys Town Jerusalem, an enthusiastic group of students is devoting their free time to learn to speak Arabic in one of the school’s new extracurricular classes. In light of Israel’s ongoing security situation and the need to be conversant with its neighbours, the IDF is encouraging schools to offer Arabic-language courses to qualify more recruits for elite combat and intelligence units.
“I’ve set my sites on serving in a special combat unit,” says eighth-grader Yehudah. “Knowledge of Arabic is essential to get me there.”
The course’s teacher, Irit Friedman, who has a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic Literature from Tel Aviv University, recently returned to teaching having worked as a senior editor for Kol Yisrael, Israel Radio’s Arabic-language broadcasts for nearly thirty years.
For now, the lively after-school class aims to introduce students to the basics of conversing in Arabic. Beyond the vocabulary, Irit also acquaints the students with an understanding of Arabic culture, holidays and way of life. “I do emphasize the similarities between Hebrew and Arabic, and the boys were quite amazed to discover how many Arabic words they already use in everyday Israeli lingo.”
“Fluency in Arabic is an invaluable skill to secure our safety and our military edge. But I do hope that the students will also utilise their expertise in Arabic to increase good will with our neighbours” explains Irit.
“Irit really explains things well, and I look forward to these lessons for a good reason,” said eighth grader Avishai Yardeni. “Knowing Arabic will help me in life and will enable me to help the State of Israel.”
“The Israeli Army is quite pragmatic in its requirements,” notes instructor Irit Friedman.
According to Principal Yehudah Rosencrantz, the extracurricular class is paving the way for a full-fledged Arabic language programme at Boys Town Jerusalem. “Plans are now underway to offer Arabic lessons as a part of the standard academic curriculum from next year, for the benefit of Israel’s security and society at large.”