Some 2,500 Jerusalemites as well as visitors from across the country gathered Friday morning at the city’s Train Track Park. Armed with blue and yellow balloons, tee-shirts and bumper stickers, they came to declare their solidarity with the capital’s Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School, after an arson attack on the coexistence initiative left its staff and students shaken.
It has been a week since vandals destroyed the school’s first grade classroom with a fire. Since then dozens of people — from President Ruby Rivlin and Knesset members to rabbis, organizations and concerned citizens — have come out to show their support for the school, according to its director of resource development and strategy, Rebecca Bardach.
“The leaders of the Beit Safafa community also came,” said Bardach, referring to the Arab neighborhood which abuts the school, “and that’s not something you can just assume will happen.”
Respected local Orthodox rabbi Benny Lau visited, as did the mayor of Kafr Qara, a northern Arab town that is home to another Hand in Hand school. There are six Hand in Hand schools throughout Israel.
The first graders visited the President’s Residence in Jerusalem this week on invitation from Rivlin, where they did art projects and played soccer.
Local religious schools also showed their support, including one principal of a religious boys’ school who told friends he had not even known where the school was located beforehand.
Bardach thinks they came because the attack was so extreme.
“It represents what’s going on here,” she said. “People think, ‘This isn’t acceptable, we don’t accept it.'”
Many came to the solidarity walk because they wanted to make a stand for coexistence.
Mia Biran, a young lawyer who grew up in Tel Aviv and has been living in Jerusalem for the last five years, said Hand in Hand is where she plans on sending her “future children.” The same for Shira Shapira, who was walking with Biran and is still a student at Hebrew University.
Mohamad Marzouk, who heads communication for the Hand in Hand school in Kfar Qara, commented that the only good that came out of the fire was the show of support from a wide range of politicians, including those who normally steer clear of the bilingual school.
The fire, said Marzouk, crossed a red line for many people.
“I know we have to continue,” he said. “We have to do what we can to enable coexistence between Arabs and Jews.”