The wizarding adventures of Harry Potter can serve as a great equalizer, particularly when they’re read in Arabic, or Greek.
That’s the plan for a series of book club meetings at Polis — The Jerusalem Institute of Languages and Humanities, which is bringing together groups of Hebrew and Arabic speakers and Greek and Latin speakers to read and discuss the beloved books, beginning with book number one, which is considered the simplest in terms of the language used.
“Harry Potter is available in every language and it’s great because the text advances with each book,” said Etti Calderon, the administrative director at Polis. “The language gets more complicated and we wanted to choose a text that would appeal to many.”
Polis, an institute of higher education based in Jerusalem’s Musrara neighborhood, offers courses in ancient and modern languages, including biblical and modern Hebrew, modern and spoken Arabic, ancient Greek, Latin and Sumerian. It was an initiative of researchers and teachers who believe that languages are the key to sharing and understanding one another’s culture and heritage.
With some 200 students enrolled in language courses in Arabic, and another 18 in a graduate program of ancient philosophy and Near Eastern languages, the non-profit school draws international and local students, and both Arabs and Jews, said Calderon.
The language program bears a strong similarity to local ulpan courses, the intensive Hebrew immersion classes that many newcomers take when arriving in Israel.
“Part of our goal is to enable people to learn about other cultures and to learn how to communicate,” said Calderon.
She hopes the Harry Potter series draws a new crowd to Polis. Given the number of pages in the seven-part book series, the book club should last at least several months.
With that kind of book club, “you can miss one week and still know what’s going on,” said Calderon.
The Harry Potter book series at Polis begins Sunday, November 20, with the Arabic reading at 4 p.m. and Hebrew reading at 5 p.m. Participation is free.