In light of Israel’s ongoing security situation and the general 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. At Boys Town Jerusalem, an enthusiastic group of students is taking up the challenge, devoting their free time to learning to speak Arabic in the school’s new extracurricular class. “My sites are set on serving in a special combat unit,” says eighth-grader Yehudah Tehrani. “A knowledge of Arabic is essential to get me there.”
“The Israeli Army is quite pragmatic in its requirements,” notes instructor Irit Friedman. “Fluency in Arabic is an invaluable skill to secure our safety and our military edge. But I do hope that the students will also utilize their expertise in Arabic to increase good will with our neighbours.”
According to Principal Yehudah Rosencrantz, the extracurricular class is paving the way for a full-fledged Arabic language program at Boys Town. “Plans are now underway to offer Arabic lessons as a part of the regular academic curriculum next year.”
For now, the lively after-school class is aimed to introduce students to the basics for conversing in Arabic on day-to-day topics. Beyond the vocabulary, Irit also acquaints the boys with an understanding of Arabic culture, holidays and way of life.
“I made it clear from the start that there is no room for political discussions here,” she explained. “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.”
Although there is little time devoted to grammar, the lessons (in a Palestinian dialect spoken in the Jerusalem area) revolve around dialogues for everyday conversation in the shuk, on the bus, and more. After less than two months, the Boys Town students are already gaining fluency, plus a growing motivation to learn and better their chances for someday being accepted to the top IDF units.
“It’s important to learn another language,” notes eighth grader Avishai Yardeni. “Knowing Arabic will help me in life, and will enable me to help the State of Israel.”