The twinned “Mini” teams from East and West Jerusalem, both serving children in Grades 1 and 2, seem to be on the right track. Their frequent meetings must be beginning to work their magic.
The initial questionnaires we give the children when they start our program, before they meet their peers from the ‘other’ community, are never bright. Both Arab and Jewish children usually say that they are nervous and worried about meeting children different from them. It’s clear that they don’t know what to expect from these joint practices. The same was the case with these children from East and West Jerusalem. When the children from East Jerusalem first came to the court in The Keshet School, in West Jerusalem, they walked hesitantly. Last week, when they came again, for the fifth meeting of the two teams, they were running onto the court.
Twinned teams usually meet twice per month. These teams play alternately in The Keshet School and in the Hand in Hand Bilingual School. The two places are only a ten-minute walk from each other, yet PPI – ME provides nearly the only opportunity for these kids to meet. January saw two meetings. The first took place in Hand in Hand early this month. The second was last week, in Keshet.
That session was run by PPI – ME’s Manager of Basketball Operations Vito Gilic. The drills this time were harder and more complex than before, signaling that the children have improved their basketball skills since the beginning of the season. Now they have the ball in their hands from beginning to end, and almost every drill requires them to dribble. When Vito yells “Island!” all the children go to the three circles on the court. When he yells “Water!” the children take shelter on the courtsides – all the time, they dribble.
Then Vito takes it up a notch. The children line up in two opposing lines. Vito demonstrates that he wants them to pass the ball from one side to another through a hoop that one of the coaches holds between the two lines. “After you pass the ball run around the hoop to the back of the opposing line,” Vito says. One of the boys from East Jerusalem jokes around and tries to jump through the hoop. It makes everybody laugh. From that point on, everybody’s trying to do the same thing – every time somebody does it, it gets funnier. The coaches try to keep the children in check, but to no avail. The same kids who had some worries about meeting the ‘other’ only three months ago now feel so comfortable together that they make up their own games.
This is only one sign that the frequent meetings are bringing the children closer together. More signs are everywhere. Children who before asked to get a ball only from their coach, now go directly to a kid from the ‘other’ community and join him or her in play.
This is a beginning. These children only began to play basketball and only began to make contact with the community from across Jerusalem’s cultural divide a few months ago. As they get better in basketball they will also become better friends. They will feel more comfortable with each other. They will see each other as people, and not just as ‘others.’ And then, as they grow up, they will pay all this forward.