Arabic studies go far beyond learning a language

A select group of Boys Town Jerusalem students has taken up a challenge that could profoundly influence their future. For two hours each week, these 8th-10th graders participate in an extracurricular program to learn Arabic. Among the boys’ goals: to best qualify for IDF intelligence units, gain insight into their neighbors in the Middle East, and prepare for intensified cooperation between Israel and her neighbors.

Eli Kessler has been teaching Arabic studies for eight years

Their instructor Eli Kessler, the son of Holocaust survivors, was driven by his own fascination with Arabic to go on to complete his MA in Arabic Language Studies. Now a seasoned high school Arabic instructor, he has been teaching extracurricular lessons at BTJ for the past eight years.

Writing, reading, and speaking are part of the studies

“My strategy is to teach both spoken as well as literary Arabic,” Kessler explains. “By giving students this basis, they gain the tools to fluency.” Beginning each session with questions and answers, the boys enthusiastically converse with one another before delving into the complexities of the 28-letter Arabic alphabet. At the blackboard, their teacher oversees the students’ careful practice in writing and reading Arabic script.

Arabic studies can help in the IDF and future

Ninth grader Yosef Chaim Gilevich, who is fluent in Hebrew and Russian, notes that he is intent on learning Arabic as well. “I’m aiming for my studies to help me in my IDF service and in future.” Eighth-grader Neorai Balulu, like many classmates, shared that he’s learning Arabic to better connect with his father and other family members who immigrated to Israel from Arabic-speaking countries.

Learning the same languages can help foster coexistence

Although instructor Eli Kessler stresses that extracurricular lessons can only give students a taste of the Arabic language, he enthusiastically urges them to pursue higher-level studies. “Fluency in Arabic lays the groundwork for understanding the culture and mindset of our Arab neighbors. That’s a key factor for achieving a military edge – and for fostering coexistence.”