The sun glared over the steep hill as my car climbed slowly toward the parking lot of the school in East Jerusalem.
As I went up the stone steps, I was greeted by smiling children, kicking soccer balls and running in games of tag. A few scampered up to hug me and my coworkers wished me, "Sabachen her" as I answered, "Sabachen noor" (The greeting, in Arabic, for "Good Morning!").
Before I even entered the building, a teacher approached me and asked when we can speak, as she had a problem with a student. Upon walking into the building, while signing in for the day, a mother, on her way out, asked the same thing. I assured them both that I was available, and we would find time. They visibly relaxed. I am the special education teacher.
I am also one of the very few Jewish teachers in this school in East Jerusalem, comprised of Palestinians. The population is predominantly Muslim students with a smattering of Christians. The teachers are a mixture of local Christian and Muslim Palestinians and internationals. The curriculum is derived from Christian organizations in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, this school does not endorse violence. In fact, the uniforms all show the same logo, "Peace begins with me." Moreover, the school has written a "Peace and Non-Violence Curriculum, complete with the study of Peace Heroes, such as Mother Theresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have been working here since the year 2008. During that time, Israel and the Palestinians have been through many conflicts, and there were a few times I wasn't sure if I should go to work. One of these times was a particularly scary time during one of the Gaza wars. One of my neighbors had lost her nephew. I arrived home to hear her screaming and crying. The next day I was asked to speak to a little boy who had lost his grandfather in Gaza when the I.D.F. destroyed a building from which missiles had been launched. The pain is real, deep, and pervasive on all sides of this protracted conflict, and I have embraced some who have wept as a result of losing those they love. In fact, that day, one of my coworkers ran up to me crying, "You came! You came!"
"Where else would I be, during such a time as this?" I answered, smiling sadly. "I need to be with my friends." And her story poured out.
I approached my office and looked over the various posters I have hung on the walls. They are meant to be inspirational, sometimes as much for me as the students. One that is particularly important to me is a quote by Mother Theresa stating, "You can do no great things. You can do small things, with great love."
Upon sitting down, I was anxious to open my Bible to prepare for what promises to be a busy and emotional day. Not so fast. There was a knock at the door by a colleague. She asked if I had a minute, which of course I did. I pulled my chair around so we didn’t have a desk between us. I offered her coffee, which she declined. She looked up to try to not let her tears fall, and she began to tell me about a problem of a personal nature. She is beautiful, kind, and gentle, though, for some reason, she doesn't believe it. I said what I could and she left to bring her class up from where they were waiting to begin the day.
I went into a class to pick up my first students and I brought two of them into my office. I have known these boys for a long time and I noticed that they are becoming men. They have learning issues, problems with memory, motivation, and concentration. They are in serious danger of becoming demotivated entirely unless they can experience some success, encouragement, and positive feedback. This, I tried to provide, while still holding them to a standard of respect, proper behavior, and self discipline. They left encouraged, and thanked me. I felt a motherly mixture of love and worry for these boys, who are limited and need an advocate.
The day went on. Here is the 4th grader who loves to read, but cannot seem to grasp simple math. There is the 6th grader whose math skills are fine, but can't yet read! Here is a child acting out in class because he simply doesn't understand the material. There is a co-worker who is tearing her hair out over a discipline problem; and here is a mother who comes in and tries to prove to me that her son is really smart, but is not being taught correctly. I listened to them all, tried to help and encourage them all, and left at the end of the day, tired, but confident that I am, indeed, doing very small things with very great love.
I am humbled and grateful to be in this unique and gratifying position.