Pairing up Jewish and Arab children for ballroom dancing turns suspicions into friendships, and leads to an award-winning documentary.
Whether it’s the cha-cha, tango, or a simple twirl around the school gym, Arab and Jewish fifth-graders in Israel are connecting through dance.
Nine years ago, Shahaf-Levi traipsed to New York City with the mission of bringing Dulaine, now retired, to Israel. She knocked on his studio door and was met with an exclamatory “Alain, wa’asalam!” an Arabic expression equivalent to “shalom” that’s often heard in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
It turns out that Dulaine was born in Jaffa in British Mandatory Palestine, before Israel became a state, to a Catholic Palestinian mother and a Protestant father from Ireland. When he was four, they moved to Jordan, and later to England.
Dulaine speaks Arabic, French and English, but knows only a few words in Hebrew.
He does know of the incongruities of living in Israel firsthand and told Shahaf Levi he’d go there under one condition: “If you will find me Jewish and Arab children who can dance together.”
Shahaf-Levi found five schools in Jaffa that were willing to work with Dulaine: the Arab schools Al Achouweh/Achva and Ajjayal; two Jewish schools, The Open Democratic School and Hashmonaeem; and one mixed school of Jews, Muslims and Christians called Weizmann.
In certain instances, a letter had to be signed by the Muslim kids’ parents that it would be okay, on religious grounds, for them to dance ballroom with the opposite sex. The letter was written in English by Dulaine and translated into Arabic and Hebrew.
“We have two sheiks who signed on their sons. Everybody was dancing.
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