Text size

What does it mean to be classified as a gifted child in East Jerusalem?

One of the delightful things about white neighborhoods is the mail. I'm surprised every time I open the mailbox at the entrance to the building and find letters addressed to me inside. In the first weeks I still checked the mailbox every day. But my enthusiasm waned quickly, because the mail turned out to be a curse, mainly reminding me of my debts to various government bodies and never bringing good news. The neighborhood mail carrier decided that our family name is Katua. That's what he writes on all the forms for registered letters, usually fines from the toll road, Highway 6; accumulated parking tickets and letters from the Bailiff's Office. The Israel Electric Corporation, on the other hand, registered us as the Shua family, and the gas company, after we called to sign up with them when we moved, decided that we were the Yehoshuas.

There's also Karua, Kishu, sometimes Saad, sometimes Said. Not to mention what they do to my wife's name, most commonly by changing it to Jeanette. I happen to like the name. I've always said that a Frenchwoman is better than an ordinary Arab woman.

"Tell me, are there other Arabs in the building?" I shouted at my wife angrily that day, about two months ago, after checking the mailbox. "Why?" she asked, coming up to look at the name on the envelope, which looked Arab but wasn't us. Not Said nor Jeanette nor any of the familiar perversions of our last name. "That's all I need, for some Arab family to move into our building. Damn that Bibi, him and his ideas, the apartment just lost at least half its value."

"It's from the Education Ministry," said my wife, taking the envelope from me and trying to decipher the name of the Arabs it was addressed to. "Wow, maybe it's for our daughter?," my wife said. "It's somewhat similar, isn't it?"

"Come here immediately," I shouted with all my might at the girl, who reported for my interrogation. "I didn't do anything," she swore, crying.

"Should we open it?" my wife asked.

"Wait a minute," I said, shouting at my son.

"Leave him alone," she said. "He's in kindergarten, he's not part of the Education Ministry."

"Okay," I said. "Check it again."

"It's our daughter," said my wife, and just to be sure she checked the ID number on the letter. "I swear to you, Dad," the child began crying, "I didn't do anything. He pushed me first..."

"Wow," said my wife, looking at the child. "You're gifted."

"Why do you say you didn't do anything?" I automatically scolded the child.

My wife began reading out loud: "The Department for Gifted Children in the Ministry of Education is pleased to inform you..." The letter said that our daughter had been identified as gifted, according to her score on tests conducted by the ministry, and would be placed in a citywide program for gifted children. The letter gave the name of the project coordinator and promised to contact us before the start of the school year.

"So you're gifted?," I asked the child, hugging her. I always knew she took after me. "So can you use a computer, for example?"

"Of course," she said. "Why didn't you say so?" I asked, and that very day I persuaded my bank manager to give me a loan for an investment in the future. I bought her a computer, after she promised to stay in her room all afternoon playing with the computer and not keep me from watching all the children's programs on television.

The school year was getting closer, but attempts to locate the Department for Gifted Children in East Jerusalem proved futile. In the meantime we found out that the ministry conducts such tests every year, for Jewish children in second grade and for Arabs in third grade. We learned that apparently there once was a program for gifted children in East Jerusalem but it was discontinued and then renewed, but it's not clear where it is and what exactly it does. After some effort I got hold of the coordinator of the Arab program, who promised to get back to us before the start of the school year. She said that 20 students had been chosen, that it's new in East Jerusalem, that meanwhile they're working on a program and she promised that maybe, that is they hoped, there would be a class in robotics too. "But the fact is," she said, "that bilingual children can go to the program in the western part of the city too."

In contrast to the Arabs, the gifted Jews have a school of their own, a detailed Web site listing the classes planned for the coming year, the names of the teachers, an adviser, a principal, a motto and above all an address. The Jews had only one minus, which was that the fourth-grade curriculum did not include a robotics class, and I didn't know if I could live with that.

Meanwhile, on the other side, those 20 Arab children will apparently receive a room for one day during the high-school vacations, on condition of course that the school isn't destroyed before the beginning of the school year. "We'll get back to you with the details," and in any case the studies will not begin before Id al-Fitr, the festival at the end of Ramadan, and the most important thing is that they're not completely sure yet about the robotics.

I made a brief phone call to the school for gifted Jews and I received a polite and courteous response informing me that yes, Arab pupils who received the notice from the Ministry of Education can study with the Jews. Now as a mentally healthy father, I considered what what would guarantee a better future for my daughter: gifted Jews or gifted Arabs? After all, what is the definition of a gifted Arab child from East Jerusalem? Someone who will be asked to show identification to the Border Police before he is of legal age? Jews and being gifted go together. No question about it. They probably test the Arabs a year later for security reasons. Probably during the year that the child missed they taught all the shits from third grade the secrets of the atom. Never mind, I thought to myself as I registered her for the gifted Jews' program, in the final analysis I have always been in favor of conventional weapons.