RBG Awards Grant to Bilingual Israeli School Network Promoting Jewish-Arab Coexistence

'The demand for justice and peace runs through the entirety of Jewish tradition,' the Supreme Court justice says of the traditions that inspired her to make the donation

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sits with fellow Supreme Court justices for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington, November 30, 2018.
J. Scott Applewhite,AP

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has decided to grant $9,000 to a network of bilingual Hebrew and Arabic schools in Israel.

The judge, who has gained celebrity status as a progressive icon, cited her Jewish heritage as informing her sense of justice and support for the organization behind these schools.

The grant to schools operated by Hand in Hand, which has created a new model for Jewish and Arab children to study and grow up together, comes from prize money she was awarded in winning the 2019 Gilel Storch Award from a Stockholm-based organization called Jewish Culture in Sweden.

The latter commemorates the work of Storch, who worked to save Jews from Nazi death camps. Ginsburg decided to divide the award of 250,000 Swedish krona (almost $27,000) evenly between Hand in Hand and two other organizations that also work to promote tolerance, one in Sweden, the other in the United States.

>> Read more: How Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the notorious RBG ■ Jewish and Arab students cross cultural boundaries at model bilingual Jerusalem school

"From the earliest grades, the children are taught to speak, read, and write in Hebrew and Arabic. They learn the shared values of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, among them, helping others, welcoming guests, opposing oppression, and caring for the earth,” Ginsburg said of her decision to grant part of her award to Hand in Hand during her acceptance speech.

Hand in Hand thanked Ginsburg in a post on Facebook which read: “Justice Ginsburg has fought her entire career for equality, civil rights, and democracy, and this award credits her lifelong commitment to enshrining these values in the American legal system. We feel incredibly honored that Justice Ginsburg wished to include Hand in Hand in this distinction.”

Rebecca Bardach, Director of Resource Development and Strategy at Hand in Hand, added: “She is an extraordinary example of how one person, guided by core values and unwavering determination, can make a dramatic difference in people's lives.”

Ginsburg said in her acceptance speech that she is sometimes asked that how her heritage as Jew and her work as a judge fit together. She answered: “I am a judge, born raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice, peace, and for enlightenment runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.”

Ginsburg suggested that it was in keeping with that tradition that she was granting that prize money to “organizations that seek to repair tears in our societies, to reduce intolerance, and promote understanding."

In Israel, the Jewish education system and the Arab Israeli education system are separate.

Hand in Hand advocates say their mission is to forge a new model for education in the country where Arab and Jewish children learn side-by-side in Hebrew and Arabic, taught by both Arab and Jewish teachers.  

In November 2014, Jewish extremists tried to burn down Hand in Hand's Max Rayne School in Jerusalem. They sprayed graffiti on the walls with slogans that included “Down with Assimilation” and “Death to Arabs.” Following the news of the attempted arson attack, then-U.S. President Barack Obama invited Bardach and two students – one Jewish and one Arab –  to light Hanukah candles at the White House.