The website Israel21c profiles one of Ono Academic College’s most exciting programs—a pioneering two-year course on disability studies which is breaking barriers for both the disabled in Israel, and the very diverse Arab and Jewish students participating.

A snapshot of psychologist Noorit Felsenthal-Berger’s first Disability Studies class at Ono Academic College’s Jerusalem campus shows a variety of skin shades, bare heads and religious head coverings.

Undergraduates in this pioneering two-year pilot course simultaneously broke down two barriers: one separating them from fellow students of different ethnicities, faiths and cultures; the other separating them from Israelis with disabilities.

Participants gained the knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to promote inclusion and education in their own communities. In the process, they formed personal bonds with classmates who they may previously have eyed with suspicion or fear.

“All the masks fell away,” one ultra-Orthodox Jewish student told Felsenthal-Berger at the completion of the course in June 2018.

At first she hated sitting at the same table with Muslim and Christian Arabs, modern Orthodox and secular Jews. But the self-described “right-wing settler” found her antagonism quickly “melting” as she listened to an Arab classmate speak with extraordinary compassion and sensitivity about people with disabilities. One by one, her admitted prejudices disappeared.

“To this day I am still in contact with the [Arab] girl from Abu Ghosh who made sure there was a kosher shelf in the refrigerator for me,” she told Felsenthal-Berger. “You provided a place where everyone could connect personally around a common goal … where it wasn’t possible to hate, only to love.”

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Dr. Noorit Felsenthal-Berger (standing, left) and her Disabilities Studies students at Ono Academic College. Rasha Aliyan is in headscarf in front of the instructor. Photo: courtesy Israel21C