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A City with Many Peoples

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Being a farm boy from a small Midwestern town, I had no idea what to expect moving to Jerusalem. I could think of so many different reasons that I could end up hating it. Yet, to my surprise, none of them came to fruition.

Instead, I have fallen completely in love with the city, its culture, the community, and the food. In fact, I think the only thing I do not like is the heat, but in the broad scheme of things that is not really so bad.

There are so many different incentives for me to love this city that it would be silly to even try to list them all. However, there is one that I want to talk about here. Jerusalem is a city of some 850,000 people, and amongst the crowds you can find almost any culture you can imagine. Some days I make a game out of how many different languages I can hear walking down Yafo Street or through the Old City.

A City with Many Peoples

Shuk Mahane Yehuda

Of course, there are the ever-present ones, Hebrew, Arabic, and English, but it’s also common to hear German, Spanish, Russian, and even on occasion Mandarin. The Israeli culture itself is a beautiful thing, full of rich history, delicious foods, and incredible music. However, what makes Israel all the more amazing are the countless smaller cultural groups within it.

It is incredibly important, and fun, to make friends with locals. Yet, one of the best parts about Israel is that even while you are becoming a part of the community, you are also able to build friendships with people from all around the world. I came to Israel hoping that I would build relationships with Israelis, and I have, but at the same time, I have made friends with Africans, Europeans, Russians, Asians, South Americans, and even a Canadian or two.

I am still waiting to see what my first full semester brings me, but after nearly three months in Jerusalem, one thing is for sure. Friendships are not something that I will be lacking!

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    The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    Boyar Building, Mount Scopus
    9190501 Jerusalem, ISRAEL

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  • Amani Rohana

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    Amani Rohana is a lecturer and research assistant at Hebrew University. She is also the director of the nonprofit Building Bridges East, which provides communication and leadership training for women and girls in the Jerusalem area. Rohana holds degrees in psychology and international relations.

    Firsthand Experience

    Whether she’s teaching Arabic at HebrewU or serving as director of Building Bridges East, one thing ties Amani Rohana to the young people she works with: she’s been in their shoes.

    Rohana attended the university herself, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees with a focus on the theoretical aspects of international relations. “It’s not only about politics and security and those big words we’re all afraid of,” she says. “It’s what human interaction looks like when you see it from the outside.” Her master’s thesis explored the language prime ministers use to name groups – and how those choices play out on an international stage and affect public perception. “The semantics, the words that we use, can affect the way we see the world.”

    Similarly, Rohana first got involved with Building Bridges East as a participant. She was a high school student in Haifa when she heard about a program run by the nonprofit’s sister organization in Denver, Colorado – bringing together Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. “It was a great opportunity to go to the US, and I said, ‘Why not?’” A few years later, Building Bridges East opened its doors in Jerusalem, and in 2015, Rohana took over as director.

    “Building Bridges is about creating a safe space for women, where they can explore the communities they come from, explore who they are, and then acquire the skills to make some kind of change in their communities,” she explains. “I participated when I was 17, and seeing the change it’s made in me as a person … and try[ing] to, in a way, pay it forward – it’s really been life-changing.”

    And because all of her colleagues at Building Bridges East are also alumni, Rohana says, they can draw on a common foundation from their training. “This is a skill we took from the programs, running this dialogue and discussion. It’s a home to people with different experience with very different thoughts and ideas, and people are able to disagree, but do it in a way where the other is listening.”

    In the Classroom

    That experience with debate and discussion also comes in handy at HebrewU, where Rohana teaches in the Mechina Preparatory Program.

    “My work in Building Bridges as a facilitator, as a director, as someone who has been working with different groups – I think helped me a lot in being able to say, ‘Okay, I can teach a class,’” she says. “But it’s also very different. I think I’m still learning as I go.”

    Rohana teaches two courses in Arabic at HebrewU’s Rothberg International School (RIS): Academic Writing, and Political Science, Civil Rights, and Policy in Israel. Each, she says, comes with its own challenges. “Writing can be exhausting for students because it’s very technical,” she explains. “But they get to choose their own research or subject or field … and they come up with very interesting ideas.”

    The political science class, she says, is less technically challenging, but highly theoretical. “We learn about the different systems and different countries, and we learn about the theory that drives human society … It’s very needed and very important.”

    Rohana works specifically with Arabic-speaking students – and again, remembers being in their shoes. “It was important to me to be teaching this group specifically … I reflect on how it was for me to be a student,” she says. “Not knowing how to approach an academic paper, and being in this whole different place that you’re not used to.” The most rewarding part of the job, she says, is watching students gain confidence “on the academic level but also on the personal level. At the beginning, you see shy students who aren’t sure what’s going on … And then through the semester, you start seeing them ask questions, start seeking out different people. Start to not be afraid of expressing themselves.”

    A Safe Space

    Rohana says that transformation seems to happen especially quickly at RIS. “There’s a lot of supervision and support at Rothberg,” she says. “Students can always find answers to any questions they have … And they’re encouraged to ask the question, which I think is even more important than providing the answer.”

    Her experience as a member of the staff has been positive, as well: “RIS, I think, is very special … It’s not this big corporate or bureaucratic system that you get lost in.” And just like at Building Bridges East, she says, communication is key: “The people there are willing to listen and are very flexible … It’s been a good environment. A safe space.”


    • Master’s degree in International Relations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2016)
    • Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and International Relations, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2014)

    Learn more about studying at RIS

    Amal Al Nagammy

    Home » Arabic

    Amal Al NagammyProf. Amal Al Nagammy is a lecturer of written and conversational Arabic at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School (RIS). She is also a respected international speaker and educator in Arab women’s rights and empowerment as a gendered approach to peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and is an active United Nations committee member for Women, Peace, and Security. A native speaker of both Arabic and Hebrew who is also fluent in English, Nagammy has degrees in both Education and Social Work.


    Nagammy is currently finishing up her Ph.D. in Social Work, researching the Influence of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on Palestinian Women in Key Public Positions in the Palestinian Authority, on Their Role, and on the Status of Women in Palestinian Society in the Past and in the Present and Its Implications on the Future , at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Nagammy hopes to help define the roles of Palestinian women in the conflict and increase women’s impact on conflict resolution. “I believe that when women are part of the decision-making in conflict resolution, the conflict can be solved in a different way. The perspectives of Palestinian women provide a different approach.”

    Nagammy notes that not enough research currently exists on this topic, and as a Palestinian who grew up speaking both Arabic and Hebrew in an uncommonly diverse Haifa neighborhood, she has the language and family background needed to gain the trust of the Palestinian women she is researching. “It is my responsibility to bring this topic out and make it more available to people – change people’s way of thinking about the conflict. Women can help.”


    This idea of changing how people think about conflict is central to Nagammy’s approach to language instruction: “I teach Arabic because I think language can be a bridge for culture and conflict resolution. You can bring a different perspective through the language – connect people. I’ve been doing this for more than 15 years.”

    Eye-Opening Experience

    She observed the power of language to effect change within her very first year of teaching. In 1999, as the first teacher of Arabic in a Jewish middle school in Haifa, she was faced with a sixth grader who called her a terrorist. She held an after-class meeting with the student’s parents, and during the meeting, she was surprised to receive an apology from the father, of Israeli-Russian background. He said, “I’m the one who is responsible. I told my son that all the Arabs are terrorists, but I did not realize you were also an Arab. Please forgive me.” By the end of the year, this student was the best in the class. Nagammy clarifies that “as a teacher of Arabic, I teach not just one generation. I give students the opportunity to decide on their own who the Arabs are as a people, and they will affect everyone around them.”

    Biggest Challenge

    Nagammy feels that the most challenging thing about teaching Arabic is not grammar and mechanics, but worldview. “I try to help students learn who the Arab people really are through the language, the beauty – to enjoy it while they learn, not to hold in their head the image from anti-Arab propaganda. I try to make it a bridge.” She sees Arabic language learning as a way to “connect people to people.” No matter whether she is teaching beginning Arabic students or students who already have a master’s degree in Arabic, she aims to open their way of thinking and communicating through insightful readings, discussions, and debates. She has taught students from all over the world in a whole host of disciplines, such as political science, sociology, gender studies, and more.

    Recent Activism & Volunteer Work


    • Ph.D. Candidate, Social Work, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2017)
    • Master’s Degree in Social Work, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2009)
    • Master’s Degree in Education Systems, The Academic College for Education in Israel (2005)
    • Bachelor’s Degree in Education, Arabic and Hebrew Languages, The Arab College of Education, Haifa (1999)

    Learn more about Arabic at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School

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