Out of all Oscar nominated movies, one stood out to me the most. One about Strangers, that were no more. In Israel, there is a school, called Bialik-Rogozin, where students come from no more, nor less, but 48 different countries. It’s a place that welcomes the oppressed, the poor, victims of genocide and political persecution. The only requirement – you need to come with an OPEN HEART! This is the school where “No child left behind” comes to life, because “No child is a stranger”! This school is for Jews, Christians, Muslims, it’s for everyone, as long as you are willing, as long as you are ready, and as long as you want to learn and make an effort.
During my years as a nanny in NYC, I have once put a child on the wrong school bus. Nothing happened, the kid is still alive and kicking, and driving some other nanny insane. And think of it “For most children getting to school is as simple as going around the block” or getting on a school bus, or in a car, and being driven there. “But for others it’s a dangerous journey across hostile borders”.
The documentary “Strangers No More” produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon tells a story of the only school in Israel that opens its’ doors to students like that, but more than that, it tells the stories of 3 students, form different places, who wanted to learn in spite of the fact that they had no prior education. As we watch them speak we notice colorful handprints in the background. Those colorful hands are going to create their lives from now on, and when they grow up and look back at what they had to go through, those hands and the people they belonged to is what they will remember.
The three students that opened up their hearts, allowed to share the story, made actual friends with the producers are Mohammed, a teenager from Darfur. This young man never went to school, but here in Bialik-Rogozin School, he was able to finish 4 years of school in just 1! Of course he had difficulties with homework and self-discipline at first, but look at him now! He has a great future ahead of him!
Then there is Johannes from Eritrea. Turned out Johannes was practically blind on one eye, but with the new glasses his teachers got him, he is now able to actively participate in the school process.
The saddest story is the story of Esther, a 9 year old, whose mother was murdered. “Your mom is like your best friend” imagine what happens when she is taken away from you. My relationship with my mom has never been a walk in the park, but as we all know difficulties bring people closer together, so we’ve been working on our relationship over the past couple of weeks. So what do you do when you see your mom killed in front of your eyes and it’s no movie? I have no answer to that. But Esther’s teachers do. They got her to open up, and she is able to receive help now. I always thought South Africa was more peaceful than that.
The beginning of the journey is different for everyone (shyness, being lost, feeling different), but the outcome is somewhat similar – it’s education, it’s acceptance, it’s the realization that there should be no boundaries, no stereotypes, no violence.
Watch the 87 minutes of this documentary, hear the children speak in their native language and in English, meet the teachers! It’s worth it.
PS. My personal interest in this film is the following – I lived with a Jewish family for a year, celebrated Shabbat, Sukkoth, Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, cooked meals the kosher way, ate the kosher way, went to a Brisk! And I am proud of it, I am thankful for the experience I was able to have, to feel included into the culture, into the tradition. Not everyone gets this opportunity! And not everyone understands the importance of it. I hope you will after watching the documentary!