TEL AVIV – A Jewish math teacher at an Israeli university opened a class for the campus’ Arab cleaners to learn basic math.
Shai Gol, who in addition to teaching is also completing his PhD at Bar Ilan University, decided to volunteer his spare time to teach mathematics to the university’s Arab cleaning staff.
In an interview with Breibart Jerusalem, the 38-year-old mathematician expresses his hopes for the cleaners. “I just want them to know that cleaning does not need to be the final destination in life.”
The cleaners, who are mostly female, hail from the Arab-Israeli village of Jishr az-Zarqa, the poorest settlement in Israel. Most of them dropped out of school at a young age and left with no other choices they became cleaners at the university, a job which requires a morning commute that begins at 4am.
Gol relates how he passed by the cleaners in the corridors of the university every day for years and wondered about their parallel lives. Eventually, he approached one of them, Hamda, and told her of his idea to open a math class.
Hamda, who was wary of the idea of being taught by a Jewish male, initially refused. Unflinching, Gol sent one of his female students, also an Arab, to approach her on his behalf. It was only then that she agreed.
So Gol began teaching Hamda and a handful of others. Word spread quickly and very soon his classroom was filled to capacity with more than 20 Arab cleaners from around the campus studying during their morning break.
The story was made into a documentary for Channel 2’s “Uvda” — Israel’s answer to 60 Minutes – and broadcast on national television on Thursday. Hamda, who was interviewed in the film, didn’t believe that Gol was serious when he first approached her.
Gol explains to Breitbart Jerusalem what motivated him to approach Hamda in the first place: “You ask why, but the question is why not? I have no problem approaching a professor or a student, so why should I have an issue with a cleaner that I’ve seen every day for years?”
He continues, “It’s hard for me to believe that there’s someone in the world who isn’t thirsty for knowledge.”
Arifa, a 28-year-old mother of five who was married at 16, agrees. She relates how she sometimes watches the university students from afar. “I wish I could be in their place,” she says. “I feel like crying when I see them [achieve] what I never had the chance to.”
Gol asserts that his primary aim isn’t to teach the women math. It’s to teach them basic life skills, things like how to better understand their payslips or how to count the change from the grocery cashier. Nevertheless, he did set a date for an exam covering all the material they learned.
As the exam date drew closer, tensions rose in Israel following the outbreak of stabbing attacks by Palestinian terrorists. The environment at Bar Ilan, a religious university with an orientation to the right, became more challenging for the hijab-bedecked women and as a result the number of students attending Gol’s math class dwindled.
Undaunted, Gol travelled to Jisr az-Zarqa to give his students private lessons in the hopes that they would pass the test.
“If there’s a will, achievements will follow,” says Gol.
Many of the women come from very difficult backgrounds and not all of them have families supportive of their efforts to receive a belated education. But even though it’s not always easy to convince the students to come to class, Gol refuses to give up and, if the need arises, he goes down to the cleaning room and chaperons them.
Two months ago he expanded his venture to Tel Hashomer hospital, which is close to the university. The hospital’s cleaning staff, also primarily from Jisr az-Zarqa, now receive math lessons from the university students, including Gol’s own fiancée, Chen Shevelov.
His next plan is to open an English class.