• Nir Kafri, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
Inside the Jewish Agency

Back to School and Making a Difference

By the end of 2016, Ahmed Jarbiya’s long career in education was behind him – or so he thought. After a shocking encounter with some of his former students, he upended his retirement plans to focus on helping Bedouin adolescents get the skills they need to thrive. Today, he is the principal of The Jewish Agency’s Neve Midbar youth village.

When Ahmed Jarbiya retired in 2016, he thought his decades-long career in education was behind him.

But, unable to ignore the needs of Bedouin adolescents and his ability to help them, last year he returned to his calling – becoming the principal of The Jewish Agency’s Neve Midbar youth village.

Located on The Jewish Agency’s Nitzana educational campus in southern Israel, Neve Midbar serves 100 Bedouin boys from southern Israel. Taking advantage of its location and its proximity to other Jewish Agency facilities, the school is committed to giving Bedouin teenagers the skills and educational background they need in order to go on to successful careers.

That commitment is nothing new for Ahmed.

“Before I became the principal of the school, I was the principal of elementary schools in the Bedouin sector. I served in all types of administrative roles in the field of education,” he explains. “For 22 years I was a teacher in elementary schools, in a middle school, and in a high school, and for 16 years I was a school principal. I was involved in education for 38 years.”

He sees that work – and especially his new role – as particularly important in light of relatively high unemployment among Israel’s Bedouin citizens.

“Bedouin society is stricken by unemployment,” he says. “It’s a hard blow. The unemployed go through upheaval, and sometimes in the most negative directions.

By educating students, helping instill a sense of personal responsibility, and making sure they get the skills they need, he aims to guide these young Israelis towards productive careers.

Those values and goals make Ahmed a perfect match for Neve Midbar – which explains why today he is working in the field of education and not translation.


Drawn Back to His Calling

Despite Ahmed’s background in education, his role as principal of Neve Midbar was not part of the retirement that he had expected. Instead, he was planning to explore a new field.

“On December 1, 2016, I began an early retirement (I’m 60 years old), and I tried to do something entirely different,” he recalls.

The “something different” that he found was work as a translator within Israel’s court system. But, to his surprise, that was the very work that ultimately brought him back to educating young Bedouin Israelis.

“I encountered students whom I hadn’t managed to educate to be productive citizens of the community and of the state. They had been arrested and were behind bars,” Ahmed recalls – a painful yet motivating sight for him.

“The shock of that meeting led me back to the field of education. I understood that I needed to return to educating and to save as many young people as possible, so they wouldn’t go down dangerous paths,” he explains. “The scene I saw in the court devastated me. I was horrified when I met my students behind bars. It’s a very tough situation.”

He is quick to point out that encounters with other former students also showed him examples of successful education and achievement – including seeing graduates who had gone on to work as doctors, teachers, and college lecturers.

Looking Backward While Pushing Forward

After nearly four decades in schools, Ahmed has had the opportunity to see first-hand the results of educational successes and shortcomings. Those encounters – the very experiences that brought him back to the field of education – serve as a reminder of the importance of his work.

Now, within a youth village that shares his goals and values, those experiences continue to motivate him.

And on a daily basis, he continues to work tirelessly, helping today’s Bedouin adolescents get everything they need to become tomorrow’s successful adults.


This article was reported by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel

14 Feb 2018 / 29 Shevat 5778 0
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