LISSAN was founded with the aim to promote linguistic justice by providing accessibility to Jerusalem’s two spoken languages, Hebrew and Arabic. We believe that language accessibility is a primary principle in the creation of a respectful Jerusalem space; one that allows all residents to live their identity and lead their lives freely and in full exercise of their rights.
Our goal is to provide language tools to population groups from East and West Jerusalem for whom the language barrier constitutes an immediate obstacle to the fulfillment of their individual rights or to the provision of essential services. We do so by developing culturally, thematically, geographically and economically tailored programs. Today, we work towards achieving our vision by offering Hebrew learning services to women from East Jerusalem, and Arabic learning services to medical teams. In the long term, we aspire to an equal presence of Jerusalem’s two dominant languages within the city’s existing systems and in the public space.
Lissan was founded in 2015 by a group of young Jerusalemites. Our activities have grown in direct response to some of the challenges faced by Jerusalem residents, in the context of the city’s complex reality.
Jerusalem is a home to 927,000 residents (as of 2019), of which about 60% are Jews and 40% Arabs. Most Jewish residents live in the city’s Western part, while most Arab residents live in the city’s Eastern part. The diverse fabric of Jerusalem’s population, encompassing a multitude of nationalities, cultures and religions, sets the area apart as a metropolis of universal significance standing at the center of a tensed conflict; all of which contribute to the city’s highly complex and precarious daily reality.
If Jerusalem’s overall poverty rate is high, the situation in East Jerusalem is particularly bleak - both socially and economically. Current data show that East Jerusalem residents suffer excessively from poverty, limited employment opportunities, educational disadvantage and lack of physical and economical infrastructures. Most of public life in Jerusalem is conducted in Hebrew: daily affairs in the realms of public services, government institutions, employment, health, higher education and leisure are for the overwhelming part solely accessible to Hebrew-speakers. As a consequence, lack of Hebrew proficiency has become one of the main obstacles preventing East Jerusalem residents from leading a fair life. Hebrew knowledge thus constitutes a determining factor in assessing their chances of achieving an equal standard of living. The situation is even worse among East Jerusalem women who are less exposed to Hebrew than men are. At the same time, the lack of Arabic knowledge prevents Hebrew-speaking personnel from providing essential services to East Jerusalem residents who, as native Arabic speakers, constitute more than a third of the city’s population.
It is against this background that in 2013, a group of women from Issawiya, East Jerusalem, approached us in their search for a Hebrew study program that would suit their pressing needs. These women found themselves facing a language barrier on a daily basis, particularly in their attempts to deal with governmental institutions, to access medical care and to integrate into the labour market, higher education and leisure systems. The women expressed to us their sense of low self-esteem and dependency resulting from their lack of Hebrew knowledge. Hence we began to hold informal weekly meetings with this group of women during which we assisted them learn Hebrew. As the number of participants increased, we started recruiting more volunteers. After about a year and in collaboration with the Issawiya Community Center, we established the volunteer-based project “Women Speaking Hebrew”.
The growing demand for participation in the project, together with a mounting interest in our activities from parties in both East and West Jerusalem, led us to establish Lissan in 2015.
Our Action Principles
Grassroots action – we provide a response to those who, recognizing a need for language proficiency, approach our organization on their own initiative. Our operation spreads through the communities of both students and volunteers, organically expanding its circles of influence and exposing many young adults to a more layered and comprehensive picture of Jerusalem’s reality.
Providing immediate communication skills - to reinforce the participants’ status in both private and public spheres, and to promote one’s right to be able to orientate autonomously and have access to resources.
Cultural and topical relevance - we recognize the importance of culturally adjusting our programs to target audiences. Our learning materials and study space have been especially built to meet our students’ particular needs, time availability and geographical limitations.
Volunteering in a multi-cultural and multi-sectoral environment - Our association relies primarily on instructors who teach in our projects on a volunteer basis, out of a sense of social commitment. All of our projects are run by volunteer teams composed of Arabic and Hebrew speakers. We regard its volunteers as potential agents of change in the city, and offers them a training and enrichment program as well as continual professional counseling.
Equal opportunity and economic accessibility - in order to circumvent socio-economic barriers, our programs are offered to participants at a for a symbolic enrollment fee.
Practical study programs - The curriculum we have developed is tailored to our target audiences and focuses on a variety of themes that are immediately relevant to our students. Subjects of study include: fulfillment of rights, employment, bureaucracy, family, medicine, orientation in the public space, and more. An emphasis is placed on conversational language skills: oral self-expression abilities are developed to enhance the students’ sense of adequacy and self-confidence through an experiential and interactive learning method. Each class is led by a team of 3-4 volunteer instructors at a ratio of one instructor to about 5 students. This makes it possible to divide the class into small practice groups during the lesson, providing students with sustained individual attention and a continuous conversation practice.
Training and accompaniment programs - Our association’s staff runs professional trainings several times a year and provides year-long professional accompaniment, thus guaranteeing counseling quality and constant supervision of classroom activities.
Staff and Board
Chief Executive Officer
Educator and a group facilitator.
B.Ed. from the Institute for Democratic Education, M.A in History and Native American studies from NAU.
Chief Operating Officer
B.A. in General and Comparative Literature and the 'Amirim' program at the Hebrew University.
Dr. Liat Kozma
Director of Partnerships
B.A. in Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies and Near Eastern & Judaic Studies, with a minor in Politics, from Brandeis University.
Associate Professor in the Hebrew University Department of Islam and Middle East Studies; historian of women, gender and sexuality in the Middle East and history of medicine; has been teaching at the Hebrew University since 2007.
M.A. in History from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; fellow of the Institute of Halacha Leadership, Midreshet Lindenbaum.
B.A. in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Teacher Certification in History Studies (TeachFirstIsrael Program- HOTAM); M.Ed. in Multidisciplinary Studies in the Humanities in Oranim Academic college
Specializes in education in conflict societies and textbooks and identity in the Middle East.
A Senior Lecturer at the Seymour Fox School of Education at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a tenure lecturer and teacher trainer at the David Yellin Teacher College, Jerusalem.
Dr. Samira Alayan
PhD student in the Linguistics Department, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Certified Hebrew teacher and a lecturer in Linguistics and Pedagogy on teachers' training program.
Recently co-authored a Hebrew textbook designed for asylum seekers and work migrants in Israel.
Program Coordinator - Medabrot Ivrit with MAAN and MATI
B.A. in Education and Political Science from the Hebrew University; Certificate of Teaching Hebrew as a Second Language from the Rothberg International School. Prior to Lissan, Yuli managed a Hebrew Ulpan for asylum seekers at the African Community Center in Jerusalem and worked in the Labor and Social Welfare Department at the Headquarters for Promoting Arab Employment.
Program Coordinator - Medabrot Ivrit at Hebrew University
Writer and student, working towards a B.A. in Arabic Language Education and Literature at the Hebrew University.
B.Sc. in Life Science and Biology
The Hebrew University's Social Involvement Unit, Isawiah Community Center, MiniActive program of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, WAC-MAAN (the Workers Advice Center), MATI (the Jerusalem Business Development Center), United Hatzalah of Israel, Rothschild Ambassadors program, Brera Center, Sulamot project, One Language (Safa Ahat), The Center for Educational Technology, Shatil, the American Center, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, The Rayne Foundation