The hallway walls have arge windows that look inside the classrooms whose windows in turn look outward. This “stream of light” contrasts with the hidden location of the institution, which can be found behind the millennium-old wall of Jerusalem’s Old City. Jerusalem’s Terra Sancta High School is located inside the Old City, and it is accessible via the Damascus Gate and the New Gate. In order to get here, one must pass through the courtyard of Holy Savior’s Monastery, which belongs to the Custody of the Holy Land.
The school is located in one of the most coveted places of Jerusalem. It is close to the commercial epicenter of the Old City Damascus Gate. Serving the people in the Old City, the Franciscan school now educates 371 students, most of them coming mainly from within the Old City and the others making the trip from Jerusalem’s suburbs.
The history of this school is anything but simple, according to Br. Ramzi Sidawi, the school principal, who is originally from Jerusalem. “The school has experienced successive wars in the city. It had to move to different buildings. From Terra Santa School in West Jerusalem near the current Great Synagogue to the Jaffa Gate,” said the friar in calm tone. “With the renovation of the building in 1958, the school moved to the monastery property,” he said. It enrolls students from ages 5 to 18.”
The Terra Sancta schools, which are located throughout the Holy Land, in both Israel and Palestine, were originally created for Christians. Over time, they opened up to students of other religions. “Many Muslims come here because the Christian schools are renowned for the education they provide.”
Faced with the changing moods of the city, families and faculty have learned to manage the situation every day through good times and bad, and the school has moved forward with prudence, despite the challenges for the students’ future. “Our goals? Developing the academic program in optimal material conditions. When the content changes, the way we teach it also has to change, and it has to become more interactive and open to the world. We are now renovating parts of the facility in order to create more classrooms and provide comfort for students, teachers and administrators. We are making good progress.”
After much hard work, the school is becoming a social center where children can play and families can come to get away and gather. “During the least favorable times, people seek out a place to relax, play and meet other people,” said Br. Ramzi.
The atmosphere in the courtyard is lively. In a field, a volleyball game is in progress. To see it, you have to cross three small guards who ensure that adults do not enter. Green light, permission granted, the friar and his guest are welcome. The guard reactivates his stern look immediately as a warning to anyone who may dare approach the door.
The school follows the Tawjihi educational system, “The school also teaches Hebrew, a language that is essential today for daily life.” Increasingly, many people are learning Hebrew, the language used by Palestinians in Jerusalem for bureaucracy and work. So, this school at the heart of the cultural richness of the city and in a place of historical and political conflicts, is preparing its students for the future while adapting to the demands of the present.
Name: Terra Sancta High School – Jerusalem
Name of Director: Fr. Ramzi Sidawi
Number of students: 371
Schools of the Custody in Israel
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Nazareth on the way to citizenship while respecting its own identity
Haifa: the Italian school of the Carmelites is now Franciscan
Ramla, an isolated Christian community that is open to the world
Terra Santa School in Jaffa: Arab students at the heart of Israeli society
Schools of the Custody in Palestine
Terra Sancta Jericho, the school in an oasis