Shirin Natour Hafi, a courageous visionary and an innovative educational leader, grew up in a Muslim family, attended a Catholic elementary school and a Jewish high school, and later studied at Bar-Ilan University. After earning a BA in Arabic language and Jewish literature, an MA in Arabic language, and a teaching certificate, she became a successful teacher, educator, mentor, and principal in her native city of Lod – a mixed community of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian residents.
In 2009, at the invitation of the Lod Municipality, Shirin established the city’s first Arab public high school. The school, now part of the ORT network, serves a neighborhood whose youth comes of age in a climate of violence, organized crime, entrenched family feuds, and perceptions of the social sphere as a no-man’s-land, leading to a lack of faith in state authorities and alienation.
Anchored in a deep understanding of the local community and of Israeli society, Shirin’s clear vision, alongside her unwavering persistence, are transforming this reality. She is working to strengthen the identity of youth in her care by addressing their emotional and social needs and the substantial educational gaps they face. And she is working to strengthen their sense of belonging by connecting them with the rich tradition of the Arab culture, as well as rehabilitating their self-esteem and preparing them for a trajectory of higher education and successful participation in the Israeli economy.
Shirin has also founded an extensive volunteering program at the school, recruiting key players in the community and throughout Israel to help students to find their place within Israeli society and engage them in learning. In this framework, students and faculty from the Weizmann Institute have been meeting with small groups of high school students on a weekly basis over the last decade. In this setting, the Weizmann mentors provide them with educational support for the students’ science curriculum. Recently, a group of talented students from the Lod school has started a high-level physics program at the Schwartz/Reisman Science Education Center – Rehovot.
Shirin’s efforts have contributed to reduced violence and a dramatic growth in the number of Lod youth who are eligible for high school matriculation, and a growing number of alumni who continue on to higher education while giving back to their community through volunteer work. She has been included in The Marker’s list of 40 most promising young adults in Israel and in the Ha'aretz newspaper’s list of the 50 most influential figures in education in 2012.