Garden of Peace
Ein Bustan, a Jewish-Arab Waldorf Kindergarten in Israel
Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved through understanding.
In the mixed Arab Jewish kindergarten of Ein Bustan, in Hilf, Israel, the children gather in a circle to welcome the Sabbath together, a candle is lit, and they sing:
Ya raba kalina eishin basalaam
Nurek nur zrir fee albi sar kbir
Ya raba kalina eishin basalaam
With God’s help we shall live in peace,
Your light is small, but in my heart the light is great,
With God’s help we shall live in peace
Founded by parents of Jewish and Arabic descent, Ein Bustan is the first Jewish-Arab, bilingual, bicultural Waldorf kindergarten in Israel. In September, nine children entered the first grade at the Waldorf school in Kiryat Tivon, and a second group of kindergartners was established with twelve 2- to 4-year-olds.
Tensions between the Jewish and Arabic populations have increasingly sharpened since the founding of Israel in 1948. It is difficult for people elsewhere to understand the chasm, the fear, and the mistrust that has arisen between these two populations. Instead of a constitution that describes and protects the basic rights of citizens, there is a network of laws that give unequal rights to the Jewish and non-Jewish segments of the citizenry. Growing up in a Jewish community, one hardly comes into contact with the Arabic population—and vice versa. People know only a little about the culture and habits of their neighbors.
It would be far too simple to explain these tensions purely on the basis of religion or culture. The religious differences that arose in the region after the First World War are being intensified and misused by global conflicts. When you live in fear, it is not so easy to look beyond your own backyard and find solutions that include other parts of the population. Even in the country's Waldorf schools, it is not clear that disparate cultural elements are being integrated into the mostly Jewish school communities.
Waldorf as an Education for Peace
Every individual is therefore challenged to take a step toward the consciousness soul. With the consciousness soul, individual identity arrives at an image of humanity we can also recognize in our neighbor, someone who may be different from us.
A Jewish musician and peace activist, Amir Shlomian, wanted to do something concrete along these lines. His idea was to start with the children. Through Waldorf education he found an approach that appealed to his ideals for a pedagogy of peace, one that is rooted in the universally human element. He had learned about Waldorf pedagogy at the teacher training course in London.
Amir Shlomian discussed his ideas with other interested people in the area around Kiryat Tivon, where there was already a Waldorf school. In January, 2005, a group of enthusiastic parents and teachers came together to start preparations for a bicultural kindergarten. Space was found in an apartment building in Chilf, a small Bedouin village in Galilee. In September 2005, twelve children formed the new kindergarten, called Ein Bustan. Ein means "spring" or "eye;" Bustan is a walled orchard like those that used to be found in Arab villages (now often abandoned or neglected). A Jewish kindergarten teacher, Gidi Hayman, a Jewish teacher, Geshel Rozario, and two Islamic Bedouin kindergarten teachers, Ibtisam Zbidat and Amna Hilf, have supervised the two groups since September.
Meeting the Festivals of Two Faiths
The initiative is a challenge on several levels. Not only do social and cultural differences need to be bridged, but imaginative solutions are called for to face new educational issues. For instance, how can the festivals of both faiths be celebrated together? Each year at Ein Bustan, the children experience the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, and the Jewish Shavuot, the conclusion of the ritual count of 49 days between the Jewish festivals of Pesach and Shavuot (analogous
to the Christian Easter and Whitsun).
However, the kindergarten does not have the goal of making Jewish children into Islamic children or Islamic children into Jewish children. The religious foundation is laid in the family. In the kindergarten, the children can enjoy getting to know both forms and, by imitating, integrate them into their picture of the world. This may be helpful in bridging cultural isolation and fear.
The kindergarten is not only bicultural, but also bilingual. The Jewish and Arabic teachers take turns in leading the group. In this way, the children hear both languages and familiarize themselves with the sounds and expressions. From the pedagogical standpoint, a bilingual education is not necessarily ideal for very small children. But, in my opinion and in view of the situation described earlier, this weakness is far outweighed by the value of the social experience, and also by the grownups’ enthusiasm for the encounter.
Effect on the Waldorf School
The kindergarten has been operating now for two school years. In September, 2007, another group with younger children joined the kindergarten. This summer, a room was added for them in the same building.
Meanwhile, the first group of children has gone on to the Waldorf school in Kiryat Tivon, among them an Arab boy. He may not have an easy time of it in the Jewish Waldorf school, since the school does not have a bicultural approach. However, there are discussions underway about establishing a bicultural track next year. Doing so will raise different questions than those faced in a kindergarten. We can only hope that good will produces the sensible ideas needed to make further progress toward a bicultural ideal.
www.Ein-bustan.org (Website in Hebrew, German, English French and Dutch).
From: Anthroposophy Worldwide 8/07