"And You Shall Observe the Feast of Weeks" (Exodus 34:22)
– Within a Bi-National, Bi-Lingual Community As Well?
Amir Shlomian (translation from Hebrew: Revital Sella)
There is little that we may take for granted when planning the celebration of a festival in our bi-national bi-lingual community – the Waldorf Arabic-Hebrew speaking Ein Bustan kindergarten. Two festivals were chosen this school year for communal celebration – Eid el Adha, one of the two important Muslim festivals was celebrated in the fall, and this week we celebrated Shavu'ot, second of the three pilgrimage festivals in Judaism. In Ein Bustan we have learnt that every challenge is an opportunity for growth and improvement, simply by dint of experiencing it time and again. So we rallied forces and worked together – Arabs and Jews prepared the celebration, and Jews and Arabs cleared up after the event.
Our educational project comprises fifty children this school year in four age-groups. Dozens of people showed up for the afternoon event – a kaleidoscope of accents and attire, from jeans and T-shirt to long sleeved dresses and head-dress. Brimming with parents, grandparents and siblings – its fences, trees, stairs and garden-gate all covered in white and decorated with flowers and wheat stalks - the large Nisan garden was resplendent. In various corners big and small congregated to produce garlands for the children's heads, fruit salads and cheese cakes, flour from the wheat collected in advance – smiling faces and beaming eyes.
After forty-five minutes – beckoned by notes from the flute - all the children gathered on one of the mats on the grass and the entire congregation chanted the welcome song Ahalan wa-Sahalan Sharaftuna, familiar to a large majority of th
e celebrators. The next song was Saleinu 'al Ktefeinu, followed by a dance of children and kindergarten teachers as Ibtisam, one of the teachers, told the story of a shepherd's encounter with a sly fox on the way to his plot of land.
All is well that ends well – the fox turned tail. The story was told in Arabic without translation and all the children repeated certain rhythmic lines performing all the correct gestures that go with them with the pleasure of those who know what they're doing.
The Hebrew song Se u-Gdi Yazu Yahdav el ha-Sade (About a goat and kid) was integrated into the story and the children moved comfortably between the two languages, no questions asked.
We are not there yet, but some questions have long been resolved. Hebrew songs and Arabic songs
sung together one after the other - a passer by may well believe it is a simple common occurrence, after all why should not the two nations celebrate their comradeship, their togetherness? But we, who perform this daily task, truly relish it, knowing nothing equals the brotherhood achieved through sincere and exacting inner effort.
The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost goes by many different names. The children celebrate the Feast of Harvest, as of course both nations rejoice with the harvesters in the ripe golden wheat and the beautiful fields, and what can be more natural than celebrating this together? We, the adults, can relate to additional aspects of Pentecost – handing down of the Torah by God through Moses on Mount Sinai, the story of Ruth. After the death of her husband, Ruth of Moab follows her mother in law to Bethlehem. When the latter asks the young widow to return to her father's home, she replies: "…where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16). Ruth makes her own destiny, choosing her people and her God. We all may exercise free choice but only a few of us venture to decide who we want to be. It takes a high level of spiritual maturity, and perhaps Boaz appreciated this fact when he acknowledged Ruth as a Woman of Valor, and offered her to rebuild her life by his side in Bethlehem. In this sense Pentecost is a celebration of the capacity to accept the Other and to dare to change, to muster the courage to do what it takes in order to be who we truly want and must be.
It is therefore the Eid, the Hag, the Festival of Ein Bustan.