Amir writes very briefly that the ongoing existence of the joint Arab-Jewish Waldorf kindergarten “Ein Bustan”, now in its fourth year, “is not to be taken for granted.” I would like to share with you some personal experiences that point out why this is so, experiences that have strengthened my perception of the important role that this initiative has in promoting a better future for our children and ourselves.
My son was in the first group of children in the mixed kindergarten, and attended happily for two years (he is now in first grade). Towards the end of this period, a neighbor of mine in Kiryat Tivon invited me to an informal get- together in his back yard, with his adult friends and their children. One of the mothers casually asked me what kindergarten my child was attending. When I told her that he was in a joint Arab and Jewish kindergarten, her reaction was one of shock and disapproval: "How can you possibly send him there?" She proceeded to lecture to me how Arab children were by nature violent and that my son was in danger of being hit. As for culture, in her opinion the Arabs lacked anything that could be described as culture, and in fact, any culture they did have was an inferior collection of primitive customs connected to the Moslem religion - an intolerant religion that that was in itself inherently connected to primitive forms of violence. In order to "prove" her point, she exclaimed: "Don't you know that their very own holy book, the Koran, calls for Jihad against anyone who is not Moslem?" At this point, before I could interject a word, her husband then proceeded to point an accusing finger at me: "As for you – it's because of so called "bleeding heart liberals", people like you, that encourage this sort of thing, that our country is disintegrating, can't you read the writing on the wall? People like you want us to think that there really is the possibility of living together, but you are just naïve. They are just waiting for us (Jews) to be gone. They are just waiting to stab you in the back." Incredulous, I listened as he continued to accuse me "and all your left wing friends" of being the unpatriotic enemy, ungrateful for the many sacrifices made on my behalf, and undermining my own culture in what is supposed to be a Jewish state.
Ironically, during the whole time that I was listening to this racist tirade about the uncultured Moslems and my lack of responsibility in associating with them, (not to mention the scandal of letting my young son actually be with them on a daily basis), these middle class, college-educated Israeli Jews were happily making traditional Arab pitot (flatbread) on a saj (traditional Arab cooking apparatus) over a fire, and then spreading the finished pita with *labaneh and zaatar(* traditional Palestinian food: cheese and hyssop spice.)
Before I could say a word in response, my son, whom I thought had been busy playing with the other children, apparently had overheard some of our conversation and worriedly asked me who wanted to stick a knife in my back. At this stage, I quickly reassured him that nobody intended to do any such thing, and it was late, and really time that we be getting home, at which point we took leave of our Arab hating friends as they continued to happily eat their pitot with zaatar.
At home, I was angry and upset. My feeling that I live in an enlightened small "bubble" of sanity in a liberal town was shaken. It is not that I was unaware that such opinions such as those that I heard are widespread. However, perhaps many people keep them to themselves during their day-to-day life, out of "political correctness", only speaking out when they feel secure enough to do so among those that have similar opinions, or when they get really mad and see people like me as a real threat that needs to be taken care of. I confided in Amir, who reminded me not to take it personally and that these feelings of hate and prejudice stem from ignorance and deep-seated fears, as well as a lack of personal positive experience that shows them things can be different.
I wonder - do the Arab families in our kindergarten encounter similar disapproval from their friends and family? Are they considered “selling out” on their culture by attending a mixed kindergarten?
But why am I so surprised? Racial hatred, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination against Arabs are common and in fact ingrained in Israel from an early age. They pervade almost every area of our life and children absorb them without even realizing they have done so, without giving them a second thought. Growing up as a child in Israel, I frequently heard the phrases “Arab work” as a synonym for poor or shoddy work, “Arab taste” as a derogatory comment for ugly clothes, and even “Arab colors”. In school, I never learned the Arabic language and so am unable to understand anyone speaking the language near by, leading to apprehension about what they are saying, and not being able to really communicate. The very fact that Arabic language was not part of the obligatory curriculum (and still is not) was a communication from the country’s institutions that it is not necessary or important. The fact that we remain ignorant of this language is also a way to create a distance between the two peoples, make us more attached and “loyal” to our own culture, suspicious of the other culture, apprehensive about what we cannot understand. It makes it easier to dislike or hate the other side. It makes us better soldiers.
Last year, I was encouraged and hopeful that change had finally come to our small town and the surrounding Bedouin villages, when our mayor addressed a mixed audience of Jews, Christian and Moslems in the local cultural hall (such a gathering was in itself a milestone!) in the Arabic language. But recently, this same mayor used anti-Arab sentiment in order to gain a few more votes in the election, and when asked “What is the main problem confronting Tivon today” replied that “The main problem confronting Tivon today are our Bedouin neighbors. They are responsible for vandalizing our parks…they need to stay in their own part of town and not enter ours or use our services".
Now, I have to remind myself that the reason that this mayor knows Arabic so well is not because he strove to learn to communicate with those different from him, but rather he learned the language as a tool of oppression during his many years of army service in the Israel Security Agency (“Shin Bet”). In fact, one of the reasons that brought my husband and I to join the kindergarten was the shamefaced realization that that the only Arabic my husband knew originated from swear words and the horrible commands that he learned to use as a soldier in the army, like: “Stop. Hands Up. Show me your identity card”. We wanted our son to know different kinds of Arabic words, like words for laughter and play and singing. My first words in Arabic were connected to things we did together in Ein Bustan: as we filled the sandbox, I learned that “Rummel” was sand, and as we sewed dolls together I learned that “Ahmar” is the color red.
Waldorf education is different in this regard. From an early age, emphasis is put on studying more than one language: this stems from the understanding that in order to understand the various cultures and people in our world, a necessary prerequisite is to understand their language and culture. In the Waldorf school my children also learn about each of the religions in the world, and are exposed to the rich complexity of other cultures besides their own, as opposed to the general ethno-centric viewpoint prevalent in the regular schools. Steiner emphasized this wider view of humanity in the aftermath of World War 1, but it is now more relevant than ever, as day to day life necessitates that we think globally, stressing the inter-connectedness between peoples and our common humanity, as we deal with the many challenges of living together on our planet.
Just a month ago, on Yom Kippur, the most holy day of the Jewish year, the city of Akko (Acre), where Arabs and Jews have lived side by side for more than 100 years, became a center of racial riots. An Arab made the mistake of driving into a mostly Jewish neighborhood in his car, on a day when driving is considered a desecration of the holy day. People screamed "Death to the Jews" or "Death to the Arabs" as they broke shop windows, burned cars and apartments and threw rocks at each other. Vehicles, stores and homes were damaged during the riots, and five houses were burnt to the ground. Jewish families cowered in their security rooms as Arab mobs gathered on the streets, and some Arab families literally were driven from their homes and feared to return. It seemed that anger that had been brewing underneath the surface for so many years erupted, prejudiced behavior took over, and fear was everywhere, rising to the surface and causing a cycle of hate and violence.
People will be quick to point out that you cannot compare Akko to Tivon and it’s neighbors. Akko is a mixed Jewish and Arab city, where Jews and Arabs live very close to each other, whereas in Tivon, we have “separate but friendly” relations with the surrounding Bedouin towns. The mayors of both towns are always quick to point out how wonderful and friendly relations are. But is this really so? If one looks beyond one’s nose, you will quickly find disturbing sentiments just below the surface of this bucolic and “enlightened” town, and sometimes people will not even bother to disguise them. Two recent examples - this past summer we discovered that a local kibbutz swimming pool had a policy (unofficial of course) of refusing pool membership to Arabs. In one of the neighborhoods of Tivon that borders the Bedouin towns, a community meeting was held to protest the sale of real estate to Arab buyers, claiming that this would destroy the neighborhood and lower the value of all the homes, anti-Arab pamphlets were distributed door to door, and people were pressured not to sell to Arabs. And what about day-to-day life? When was the last time you heard Arabic spoken in the movie theater? Or saw an Arabic-speaking child in the local community center? Did you notice how when one of the Jewish mothers saw that there was an Arabic speaking child on the play ground, she quickly rushed her own child away?
A joint educational setting against this background of long seated fear, prejudice and stereotypes can certainly not be taken for granted.
Ein Bustan parents believe that it is possible to break the cycle of violence by breaking down stereotypes, and starting at a very young age encourage our children to meet and develop friendships. We see our small kindergarten as a small "seed of hope" for the future. I believe that these families, both Moslem and Jewish, are very brave. They have stepped out of their “comfort zone”. They try to overcome their own ingrained feelings and prejudices, often going against the norm of their own community and facing disapproval from family or friends, some deal with the physical inconvenience of going to an educational setting that is not close to their home, and on a personal level, they constantly deal with the question if what they are doing is indeed fruitful for the development and happiness of their own child.
As the kindergarten enters its’ fourth year, it is no longer a vision but has become an existing fact, one that we believe will eventually cause a ripple effect as more and more people enter the circle of hope that can lead to a future based on true friendship.
But we certainly cannot take it for granted.
Maayan Babustan(Ein Bustan) POB 206, Kiryat Tivon 36011
Tel 972-53-4206133 Fax 972-4-9833688 firstname.lastname@example.org