“This is who I am and I am happy with how I am”:
A Bridge Between Arab and Jewish Children in Ein Bustan
By Anat Tulnai
Anat Tulnai is a Jewish woman originally from Haifa. She is married to
Ihsan Ka’abiya, a Bedouin (Moslem) Arab.
Our daughter, Maya Ka’abiya Tulnai, will shortly celebrate her 6th birthday, and this is her second year in the Arab-Jewish kindergarten Ein Bustan, in the village of Hilf. From her name, it is possible to understand that Maya is growing up in a mixed Arab-Jewish family. She is exposed to two nationalities and two languages, and she needs to deal with this! It is quite clear that in Israel, it is no simple matter to be “half and half”.
When my husband Ihsaan and myself (Maya’s parents) met 9 years ago, our initial thoughts about our mutual future were accompanied by quite a few concerns, at least on my part. In the present day Israeli reality it is difficult to be a mixed Arab-Jewish couple, and all the more difficult to establish a bi-national family.
My initial instinct, years before Maya made her appearance in our lives, was that it is necessary to create an environment that is as protective as possible, for children like her. Thus, when she comes into the world and is exposed to opinions and comments of those that see such a relationship as an impossible, or even disgraceful mix of incompatibilities - she will already have gained enough self confidence to reply: “This is who I am and I am happy with how I am”.
When Maya reached the age of four, I suddenly found out that there is such a place, not far from our home, that can offer Maya much more than a sane bi-national “protective bubble” in our war-torn reality. That place is the Ein Bustan kindergarten.
Since then, we are here, and I don’t want to go into lengthy descriptions in order to describe just how much such a joint kindergarten of Arab and Jewish children, that respects the different homes that the children come from, is important for me. It is here that Maya discovers friends that come from both of her origins. Her Arabic is also improving (her Mother tongue is Hebrew, probably because I am her Mother!), and I can confidently say that this connection between her two national identities in the kindergarten has enriched her. It is expressed, for example, in her pride in being both “Ivrit” [Hebrew] (which is how she refers to “my side”, the Jews) and “Aravit”[Arabic]. The contribution of the kindergarten is also apparent in the easy and natural manner in which she can switch between playing with the children from the village that her father came from - to playing with my sister’s children.
From the close acquaintance that I have with some of the parents, both Jewish and Arab, I think that the joint kindergarten also contributes significantly to the children who have two parents of the same nationality, both in the present and in the future. Maya often returns home after a day in the kindergarten, and tells us what she played with her Jewish friends and what she played with her Arab friends. At times, the children designate a division into “camps” - Jews playing with Jews, and Arabs with Arabs. I assume that this is due to the fact that since the children are older, language already plays an important function in creating relationships. However, despite this, there is much joint free play, and over time, relationships develop that are not dependant or related to the religious or national identity of each child.
Anyone who is interested in hearing more about the kindergarten or about us, is invited to ask me.
(Translation from Hebrew: Rachel Gottlieb)