The seasons have changed once more. Once again, the wheat in the kindergarten’s vegetable patch has grown greener and higher. This week, after it seemed that winter had ended before it had scarcely begun, the skies graced us with rain. Gray clouds released their drops from above like a parting gift. Tu Bishvat, [the Jewish New Year of the Trees], has passed, the almond trees are blooming, and the children are sweet - as they always are. Yet I find that it is difficult for me to tell you about the lovely Tu Bishvat walk that we went on in our beautiful nature reserve, or of the gay and well-attended meeting of the mother’s crafting group in which we made felt animals and gnomes. I find it difficult because these days are different, and this year is different.
I am well aware that we live in a war-torn country, and I know that despite the fact that I believed and hoped differently - this is our reality. However, the recent war in Gaza -inane and futile as it was - hit me hard.
One morning, in the midst of the war, the parents of the kindergarten gathered together in the welcoming home of Fahima and Muhammed. The get-together was originally meant for the parents of those children destined to go into first grade this coming Fall, and therefore their future first grade teacher, Roy, was also present. Not all of the parents were able to attend, however I feel that each of us that attended will never forget the feelings of intimacy and truth that were born in that room.
One of the Bedouin [Arab] mothers told us that she knows what bereavement is like. The bereavement of mothers in Gaza for their children, the bereavement of the soldier’s mothers for their sons; and her own brother had died (during his duty as an Israeli soldier) in Lebanon. One of the Jewish parents related that his son was currently serving in Gaza, and how one evening his heart froze at a sudden knock on the door, and how he was sure that the military has come to announce that his son had been killed…and how it was only the neighbors that had come to pay a visit. His wife peeked out from the bedroom, where she had sought refuge from the terrible news she felt sure was to come, and he berated the visitors: “Don’t you know that during war time you should never knock on the door like that, without letting us know that you are coming?” People talked about feeling detached, about the fear of not belonging to your own “tribe”. (During the war there was such a widespread consensus regarding the validity of the military action that it was nearly impossible to be against the patriotic spirit that swept the home front, with all the women in the community around us busy knitting hats for the soldiers.)
The Bedouin parents talked about the difficulty of not belonging to any side. If they dare to express their disapproval of the war, the Jews say to them “If you don’t like it here, join your brothers in Gaza”, whereas in the eyes of the Arab world, they are considered traitors for consorting with the Jews. The Jewish parents talked about the difficult and lonely feeling of being seen very practically as traitors, about how difficult it is to think and believe differently than the grocer, the bus driver, the neighbors, even differently than their own friends, or sometimes their own family: namely, that this war is completely futile. That every war is futile. That it is possible and necessary to do things differently, and we must do things differently. I don’t remember all of the words, nor all of the stories, but we sat together and talked, and cried, and sat together in silence when we had no more words, or when they failed to express what was in our hearts. And most importantly, we felt that we were not alone.
At the end of the war, we packed up seemingly endless boxes and bags of food, baby formula, baby clothes, diapers, clothing, blankets and mattresses, which we collected and sent to Gaza. As if somehow to reach out our hands over the enormous space dividing us from Gaza, over the desperation covered kilometers, as if to say: we are thinking of you with all of our hearts, and (as far as I am concerned, at least): sorry.
Somehow, despite the war, and despite the elections, life goes on.
A few small yet significant events that took place recently in the kindergarten relate to our relationships with the wider community, both in Tivon and throughout the Galilee.
Yaffa, an experienced Waldorf kindergarten teacher, arrived to give us a lecture. The meeting was humorous and enriching: Yaffa’s punch lines were as good as any stand-up artist’s, and the meeting engaged our curiosity to further our knowledge and gain new insights.
At the beginning of February a group of students from the Oranim Teacher Training College, who were studying to become kindergarten and school teachers, visited our kindergarten. The visit came about in reaction to very critical comments which were made in their classroom about the possibility of Arab and Jewish children studying together. Their teacher wanted to show them that other possibilities do exist. The students were introduced for the first time to Waldorf education and to Arab-Jewish education. They listened to a short survey about the Ein Bustan kindergarten and about Waldorf Education in general, they listened to the personal stories of parents that came to meet with them, and they were able to ask questions freely. They were not afraid to ask frank questions such as : “Were you (the kindergarten parents) “For the State of Israel or Against It during the war”? And it was important that they were able to receive an answer that reminded them that we are all part of the State of Israel - and yet , it is possible to be against the war.
We were also blessed with a project lead by three charming women: S’maher, Orna and Sarah, from the project “Galilead” a partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel committed to cultivating and training a new generation of Arab and Jewish leaders in the Galilee who share a common desire to develop a new reality for the region. They are leading the mothers of the kindergarten in regular “listening circles”. The first meeting created the feeling that we can be very close and conscious of each other. I hope that a permanent group will form, that will be able to provide real support and counteract the sense of loneliness that some of us experienced during the war.
I look towards the future with a sense of curiosity and optimism.
The wheat will become golden and the children will harvest it and grind it into flour, as they do every year, and they will then use the flour to bake Matsohs (unleavened bread) for Passover. Once again, we will bake the matsohs in the mud brick oven that the children will build in the garden. In April we are planning a Spring Fair and benefit concert for the kindergarten, like the one that we did last year, and I am certain that it will be no less successful. Members of the group “Walk About Love” will arrive in our area towards the end of April, and I hope that they will join us in a project to clean up the Wadi (a dry riverbed) that passes below our kindergarten. A group of parents and children already started this project, equipped with gloves and trash bags, however in order to tackle the job properly we need a small tractor and another dozen good pairs of hands…
I think that our most important lesson as parents in this kindergarten is that it enables us to experience the wonder of our plans and dreams coming true. And for this, I send a huge heartfelt thank you to all of the parents, teachers, and to all our friends and supporters, and to all those that share our dream.
Simona Matsliah Hanoch
Translation from Hebrew and photos: Rachel Gottlieb