by Karen Gierlach

In March of this year, I had the pleasure of facilitating a biography workshop in the small Arab village of Hilf, near Haifa in Israel. It was hosted by the Ein Bustan Waldorf kindergarten, a warm and welcoming young school that educates Arab and Jewish children together in the same classroom. This kind of school is rare in Israel. The teachers plan to eventually open an integrated, bi-lingual elementary school in which the children will receive the Waldorf curriculum in both Arabic and Hebrew.

In attendance were parents and teachers from the Ein Bustan kindergarten, as well as from the El Zeitoun Arab Waldorf school in nearby Sh’faram, and also from other Jewish Waldorf schools in the region, one of which is closely connected to the El Zeitoun school. (There are a great number of Jewish Waldorf schools in Israel, where they are well respected and subsidized by the Ministry of Education.)

My presentations about the different life phases, which as human beings we all share, were initially translated into both Arabic and Hebrew. Soon, however, one of the Jewish participants suggested we omit the Hebrew in the interests of time, and because most of the Hebrew speakers could understand the English quite well. This is what we then did, and for once the Arab members of the group were given more consideration and time. The large group of 28 frequently broke into small ever-changing groups of 3, in which participants shared experiences and stories from their respective lives. These were conducted in whichever language worked best for the constellation of people in the group. Many of the participants had not met each other before. Most of them had never visited, nor seen the Bedouin village of Hilf, nor the Ein Bustan kindergarten. Likewise, many of the Jewish teachers and parents had not ever been to the El Zeitoun Waldorf School, nor met members of that Arab Waldorf community.

It was a great pleasure for me to witness all the different meetings that took place throughout the day-long workshop, amid laughter and some tears, as participants shared stories from their often very different lives. At lunch-time we all were restored by a delicious, multi-cultural meal.

As a Waldorf graduate myself, and a former Waldorf teacher, I was touched to realize that for all our differences, what we shared was a love of Waldorf education. It provided a common language and point of reference for the entire group. It had brought us together from across the globe and across invisible local boundaries as well. How heartening to think that the Arab and Jewish kindergarten students of today will in the future also be connected to each other by virtue of having shared the same curriculum and same healing and enlivening Waldorf school experience. And, they will have become members of a world-wide community, beyond the confines of their home environment.

May these bridge-building schools in Israel and Palestine flourish in the future, (a pilot kindergarten program has also just begun in Jenin), so that there will be many children living in both Israel and Palestine, Hebrew and Arab-speaking, who share the same Waldorf education. It is, after all, an education which directly came into being out of an impulse to heal children traumatized by war. In addition, it aims to develop capacities for insight and compassion, so that, in the future, its graduates will be able to create a better world.