My son Uriel graduated recently from his junior school (the Nachshon boys-school in Kedumim).
In the schoolyard's little amphitheatre, the proud parents watched the children perform in their physical exercises, flag march and skits and songs that the boys had written and produced themselves (naturally, with the guidance of their teacher, Rav Einan Shimon and school head Mrs. Elana Rosen).
Each short play related a story or described a scene that was meant to deliver an educational message. One was about accepting the differences between the various Jewish communities: Ashkenazim, Sepharadim, Yemenites and Ethiopians.
Another skit was about our attitude toward all people in our society, even those who believe that we should give up our houses and be turned into refugees. To convey this message, the children wrote a story about two groups of demonstrators, rightists and leftists. As the conflict between the groups heated up, one of the demonstrators got accidentally injured and needed a life saving blood transfusion. The climax was that one of the members of the opposite group of demonstrators provided the needed blood donation!
Another play was about relations between religious and secular Jews. Two children portrayed two guardian angels who were watching over two other boys, one who represented the Orthodox community and the other was an unobservant Israeli. Each guardian angel seemed eager to prove that "his" boy was better and criticise the other child. At the end of the scene, G-d himself intervened and rebuked both angels for their unnecessary judgmental conduct.
These were the massages that the 12 years old pupils were conveying in the schoolyard of Kedumim, one of the first Jewish settlements in Samaria. Despite the complex reality that they encounter every day, with its physical dangers and social disapproval, the children of Kedumim chose to express their faith in tolerance and solidarity.
Sitting in the little amphitheatre, my eyes were drawn to the beautiful landscape of the surrounding hills. Among the hills, I saw the lights of the surrounding settlements: Shavei Shomron, Chomesh and Har Bracha. My thoughts wandered to the neighbouring settlements and to the roads that wind around the hills. All these places suffered murderous terrorist attacks in the last few years.
I could see other lights too. The lights of the surrounding Arab villages and the city of Nablus. As I followed the 'productions' of Uriel and his classmates, I looked at these flickering lights and wondered what sort of graduation parties may be going on for all the other 12 year olds in the area - Arabs and Jews.
I remember seeing on television reports on some graduation parties in Nablus and the villages. I couldn't help wondering if they are dancing around cardboard busses that depict the scenes of brutal massacres, carried out against defenceless Israeli civilians. Are they painting their children's hands with red paint to symbolise Jewish blood? Are they buying them plastic rifles to wave in their parties? Are they dressing them in belts with mock explosives, portraying homicide bombers as heroic martyrs? Are they teaching them songs of hatred and rejection of their neighbours?
Only a few minutes drive separate the schoolyard of Kedumim and similar schoolyards in Nablus, but the children of the two communities seem to live on two different planets. Despite the hostile environment, we try to bring up our children with noble values, without any hint of hatred or vengeance.
We were immensely proud to see them writing and performing about the values of love, acceptance and understanding. What hurts me the most is that probably sitting in the Arab schoolyards are also proud parents. Are they all so proud of what their children are being taught? Maybe and hopefully some of the parents would like to see a different sort of education. Surely there must be some out there who think a little differently. In fact, I know that they exist. I remember some of them from pre-intifada times. Abu Ata who used to graze his sheep near us and welcomed us wholeheartedly when we came to Kedumim! (No wonder he was so happy to see us as the settlers brought with them electricity, water and decent roads). Louis who fixed our antenna. Ashraf who made us beautiful metal tables. I know they don't want their children to be suicide bombers, so why do they let their children be educated to hate? When will we hear their voices?
Our children are our future. We all live in a hope that their world will be better than our present. What we teach our children is likely to remain deep in their souls for the rest of their lives. I'm glad that within all the political mess we are in, we are still able to teach our children higher values.
In just a few short years Uriel and his classmates will be guarding Israel. May G-d protect them and bless our children with a happy future.
Mirry Reich, 19/August/2004