The Opening of the NSWAS Primary School

Extracted from the Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam Newsletter #20
(August, September, October, 1984).


A letter from the Editor - September 10, 1984


Dear Friends of Neve Shalom*,

I hope you will forgive me for deviating in this way from the usual format of the newsletter; but I have just had an experience which I want to share with you. I can’t do justice to it by way of formal reporting in the third person. This has to be a personal account, for I have been moved in a way I don’t remember having been moved before.

I have just come from the opening of THE NEVE SHALOM PRIMARY SCHOOL… the first bi-lingual, Arab-Jewish school in Israel. That is a veritable landmark in the history of Neve Shalom and, by its very nature, must surely have repercussions further afield.

But I must start at the beginning and lead up to that moment – only an hour or so ago as I write – when a lump came to my throat and I was unashamed of the tears in my eyes.

For some months I have been writing in the newsletters of the construction of the school building and I have endeavored to share the excitement with you as we watched it taking shape. The last few weeks have witnessed a frenzy of activity as everyone with any time to spare has used it to help out with the painting and cleaning or whatever had to be done at that particular moment towards the preparation of the schoolroom. The opening date was finally fixed for today (although our children started to learn at the beginning of the school year, a week ago) and, last night – at sundown – we all gathered to talk about it and to "get into the mood". The children, of course, have been following all the progress with great interest and knew some of the delights and novelties in store for them, so they were ready to tell us what they were looking forward to most the next morning. The tone was set; the excitement was not confined to the little ones.

(We have now, living in Neve Shalom eleven children of primary school age and six toddlers – from 6 months to 4 years – who still continue to be looked after in the kindergarten. I must not forget Hila, who will be "bat mitzvah" (12 years old) at the end of this month. She had outgrown the kindergarten before it was even started here so has always attended the school in the nearby kibbutz. She is our "eldest".

This morning, sharp at 8 o’clock, Eti and Abed emerged from the schoolroom and rang the school bell! We were all waiting on the doorstep… every one of the children and their baby brothers and sisters; all their parents; "the elders" of the community; the "singles" and our volunteers, as well as a few friends who, coincidentally and luckily, happened to be here this morning.

What we saw when we went into the school was what brought tears to my eyes; an open-plan schoolroom with invitingly laid-out corners ready to cater for the various age groups. Each section contained by bookshelves, or a cupboard, or a pin-up board; all decorated and embellished by pictures and posters with Hebrew and Arabic print everywhere in gay lettering. Everything was gleaming with fresh pastel-shaded new paint and the sun was streaming through the many windows. If ever inanimate objects were arranged to proclaim a message of hope and faith, here was the perfect setting. The children themselves quickly completed the picture. I don’t believe that any one of the adults present was less affected than I was by what was taking place at that moment.

Soon Eti and Abed had us all sitting in a large circle and the "proceedings" began with the singing of the popular Hebrew song "Hinei mah tov u’mah naim shevet achim beyahad: (How good and pleasant it is when brothers are sitting together.) Eti produced a scrap book in which she had already begun to record the history of the school – beginning with photographs of the bare site taken about a year ago. (The flashing of bulbs this morning assured me that there will be ample record of this moment too.)

The one serious note was struck by Father Bruno who, as Founder of Neve Shalom, said how he regarded this moment as the peak of fourteen years of struggle, hard work and dedication by a wonderful group of people who had stuck to their ideals and were now being rewarded by witnessing this most important step forwards towards the realization of their goals. He likened the opening of the school to the growth before the tree itself grows and bears fruit. Turning to the children he told them to remember this day well because, in years to come, when the Neve Shalom school has perhaps hundreds of Arab and Jewish pupils, they will be able to say with a great deal of pride that they were the first; and they should notice everything today so that they will be able to describe it and to relive the excitement and the happiness they were feeling now…

As the parents kissed their children goodbye and went their various ways, and all the others left to continue their normal daily work and activities, I slipped back into the classroom and watched the children settling down in their different corners, each eager to explore the new facilities and equipment provided for them. The mixture of languages was already audible – particularly because three of the children are "newcomers" to Neve Shalom (two families having arrived within the last two weeks).  But there was no difference when it came to the eagerness, excitement and anticipation on the faces of the children.

What an opportunity; what hope; what confidence.

Inevitably I allowed my mind to project itself 15 or 20 years ahead when these children will be young adults. I wondered if they will still be sitting together unquestioning, relaxed, untroubled. I had to ask myself the question – what is the world going to do to them? Will they be allowed to continue in this way? What can we do; what dare we do but hope… and continue the work just starting in this one classroom, in this tiny community?

As I am thinking now of the significance of the work we have just begun, I am awed by its magnitude… and very proud to be even a small part of it.

So can you blame me for wanting to share all this with you? For you are our friends, the people who understand, support and encourage us and are associated with our ambitious aims. You are the people of vision and foresight who will determine the success or failure of what was started here this morning. Do you blame me for wanting to describe it to you in this way?

From Neve shalom, the Oasis of Peace – with hope.




* It became common to refer to the village with its full Hebrew/Arabic name ("Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam") only later.


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