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Three generations of the Edlund family and the WAS-NS Primary School

Tuesday 3 December 2013, by Christina Valentin, Glenn Chon

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom is today a multi-generational village. Here we tell the remarkable stories of Ety Edlund, who, together with Abdessalam Najjar, founded the Primary School; of Tom Edlund, who attended the School from its first year of existence, of Tom’s wife Keren, and of their daughter, Elenora, who attends the school, in her turn.

Ety and Kent Edlund joined the community in the early 1980s. Ety was from Israel, Kent originally from Sweden. Moving to WAS-NS with their three children, they were among its very first families – in the early years living, appropriately, in one of the community’s Swedish-style wooden bungalows.

Ety and Kent’s story has been told many times, most recently in an article appearing in a Swedish journal. And during her work in the village, Ety penned many school texts, articles for WAS-NS publications and the web site. Today, among other things, she continues to write texts for children.

Our intern, Glenn Chon, interviewed Ety about her life and work in the village, and another intern, Christina Valentin, followed up by writing about Tom and Keren, and their young children.

Ety Edlund

(by Glenn)

Why did you choose to come to live in the village?

It wasn’t my decision at first. I knew we had to move to Israel and my husband Kent promised we would even though he wanted to live in Sweden. He read an article about the village in a Swedish Newspaper and without asking he contacted the editor to inquire more details about NSWAS. They contacted him within two months telling him it was between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and he suggested I visit when I go to Israel next. When I came to visit, my friends and parents all told me it would not be a suitable place to live, that it was a dying village, etc., but my husband liked the idea and I wanted to give him another reason to stay in Israel. I was even invited to (nearby) Kibbutz Nachshon, but he insisted on coming to NSWAS. Once we started building the school I became very attached to the village.

What was your reason for starting the school with Abdessalam Najjar?

When we first moved to NSWAS our oldest son Tom was at the age of starting first grade. NSWAS was new but it didn’t have a school and I found it odd that the children were living together but not going to school together due to the separate education systems in Israel. During my time as a high school teacher, I was interviewed by a local newspaper in Sweden and they quoted me as saying “I have a dream of building a Jewish Palestinian School” - that was in July, 1983. The following January, Abdessalam Najjar (who had similar dreams) and I had started building it, step by step, and in September 1984, the Primary School opened its doors.

Why did the village decide to open the school to children from outside the village?

The school initially had 11 of the village’s children, 3 of which were mine. We did not want the school to remain only for a few children in Neve Shalom itself. We wanted the school to have a real influence upon our society. We knew that by educating children to think differently, understand their own identities and accept one another’s differences, this had an impact also upon these children’s parents and families. So slowly we began to take in children from other villages. Today children from many other towns and villages attend the school.

Do you think that the children, having attended this school, have different decisions and thoughts as a result?

The school was important to me. It was important that the children enjoyed coming. I was in charge of creatively developing the curriculum. I wanted the kids to learn how to think for themselves rather than just learn to remember hard facts.

It was important that the kids also had choices and got to voice their opinion as they wanted. Meeting and living together with Jews and Arab children was an experience and value they couldn’t obtain outside the village.

How do you feel about your granddaughter Elenora attending the school now?
I’m very excited. Elenora is the first child of a child who also started in the school from the first grade. It’s exciting because I was my son Tom’s teacher and principal and to see my granddaughter going through the same school from the same grade is very exciting.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention or add?

Throughout the years I’ve sometimes heard various parents voice dissatisfaction about the school. However, I think as long as the kid’s don’t suffer, have a good time learning, learn languages, and learn to accept others that are different, they are doing great. I’m happy to say my son agrees with me and it’s a joy to see my granddaughter in the school because of this. The values that the school teaches are just as, if not more important than the normal subjects that they’ll end up learning anyway. It is a value that will stay with them throughout their lives.

Tom and Keren

(by Christina)

Tom is the oldest child of Ety and Kent. He was born in Sweden but grew up mainly in WAS-NS, while often spending summers in Sweden.

Keren was born to a Yemenite Jewish family and grew up in a moshav just down the road from WAS-NS. However the two only met in 1997 – just a month before Tom was due to travel to the University of Gothenburg to study Applied Physics.

His journey there was quite unconventional: Tom took a flight to Rome, and from there cycled up to Sweden. On the way, he visited many European friends – the majority of these former volunteers at WAS-NS, with whom he had stayed in contact.

While Tom was studying in Sweden, Keren was doing her studies in Israel, studying law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. So for four years they maintained a long distance relationship, communicating by mail, and meeting only during holidays and semester breaks.

In 2001 Tom had the opportunity to travel to Sydney, Australia for a a year-long student exchange program, receiving a scholarship from a Swedish company for which he had been working part-time. Keren decided to join him for this.

After completing his student exchange program, Tom had to return to Sweden in order to work for the same company. "I didn’t want to live in Israel at that time," says Tom. Keren smiles that Tom is anyway much more of a Swede than an Israeli. But Keren joined him in Scandinavia, beginning a second law degree in Stockholm. A year later, Keren was able to join him in Gothenburg. In summer 2004, the couple married – first in a wedding ceremony in Sweden, then in a traditional Yemenite-Jewish wedding in Israel.

After their first child, Elenora, was born. Keren thought that she would love to have grandparents around and that something important was missing in her daughter’s life without them. So after their second child Emri was born and Keren was still on maternity leave, they decided to try out living in Israel. They came initially for one year, bringing only toys, books and clothes, and leaving all else behind.

After the year was up, they decided to stay. They found that they liked living close to Tom’s parents and in WAS-NS: Tom says that the community is the only place he can imagine living in Israel. Keren is also happy because she knows well the community and her own family live nearby.

When Tom speaks of his childhood at the school in NSWAS, he smiles a lot. He attended from the year that it opened (1984). Of the dozen pupils during those first years, the three Edlund children made up a significant proportion.

The main teachers were Abdessalam and Tom’s mother Ety. He has only good memories from that time. Though his mother was also his teacher, he doesn’t recall any problem with that.

In the early years, “Open School” teaching methods, with multi-age classes were used. He remembers how the children would choose subjects for personal study: For example, “if you wanted to do a project on birds, the teachers would guide you, but you’d work on it yourself. At the end you had a big folder with all your work, and then you would present your project to the others."

Sometimes the class split up for subjects like maths, but for most of the day, the whole class studied together, although they spoke different languages and were of different ages.

Tom remembers that in Arabic, his teacher Abdessalam (Allah irhamo /R.I.P.) put a lot of effort into getting the children’s Arabic handwriting up to snuff. He was proud of Tom because he managed to write beautiful Arabic. Tom also really enjoyed studying English under Bob, and he specially remembers the lessons in which Bob would bring his guitar and teach them American folk songs.

He remembers too the maths classes with Koby, who taught them at quite an advanced level, for example counting in bases.

Tom’s mother Ety, among other things, would teach the children how to use computers - initially early Commodore 64 machines. Computers were quite new also for his mother, so she herself needed to study at home. Tom would work with her after school, and the next day they would do a lesson at school.

Religious festivals (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) played an important part in school life – they would put on a school play and a show for the parents.

Till today, Tom remembers the school breaks. The kids spent a lot of time outside. They would build “houses” of stone and mud and sometimes would look for shiny stones which they used as coins for their play.

In sports, he remembers a basketball championship in which the whole class played against a single parent. The kids took very seriously the preparation for such games, and practiced a lot.

In the days when Tom was a pupil at the primary school, all of his classmates were from the village. As a result, they were not even aware of the fact that they were "different". They thought that their own experience of living and learning together as Jews and Arabs was common to the rest of the country.

Now that Elenora is in 1st grade, Tom notices the differences between then and today. The children are much more aware of the uniqueness of the school, since the majority of the children come from other towns and villages.

Growing up in WAS-NS gave Tom a more sensitive perspective on the conflict, and being a student at the school gave him an openness to cultural differences.
Tom also mentions what has become of his former schoolmates, many of whom became activists for social change or work for human rights. Two became doctors, and one of them is working with "Physicians for Human Rights".

Apart from his job as a senior Software developer in a company based in the nearby town of Modi’in, Tom works on an intensive vocational program for Ethiopian immigrants conducted at nearby Kibbutz Nachschon. The participants learn computer skills needed by the Israeli high tech industry and are coached how to prepare their CV, succeed in job interviews, etc.

Both Keren and Tom have a very clear vision regarding the values they hope their children will acquire from growing up in WAS-NS and going to school here.
"I want them to see a person as a person, and not as a member of a group that he or she represents", said Tom.

I hope they will be able to make the right choices in life. I think WAS-NS is a very good place to help them with that,” says Keren . “They should have good self-esteem and know how to stand up for what is important to them.”

When Keren and Tom speak about their home in NSWAS to people outside the community, they hear many different reactions. But Keren says that the question: "How is it to live with Arabs" is one that always eventually comes up. Keren always answers that, "It’s just normal!"

Keren says, " I understand on one hand why people ask me that question, because people who are not from here are usually not exposed to living with the other people. But still, it’s sad that this question is asked – I wonder why it can’t be normal everywhere!"

Post script: Elenora

Elenora is the daughter of Keren and Tom. I met her at school and could immediately see how happy she is there - how much she enjoys being at the school. Together with her teacher Yasmin, I sat down with her and we talked a little bit about school and her free time.

Elenora said that she loves to to go to school a lot. She loves the teachers and she has many friends. Her favourite subjects are Arabic and mathematics. When she is not at school, she has three main hobbies: singing, dancing, and making necklaces.


Ety and Kent, as shown in "Webben 7 webzine (http://www.7an.se/webben7.php) Elenora with her teacher Yasmin Tom and Keren wiht their children Elenora and Emri The family - on holiday in Sweden Tom's mother Ety, with her two grandchildren

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