(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 124-125, Note the Copyright!)
Waldorf Education began to take root in Israel in the mid-1980s when the first two kindergartens were almost simultaneously founded, one at Harduf, an anthroposophical kibbutz in Galilee, in 1985 and one in Jerusalem in 1986. Then, in 1989, some young Israelis who had trained as Waldorf teachers in Europe gave the first lessons to 13 pupils at Harduf. In the early 1990s two more schools were founded, in Jerusalem and at Tivon, a small town in the northern part of the country.
The early teachers had all been trained in Switzerland, Britain and Germany but it soon became apparent that to win further teachers it would be necessary to set up a training seminar in Israel, so one was duly opened in Jerusalem in 1994 and at Harduf in 1995. Teachers who already had experience of the education did most of the training while guest lecturers from Europe and the USA were invited to cover the specialist subjects.
Integration in mainstream education
The founding teachers of the schools realized from the start that they would have to work with the state and with the mainstream education system if Waldorf Education was to take root firmly in Israel, so they set themselves the aim of complete integration within the state system. The three schools and most of the kindergartens are now recognized as State Waldorf Schools: they are fully subsidized by the Ministry for Education (teachers’ salaries, building projects etc.) while nevertheless enjoying complete freedom as regards curriculum and method. Israel’s Waldorf Schools are categorized as a kind of “experimental school”; they are highly appreciated and seen as model schools for artistic and good quality education.
Bible study curriculum for all the classes
An important task facing Waldorf Schools in Israel is that of harmonizing the curriculum with Israel’s specific requirements concerning its culture, Judaism as a religion, its landscape and its ethnic mix. Much effort is being put into this in the schools and kindergartens and also at meetings of all the country’s Waldorf teachers. One example: The Old Testament is a main subject in all Israeli schools requiring two or three 3-week main lesson blocks each year. This made it necessary to work out a Bible curriculum for all the classes which accords with the developmental processes of children and youngsters while also conforming with the national curriculum.
Lessons in Arabic and intercultural experiences
Pupils in the Waldorf Schools learn Arabic, the language of their neighbours, from Class 1 onwards. During the 1989/90 school year, Class 3 pupils from the Jerusalem Waldorf School met Palestinian children of the same age from El Khadar near Bethlehem once a week to dig and cultivate a plot of land together. Ploughing and harvesting alongside one another helped the children overcome their initial anxieties and cultural differences until, unfortunately, conflict situations in the area brought the project to a sudden end.
Many opportunities are open to Waldorf Education in Israel just now. It is well known, highly appreciated and regarded as a source of many good educational ideas. Schools or kindergartens are due to open at several locations, and this is already raising the question as to whether enough good teachers will be found who can help the Waldorf impulse gain as much influence as possible as it integrates with mainstream Israeli education.
Curative education in Israel
The children’s home Beth Elijahu (Elijah’s House) was founded in 1969 at Beersheba on the far side of the desert. It was run by an experienced Swiss curative teacher who had previously worked at a Jewish anthroposophical home in England. Another lady opened a home for special needs children in southern Galilee in the same year named Beth Uri in memory of her son. The latter establishment still exists, but Beth Elijahu had to close in the 1990s. The foundation stone for Kfar Rafael was laid in 1979 in a 10-hectare strip of desert near Beersheba. The establishment opened its doors in 1981 as a socially therapeutic village community. A curative home was also founded at the anthroposophical Harduf kibbutz in the 1980s where socially damaged children are cared for in family groups.
Experts appreciate anthroposophical curative education
All establishments for the disabled in Israel are registered as charitable associations. The Welfare Ministry covers most daily living expenses but all investments must be covered from private funds, i.e. donations. After some initial difficulties, the curative establishments founded on anthroposophy have come to be much respected by Israeli experts in this field. No teacher for the disabled can be trained in Israel today without hearing about anthroposophical curative education.
Exchanges of experience in curative work lead to friend-ships between Israelis and Palestinians
Since it was founded in 1948 Israel has been a country in which immigrants from all over the world have settled. Almost all the residents of Kfar Rafael, for example, were born in Israel, but their parents and grandparents came from 30 different countries. Against the background of the current political situation a new initiative has been set up which involves collaboration between Palestinian and Israeli curative teachers in caring for people who need special care. Of course this leads to friendships that go beyond the relationships required by the work; this will, it is hoped, create a basis for peaceful coexistence in the future.
Co-founder of the Kfar Rafael social therapy village community.
Co-founder of the Harduf Waldorf School. Teacher in the upper school and at the teacher training seminar.