Transformations: “And they’ll beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”…

By Edna Aphek, Jerusalem, Israel

As I am writing this description of an activity for Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) conducted at the Alon elementary School in Mate Yehuda, in April 2001, car bombs are exploding in Jerusalem. Against the background of bloodshed and acts of violence, the activity at the Alon school, an activity which I believe is quite common in other Israeli schools as well, is of great importance as it sets a tone of hope, in this part of the world torn by hate, fear, despair and disbelief.

Life and death are tightly intertwined in Israel. Memorial Day for those who died in the wars and acts of terror is only one day before Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. It’s this constant movement between grief and sorrow and happiness and hope, that I would dare say characterizes much of our Israeli identity. This year, 2001, the sorrow and the grief had an additional dimension; the Intifada, and its many gruesome terrorist acts have become almost daily events in Israel.

What is an Israeli school’s mission at such a time? What activities should be conducted to commemorate the lives given to one’s country? Two homeroom teachers,(4 grade) Adi and Etti, at the Alon elementary school, chose the following activity as most appropriate.

The activity
4th grade children, about 50 learners, were asked to think about possible ways of converting tools of war into instruments and devices to be used during times of peace. The children used drawing paper and crayons. It was a very simple activity, but much thinking and lots of hope went into it.

Adi’s words of introduction
We are right now in the midst of a very difficult situation from a security point of view. Both we and the Palestinians are suffering. At this time of enormous tension, when the right and the left are driven further apart in our country; we, Etti and I, wanted especially today, Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for our soldiers who died for our country) to talk with you about peace. Peace has always been a dream of the Jewish people, even in Biblical times, in the days of Isaiah.

Isaiah was a very important prophet in Jerusalem. He prophesized that a day will come when peace will reign; and with peace, there won’t be any need for weapons, or tools for fighting. All machinery and tools for war, will be converted into plowshares. In the book of Isaiah Ch. II verse 4, Isaiah says: “And they’ll beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

So what are we going to do here, today? Soon you’ll divide into groups and you’ll think about what could be done with war tools in times of peace? What could we transform them into?”

And the children started working. Cooperative learning is a key method of instruction and learning at the Alon School, as is dialoging in small groups. The children immediately divided into groups. They had big drawing blocks in front of them and crayons. A lot of dialoging and thinking went on.

Their creativity knew no limits. A war aircraft became a “Dove of Peace” flying from one country to another ushering a new era. Tanks, armored vehicles and planes became a huge amusement park, where a merry-go-round was made of former fighter bombers and the armored vehicles cheerfully painted, were part of the amusement cars driven by visitors for fun.

Some suggested welding the iron to remake out of this strong material jewelry: earrings, chains, pins etc. Others envisioned rifles containing many desired candies of different tastes and colors. The bitter taste of war transformed into the sweet taste of candy and chocolate bars.

Summary and discussion
At these very difficult times, there is some danger of being carried away into a militaristic or pessimistic mindset. The role of the educator; leading children into the future and imparting knowledge of the past, becomes most important. Educators everywhere — especially in countries at war — are the agents of values and hope, as well as teachers of subject matter.

Which method should they use at such times? What values should they impart? Adi and Etti, two 4th grade teachers suggest to us that creative thinking is a key element at such times.

Creative thinking helps us break away from fixed patterns, offers new options and assists us to transform situations and objects. Transformation is most needed here: transforming the “culture” of hate and fear into a new culture of hope and peace.

The idea of transforming war and its tools into instruments of peace is deeply embedded in Jewish tradition. So is the quest for peace, which is glorified throughout the Bible. I’ll mention just a few instances: “And the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6/26), “Seek peace, and pursue it” (Psalms 34/15), “The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness” (Psalm 37/11).

The activity described here builds upon the nation’s longings for peace, and for a day when tools of war won’t be needed anymore.

An end note
I want to believe that out there are some Palestinian colleagues who are working with their students in the same direction. It’s these educators amongst us Israelis and amongst the Palestinians who will make peace a reality. Nurturing the mind and soul from a very early age with non- violent activities and with creative means that never fail to open up new avenues, will help us all to pave a highway for peace and understanding.

Pr. Edna Aphek designs and implements innovative educational and social systems; virtual learning environments; and creates community/school partnerships. She may be contacted at