I've been away a great deal this week and have now found some time to blog.
These are the highlights:
On Monday and Tuesday I was at school in Jaffa as usual and was asked whether I'd mind conducting the primary assemblies from now on, as well as devising the primary end-of-year carol service.
What a choice for a nice Jewish girl. However, it is a Church School and I'm in charge of the music, so the answer is probably 'Yes'.
Then on Tuesday, the theme of spirituality continued via the very non-spiritual methods used by our Russian conductor at the Haifa Symphony Technion choir to get us to sound like angels, literally that is, 'transparent and invisible', as he put it. It's all for the nativity cycle we're rehearsing.
But the bullying that goes on to get us there: is it really worth it, I ask myself, after a hard day's work, teaching 'Penny Lane' to the school kids in Jaffa, replete with a history and geography of Liverpool. Yes, it most definitely is!
Before this, I walked from my daughter's in Tel Aviv to the British Embassy, just to see where it was. As usual, the British abroad have a genius for finding the best spots. This one is situated opposite a charming park, with the waves swishing just behind. And I was lucky enough to bump into my contact there, as she was just on her way out. We're planning to meet again in the New Year.
Then on Wednesday, I bumped into one of my former Hebrew students from St. Gabriel's Library classes, Manchester, who has just bought a place in Haifa and was attending sessions at the university. She used to teach at the International School in Jerusalem and accompanied my husband and myself on our educators' conference to Yad Vashem, summer 2003. More and more Christians are settling here, or wanting to. But, Haifa!!
Then, that evening, attended a wonderful lecture on 'prayer' given by the wife of the Chief Rabbi of Haifa in a private house. I did like her explanation of the idea of what stones on wells symbolise in the Hebrew Bible. The stone represents the 'ego' side of us and the 'evil impulse'. Once rolled away, we are open to real goodness and mercy. And to think that some people take the Bible literally!
She asked me to accompany her home and I told her I had been invited to meet with the NGO
the next day.
'What will you do?'
'I'll offer to work with them'. I said. 'It's the only way'. So she gave me a kiss and we parted. She's going to India with her husband next week to a 'conference of sages'. I love it!
So on Thursday I left by bus at the crack of dawn and arrived at the BBC at 10.00 am to meet Fuad, who is one of their freelance producers. Security told me to go right up, which caused a bit of confusion, as some thought I was part of the team. But eventually, I met the BBC's office manager, a delightful lady from Australia, who was interested in the work I was doing in Israel.
Then I was introduced to the new BBC Bureau Chief, James Stephenson, who has just arrived. And he asked me to send him the blog details. So I wished him luck. Does he realise that the hopes of many are resting on his shoulders, I wonder?
If you access this link, you'll see that he used to be executive editor of
Fuad, from Abu Ghosh, took me for coffee to the 'Milky Way' bar next door, where we sat among Jews and Arabs and discussed the state of the State of Israel.
Then he very kindly drove me to my next venue, Christian Friends of Israel, to await my great friend Gwen Thompson, former manager of the St. Andrews Church of Scotland guesthouse, who is visiting at present. She left her job with the Church of Scotland because of their negative attitude to the State of Israel. Before taking over at St. Andrews, she was Director of Frizzell Insurance for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In the few months since she has been away, the powers-that-be have turned St. Andrews into a 1920s type officers' mess and removed the lively coffee bar, which was her own idea, and attracted the whole Jerusalem population to her guest-house. I wonder why they have changed it and made it user unfriendly.
CFI knew I was coming, and let me in, eventually. I gained the impression that they are involved with Messianic Jews and 'love' us for conversionary reasons. Their literature would confirm this.
I've now visited two Arab or 'pro-Arab' churches and two that love us and have to tell you that I was made to feel more at home in the former. I felt a reluctant respect from the Christian Arabs for me as a practising Jew, albeit an Israeli, whereas in the others, I felt a particular agenda at work which wasn't quite wholesome, in my view.
Gwen took me home to hers in Arnona and then we met with the Christian Aid delegation (which included the CEO of Churches Together in Britain and Northern Ireland) in the boardroom of Jerusalem's YMCA, which Gwen knew well from her time as manager of the Church of Scotland guesthouse.
Churches Together is the anti-racist organisation which had, two years ago, compared the Israelis to 'bacteria', which I pointed out politely to their new General Secretary, who told me that he had known nothing about that.
I had been informed by the CA interfaith advisor that the Bishop wanted to hear my concerns, so had collected feedback from four or five different experts and agencies, both in Israel and elsewhere. I also had memories of the organisation from my own ghastly experience of their Manchester University roadshow, 2003, and also from the research I had done for a BBC-commissioned programme on them, which for some reason was dropped at the last minute, because it was deemed too 'controversial'.
The main concerns I pointed out to them (having first told them that I had worked for Christian Aid when a student at Cambridge) were as follows: their ignorance of Jewish theology and history, as well as of Israeli history; working with Israeli groups that are not mainstream; concentrating on Palestinians to the detriment of other Christian societies; politicking poverty; ignoring Muslim theology and the belligerence of Israel's neighbours; ignoring the effect of their own behaviour on Jewish-Christian relations world-wide; demeaning the Palestinians by treating them as irresponsible children; overlooking Jewish suffering; not responding to e-mails and letters; moving the goal-posts to suit themselves; links with Sabeel.
Sabeel is an organisation which regards Israel as an 'apartheid' state and has accused Israel of continuously 'crucifying' the Palestinians, just as the Jews have (in their view) always crucified Jesus.
Their founder, Naim Atteek has written for instance that:
Israel is responsible for the death of Jesus (the Palestinians) as infant, people and messiah
The Israel government crucifixion system is operating daily
Bishop John invited me to meet Naim Ateek and also various churches in the area, to which I agreed.
My own view is that all Christian Aid workers dealing with this region, as well as their partners, need educational input as to the history and theology of Judaism, including the central role played by Israel since time immemorial, as well as an up-to-date understanding of the context of the situation out here.
The CA delegation mentioned responses from various Palestinians, but I pointed out that Israelis and Palestinians work differently. Israelis tend to put on a gruff exterior and emphasize the positive even when it doesn't exist.
I never heard one complaint from my own parents, who were Holocaust survivors. They came to Britain after losing nearly their entire family and invested all their energies into building a new life and bringing up children who would love Britain and be happy. They had to start from scratch, learn a new language and get used to a totally different environment. They did not clamour to return to Poland or reclaim their property there, for instance. Their families had lived in Poland for centuries, but now they were British they were going to make sure that their children felt at home here, as well as retaining their Jewish identity.
Which brings me to the Dalai Lama who, as you know from reading my previous blogs, thinks that the Jewish people have found the secret of success in diaspora (my parents certainly did), but who also understands completely that Israel is the centre for the Jewish people, always has been, and always will be.
What about 'By the Rivers of Babylon' for instance?
Then the delegation gave me their cards. Bishop John asked me to continue sending him my blogs and they went off to their next meeting in East Jerusalem. whilst Gwen and Mark treated me to a meal and told me their opinion of the entire event.
This morning I got a bus back to Haifa and arrived back at about midday. And, having been woken by the sound of the muezzin last night at Gwen's, I am sure to have a very peaceful rest on Shabbat.