My friends in Jerusalem invited me to stay on for Shabbat. So I was able to view the 5th Harry Potter
with their sons and go for a great walk in the cold dry air (such a change from humid Haifa), encountering streets by the name of Lloyd George and Windham Deedes (pronounced Didos) - more alley-ways than streets, really.
In fact Windham should be Wyndham, as in
For some reason Wyndham's name reminded me of Bill Deedes, the Conservative MP and editor of the Daily Telegraph, who turns out to have been Wyndham's nephew.
Wyndham was an eccentric who helped to create the State of Israel. That's all. Plus Bill shared a house with his uncle at one time and reminisced about Wyndham giving generously to the poor and needy of Bethnal Green and other similar parts of London.
I love it that Israel commemorates all these people, rather than names of battles and what have you. There is also Masaryk nearby, just like the square in Tel Aviv where my daughter lives:
And then on Motzei Shabbat I was driven by my friends to St. George's Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem where we were greeted with a 'Shalom' from the personnel on duty and I walked into the cathedral itself for the first time.
I had visited the grounds on three previous occasions: to give lessons in Biblical Hebrew, to meet the new Bishop, Suheil and to take around my Anglican friend, Revd Lisa, from Manchester.
I'm not an expert on cathedral architecture (or synagogue architecture for that matter), but the place seemed to me to be very high, narrow and exceedingly cold, with one or two Christmas trees, but nothing gawdy at all. And some fabulous organ music which warmed us all up as we came in. The place was packed and there wasn't a spare seat to be had when the concert started at 7.30 pm.
This guy's experience seems to have been similar:
The choir halied from the United States, most if not all from the Deepest South, places like Tennesee, Louisiana, Texas.
They are on a 10-day tour, ending on Christmas Eve with a performance in Manger Square, Bethlehem. Pity that people like me have been advised not to travel in those areas, because our safety cannot be guaranteed. The last person who told me that was a Muslim friend who happens to be also be an Israeli citizen, and a respected journalist.
Pity that this reason is unacceptable to some, including the Director of the Tantur Catholic Monastery in Jerusalem who accused me (in public, no less) of being a 'racist' for not travelling there last year. He even compared me (again in public) to the whites of the United States who refused to visit 'black' areas. He said HAMAS were really OK and it was all a big ploy by Israeli racists to .....you get the picture. And i'd only been in the country a couple of months at the time.
Lambeth Palace said they would try to get me into Bethlehem under their auspices, but it just hasn't happened. Maybe they've been given the same advice as the Muslim journalist, who works for a couple of extremely reputable media outlets here.
Naturally, the Catholic priest who had a go at me is a white American himself, with a problematic temper. Frankly, I've never met a Catholic priest like him and I've taught loads in my time. All of them lovely. But that was Liverpool, not Jerusalem.
Time and time again I find it easier to communicate with people of whatever religion who were born here than with the self-important personnel imported into to this country (usually from Britain or the USA) to do a job here for a couple of years.
Plus the guy actually wanted me to promote his outfit on my blog - after calling me a racist - I really don't think so, do you? What at all positive could I say about the place, when they're obviously living in total and utter denial and blaming each and every Jewish Israeli, including recent immigrants, for the misery caused by HAMAS et al!!
Back to the concert, which included old favourites by Verdi, Mozart, Cesar Franck, Vaughan Williams, Gounod, Puccini and Saint Saens - many on biblical themes, such as creation, joy and love.
The encore was O Holy Night, which has just been voted Britain's favourite carol on Classic FM:
And then Bishop Suheil was given a gift carved from a tree which bears three special leaves, symbolic of the three faiths whose lives are bound up together here, and also a Moses stick!
He described Jerusalem as the 'mother city of our faith' and proposed that the spirit of Christmas should be depicted in our lives by the expression of love, peace, joy and hope.
'Music' he said, 'is the best way to express oneself - it sweeps away the dust of everday life. It is the language which brings people together. We pray for God's blessing over us in 2008 and that love, peace and justice and a change of heart will be evident in all of the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews'.
Two things to ponder: dust in Hebrew is related to the word for struggle. Dust settles here all the time. Jerusalem is in the desert and you can't avoid it. That's why we speak of a 'dust-up' etc.
And I liked his choice of the word 'joy'. It's far harder to attain than the normal faith, hope and charity of the New Testament and it's not a coincidence that the Hebrew for a happy occasion, such as a wedding or ordinary party is 'simcha', meaning 'joy'.
Just like the name of the cafe opposite Wyndham Deedes St. on Emek Refayim - the Joy Cafe.
What a great name and let's hope that there is a change of heart, not just in the leadership but in all those priests and prelates who take office here from abroad and think they know all there is to know of the situation.
Because a little joy could go a very very long way. It's actually catching!
And as a footnote, i'd just like to add that at the end, the choir sang Nessum Dorma, which reminded me both of British football and Princess Diana, simultaneously.
And the Palestinian Christian called Margaret who happened to be sitting next to me said:
'It doesn't matter that you're Jewish. We're all made in the image of God'.
Maybe Margaret should be the next Director of the Vatican-financed monastery at Tantur!
Now, there's a thought!