Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Baptism and Mourning

Rather excitingly, we had a baptism on Sunday evening. Given the small numbers of the congregation here, it is not something which happens regularly – in fact, no-one can remember the last time a baby was baptised here! However, Adeck Mba, the father, is a professional footballer, playing for one of the teams here in Israel – and is a Presbyterian from Cameroon (The Basle Mission were active in that part of west Africa), his mother being an elder. So it was a privilege to baptise little Riya. Also a relief that there was a reasonable congregation of 18 there to witness it and offer support.

Having witnessed at the baptism the joy of new life a baby brings, a very good friend of mine from the hotel, Moshe (photo right), has just been through a very different experience, with the death of his father. Jewish burials take place usually within a day of the death happening different from Africa, where we often waited for days for family to arrive), after which the family hold shiva. This means that the family sit in the funeral house for 7 days. Mirrors are covered, and the family sit on the floor (or very low seating). They also rip their clothes as a sign of mourning. During shiva, a memorial candle is kept alight, and friends call for short visits. Men are not allowed to shave or have haircuts for 30 days, while women do not wear makeup.(At the hotel, the male staff are supposed to shave every day, but Moshe has been exempted for a month). After 7 days, a person can resume work, but in Moshe’s case, work at the hotel is combined with prayers three times a day (early morning at 5.30, late afternoon and evening) – and in Judaism, you need at least 10 people to pray, so it is not a case of rattling through some prayers in private, but of going to a synagogue for at least an hour.

Mourning for a parent actually lasts for a year, and during that time, the mourner is not supposed to go to parties or entertainment, nor is able to invite anyone for meals. Even music is avoided. Of course, many people do not necessarily keep all of this, but the religious would, and Moshe comes from quite a religious family.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Visit to Jenin

The very mention of the West Bank town of Jenin seems to set alarm bells ringing with many of the people here. The incursion of the Israeli army into Jenin was one of the flashpoints of the Intifada, and a number of lives were lost, especially on the Palestinian side. The town was ‘closed’ for some time, and even now I doubted how easy it would be to get in (when I mentioned I was going, one Palestinian friend said I was a brave man!). As it was, there was nothing simpler than getting through the checkpoint (though the vehicle and our luggage were thoroughly searched on the way back!), and Jenin itself was a friendly, bustling town.

I had gone there with Runa Mackay and Janet Powney from Edinburgh, and our main contact was Yousef at the Jenin Cultural Centre, which organizes drama, workshops for children, English lessons and computer classes among other things. [The photo is at the Cultural Centre at Jenin. From left, Yousef, Ahmed, Mohammed and me.] It was interesting to see the children’s paintings, which had been full of violent images of soldiers, tanks, blood, people being arrested. However, the more recent ones are of more peaceful scenes, including the sea – though this is something which can no longer be seen with ease on the West bank. It was also good to visit the Refugee Camp, which had borne the brunt of the fighting during the Incursion, and see the sculpture of a horse, made out of bits of cars (and even an ambulance) which had been blown up during the fighting. Again, taking something negative and turning it into a positive.

We stayed at Yousef’s home in the village of Burqin, and I was excited to find an old Orthodox church there, set in a peaceful garden full of roses. It is reputedly the site of the healing of the 10 lepers, and a church was built there in the 4th Century. The Christian population is small, but there seems to be a good relationship between the Moslems and Christians. Also near Burqin, is a centre for fair trade products (Canaan Fair Trade). There seem to be about 40 farms involved, seven of which are organic, as well as 6 women’s co-operatives. Farmers are given a good price for their goods, and the quality seems to be excellent (I bought some olive oil and some soap). A lot of the produce is sold to Europe and America, and I felt encouraged that the fragile Palestinian economy could be boosted by an organization seeking to benefit women and men in this rural community.

A good visit, and one which re-enforces in my mind both the goodness of people on all sides of this conflict, but also the dreadful injustices being borne by the Palestinians in the West Bank. But ultimately I left feeling more hopeful for the Palestinian people.