Tuesday, 31 May 2011


It's May, and incredibly the hills are still green and the lake is filling up nicely after the good rains we have enjoyed, right to the very end of April. Not sure if all the pilgrim groups have quite appreciated the mist and rain, but certainly those of us resident here very much did.

We have had a lot of interesting people pass through the Hotel and Church, including a number of groups from Scotland. The Guild  group was one such, under the leadership and Clarence and Joan Musgrave. They came to church in Raineh on the Sunday morning, only to coincide with a crowd of people coming the other way, following a casket with relics (including a footbone) of St Theresa of Lisieux. She died as a young woman, but she would walk around helping people, so the Catholics in Raineh were very inspired by the foot bone! The relics moved around the churches from village to village and town to town around the country for almost two months, so it was a big thing.

A couple of days later I joined the group again, as we went to Sederot, a town near Gaza (and which has been frequently on the receiving end of rockets).  The Guild support a project at the Sapir College there which brings together Jewish and Bedouin women in a special social work course. We had visited at the very start of the course last year, but it was exciting to see how positive the students were and to hear their stories about the course and of the various projects they were setting up, including, for example, a park in a village without any green space.

The students were varied in age and background, but apparently they were the talk of the campus, because Bedouin and Jew would be studying together, eating together, chatting together. All barriers down. Well done to the Guild for supporting this course!
Members of the Guild group along with participants in the course sponsored by the Guild at Sapir College, Sderot.
Interestingly a couple of waiters from the Hotel have just about to complete their first year at University. Ayman, a Christian guy, is at the Technion at Haifa, one of the top institutions in the country, while Ahlam, a Moslem girl, is at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Both seem very happy and talk of their friendship with students from all the different faith groups (so Sederot isn’t too unusual) – but then that is what they did at the Hotel!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


The siren sounds, and everything stops. It is Memorial Day (6 May), a bit like Remembrance Day in Britain, and at the sound of the siren at 11am, everyone stands still wherever they are. Even cars stop and the drivers get out.

Last night many people gathered at the memorial wall near the promenade in Tiberias to hear the names read out of those who had died as soldiers in the IDF (Israeli Defence Force). Many were in tears.

I find it a very meaningful time, though one is conscious that it is for only part of the community, as most of the Arab community would not particularly join in. Next week will be Nakba Day for the Arabs, when they remember the catastrophe of 1948 when many had to leave their homes and even go into exile. Only Nakba Day is not a recognised holiday, and now it has become difficult to teach about it in schools.

This has been a time of holidays. We had Pesach (Passover) just a couple of weeks ago, often a time when Israelis take their holidays. It begins with the Seder meal, and this year I was invited to a friends’ home, where ten of us sat round the table and went through the Haggadah, the Passover liturgy and ate the traditional food.. Quite different from the kibbutz seder which I attended last year, where hundreds of people had come together. I feel privileged to have had the experience of both.

For Christians it was, of course, Holy Week and Easter, and I had started it on Palm Sunday at the Anglican Church at Raineh, which I often attend. After the service we process round the village waving our branches and joining with our friends from the Latin and Greek Catholic churches and led by the Scout band. I think it is a boost to the Christian population and strengthens their spirits in often difficult times. As the week progressed, we held services for Maunday Thursday and Good Friday in Tiberias, then a Dawn Service on Easter morning (to which 5 people came, to my surprise) at which we witnessed a marvellous sunrise over the Lake. Then, even more to my surprise, 35 people attended the evening service (mostly Dutch pilgrims, but not exclusively so).

Easter Monday was also the final day of the Pesach holiday, but also was the holy day for the Druze, and my friend Samir from the Hotel had invited me to the Nabi Shu’eib shrine for the celebrations. Druze from all over Galilee came, but only men. For this particular day, women are not allowed for some reason. There was a festive atmosphere, and everyone seemed to have their portable stoves to brew up some Arabic coffee. Government officials and also leaders from the other faith communities gave speeches to wish the Druze, ‘Hag Sameach’ (Happy Holiday!).