Lee Weissman is one of several extraordinary people whom I’ve ‘met’ courtesy of Twitter. (If you’re ever feeling a bit peaky about life, Twitter is an excellent restorative of faith in humanity.) He goes by the Twitter handle of Jihadi Jew and he keeps a blog of the same eyebrow-and-curiosity-raising name, which is always a humbling and richly rewarding read. A chasidic Jew of the Bratslav school who is a high school teacher by profession, his big interest is in creating understanding between Jews and Muslims. He seems to have quite a knack for that. One of my favourite posts on his blog is a contribution from a Christian friend who came to observe his Talmud class, because it demonstrates two things clearly: he teaches well, and he listens even better than he teaches.
Anyway, he has started a new website, Abraham’s Tent. “My focus is really on the idea that religion is part of the solution not just the problem.” On Twitter he has been inviting people to submit relevant writing and artwork with a personal twist. I think it’s a brilliant concept and I suspect quite a few of my own readers would be interested in taking part, hence the plug. Also, I owe him. There have been a few occasions when I have sent a grumpy salvo of prayers up to Heaven, only for an eerily apt reply to pop up on my screen from ‘Jihadi Jew’ about two seconds later. My favourite occasion was when I wasn’t feeling well and got dragged out of slumber by a concerned child who wanted to feed me ‘medicine’ – a concoction of banana, jam, and crushed digestive biscuit, plus other stuff I probably don’t want to know about. Unable to get back to sleep again after these loving ministrations, I slumped down at my computer and said by way of a friendly morning prayer, “God, some rest would have been appreciated.” Unfortunately I hadn’t give my small doctor the kind welcome she deserved, and she backed out of my bedroom hurt by my impatience. Cue a tweet from Lee: “Master of the World! Why does it take such rude awakenings to wake us up to the fact that we are actually asleep?”
I submit my MA dissertation in just over a month, so posts will probably be scarce until the thing has been printed and bound and sent off to the faculty for marking. (Unless Word Bubble can’t satisfy all my procrastination needs, in which case I will pop up here as usual.) My topic is Jewish theological responses to the Nakba. Through my reading and interviews I’m discovering lots of fascinating and exciting things that I didn’t know before, which is one of the best bits about research. As the dissertation takes shape I am being confirmed in my own belief that religion can indeed be part of the solution – even if you’re not religious. It tessellates with what I’ve discovered through mental health work about the power of stories in helping you to understand other people better – not to speak of yourself.
I have two other things to occupy me. My friend Nader has got engaged to be married (a bombshell he exploded on his friends this evening with no prior warning) and I am determined to get to that wedding somehow, even if I have to blag my way across the Erez Crossing disguised as an itinerant piano tuner or a wandering Aramean or something similar. A tunnel entry isn’t practical – I’m dreadfully claustrophobic, and in any case a tunnel would ruin the few wedding-suitable clothes I own. This is going to be tricky.
Also proving tricky to arrange is the Bethlehem youth group’s peace trip to Rwanda in November. People have sent donations via this blog (thank you so much), and some friends in England are now asking if their churches will raise a collection in aid of the trip. I hope the answers will be yes. So far we have raised £340, which will just about get the youth to Amman and buy some falafel on the way. I’m confident that the trip can happen (because bigger things happen all the time) but I need to rely heavily on the kindness of strangers for this one, as we are not a large organisation. If you are able to support us, or you know people who might, please be in touch. It’s important for our young people. I would very much like them to have the opportunity to meet survivors of the Rwandan genocide who have been able to forgive, in addition to learning about other struggles for justice first-hand.