Thursday, January 22, 2009

A gift from Nazareth

I've said this before and (you're warned!) I'll doubtless say it again. But one of the most reassuring aspects about life is its very unpredictability. Yes, you can make plans for tomorrow, but only on the understanding that what you're doing is no more than writing fiction. There's not the slightest guarantee that it will ever happen.

If you remember, I was feeling a little resentful about yesterday's Governors' meeting. It had meant cutting short the the joy of Abigail's first birthday party, and I walked to the school with a sense of resignation rather than pleasure. Barely had I entered Reception than I met Samar. You remember Samar? She's my Muslim friend, the Palestinian academic whose family were thrown out of Jerusalem at the time of the Six Day War.

On seeing me arrive, Samar came up smiling. She had, she told me, just returned from Israel. For the first time since that traumatic departure in her childhood, she and her family had returned. They had spent a month in Nazareth with relatives she could barely remember, and several she had never seen before. They had all had a wonderful, memorable visit.

I was delighted to hear this happy news, and told her so.
Reaching in her bag, Samar drew out a small package.
"This," she said, "is for you. It's a small gift from Nazareth."

I couldn't believe it. It was so unexpected . . . so kind.
To be given a rosary by a Muslim . . . a rosary from Nazareth . . . at a time when the world is weeping at the hostilities in the Middle East.

I was reminded of the Rabbi of the West London Synagogue who, a week ago, when the attack on Gaza was at its height, prayed a prayer for the children of Gaza, ending with the words . . .

"Allah, whose name we call Elohim, who gives life, who knows the value and fragility of every life, send these children your angels.
Save them, the children of this place, Gaza the most beautiful and Gaza the damned.
In this day, when the trepidation and rage and mourning that is called war, seizes our hearts and patches them in scars, we call to you the Lord whose name is peace.
Bless these children and keep them from harm.
Turn your face towards them O Lord. Show them, as if for the first time, light and kindness and overwhelming graciousness.
Look up at them, Lord. Let them see your face. And, as if for the first time, grant them peace."

A rosary from a Muslim . . . a Rabbi's prayer for the children of Gaza . . . surely such gestures of kindness, compassion and love speak more strongly than any missiles, and carry a fragile hope for the future of mankind?