A FEW THOUGHTS ON WATCHING SCROOGE (A CHRISTMAS CAROL) WITH ALLISTER SIMS

I’ve watched this movie many times over the years, finding different things each year standing out. In recent years I’ve began to wonder if Dickens’ novel and its various adaptations has undermined the social transformation needed to successfully address poverty and its many ills.

Early in the movie, Scrooge is asked to donate money to a charity. The exchange is an interesting one, where private charity is honoured and any collective (state) efforts to address need portrayed, in their essence, as cruel:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

There is no call for adequate social assistance available to all throughout the year, but an effort to appeal seasonally for charitable assistance. Scrooge doesn’t complain about his taxes being used for (albeit far from adequate) relief; just to being asked to make a personal contribution to a charity for short-term help.

Scrooge gives Bob Cratchet a paid holiday—very unusual in 1843 in England. Indeed, it wasn’t until the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 that paid holidays were required by law. This was noted both early in the movie, when Cratchet and Scrooge have a conversation about Christmas Day; very similar to a scene that is included in the visions of Christmas past. Scrooge may cut wages upon taking over a business, but he can also go beyond the minimum expectations of staff. Cratchet’s daughter, in domestic service, wasn’t sure she was going to get the day off and had to run to be home for the family gathering. At the Cratchet dinner, Bob Cratchet makes mention that not many of their acquaintances could afford two rounds of the best gin punch. There are hints that Scrooge is not entirely the grasping businessman tradition has made him out to be.

The development of the story, especially the end, is widely known. Scrooge undergoes a change of heart and devotes himself to good works, especially at Christmas. This redemption is quite moving, but at the end of the day the redemption is only on the individual level. There is no indication that people should work together to solve social problems on an ongoing basis; there is no indication that there is a social obligation to care for others. Indeed, any mention of such shared obligation in the movie is critical of the idea. We are not asked to consider solve the problems of poverty by any concept of permanently addressing problems. We are told that we should act individually to address problems, and most generously at Christmas. If everyone acted as compassionate individuals then everything would be good.

We aren’t asked to work together to provide good quality affordable housing or to ensure universal access to good quality medical care. As long as there is a Scrooge then Tiny Tim can get his medical needs addressed. What to do when there such a relationship doesn’t exist isn’t hinted at.

The world would have been better if such a powerful appeal to private charity hadn’t been written. Already there were writers, utopian socialists and others, calling for a more communal approach to both communal and individual needs. We need appeals to our conscience to encourage us as individuals to act compassionately and justly in the world; but if that appeal is all that is offered we as individuals will quickly wear out and the social problems will continue.

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Year End Donation Suggestions for 2015

As 2015 comes to an end, it’s time for my off and on sharing of ideas for sharing our abundance with charities and non-profits that do something to directly help others while seeking to make broader social change. Most of the charities have a link on their website to make donations on line, but all welcome donations through the mail. Several of these charities I’ve been on the board of; others are ones who do unique work that I support. Not all of the groups I suggest supporting are able to give charitable receipts—OCAP isn’t, for example—but all could use your financial support.

 
1. St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society
. 138 Pears Ave, Toronto, ON M5R 1T2.
St. Clare’s still seeks ways to develop new affordable housing efforts while continuing to provide affordable housing to people, most of whom come as a result of referrals from agencies working directly with the homeless, marginalized and difficult to house. St. Clare’s grew out of Toronto Action for Social Change, which organised a number of creative protests during the Harris years. While the website is being redeveloped, more information can be found at: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/st-clares-multifaith-housing-society/

 
2. FoodShare Toronto.
90 Croatia Street, Toronto, ON M6H 1K9.
From the good food box programme to community gardening to advocating for sustainable food policies, FoodShare works hard to make sure that social justice includes what is on the table. More information can be found at: http://www.foodshare.net/ As Foodshare has a number of social enterprises it sponsors, it helps to make a note on cheques that the funds are for a donation to Foodshare.

 
3. Rooftops Canada.
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 313, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2T9
Rooftops Canada, the international development arm of Canadian co-operative and non-profit housing movements, works with overseas partners in countries from the Baltic Sea to Zimbabwe to “improve housing conditions, build sustainable communities and develop a shared vision of equitable global development. “Rooftops initiatives range from capacity building to microfinance. More information can be found at: http://www.rooftops.ca/

 
4. Canadian Alternative Investment Foundation (CAIF),
CSI Regent Park,
585 Dundas St East, 3rd Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2B7.
CAIF evolved from the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative (CAIC), which does social investing on behalf of Canadian charities. CAIF is a charitable foundation which will be providing grants and loans to charitable organisations involved in community initiatives that further the vision of CAIC’s founders. More information can be found at http://www.caifoundation.ca/

 
5. CHFT Charitable Fund,
658 Danforth Avenue, Suite 306,
Toronto, ON, M4J 5B9
The CHFT Charitable Fund is a project of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto. Its programmes have ranged from diversity scholarships to support for the Green Roof initiative at Hugh Garner Housing Co-operative to a basketball court at Atkinson Co-op. More information can be found at: chft.coop/charitable/

 
6. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. 157 Carlton Street, Unit 206,
Toronto, Ontario
M5A 2K3
From direct action casework to solidarity with imprisoned refugee claimants to walking picket lines, OCAP activists are a strong voice for economic and social justice. For more information http://www.ocap.ca/

 
7. Puppermongers. 388 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON M4M 2T4
I’m not directly involved in the arts these days, but I do serve on the board of a very wonderful puppet troop. This small group does everything from workshops to touring productions. For more information, see: http://puppetmongers.com/

 
8. Wilderness Committee. P.O. Box 2205, Station Terminal, Vancouver, BC V6B 3W2
The Wilderness Committee is a mainstream but persistent voice for wilderness and endangered species. In addition to political campaigns, they are a good source of fair trade goods not found elsewhere. For more information see http://wildernesscommittee.org/home

 
9. Peace Brigades Canada. 145 Spruce Street, Suite 206, Ottawa, ON K1R 6P1
Peace Brigades Canada is a part of a global network of activists who work with human rights activists in places of conflict. From Nepal to Mexico, Peace Brigades volunteers have accompanied human rights workers as the eyes of the world. For more information see http://www.pbicanada.org/

 
10. Shoresh. c/o 132 Cedric Avenue, Toronto, ON M6C 3X8
From a community gardens to education on the relationship between spirituality and ecology to a Community Shared Agriculture initiative, this is a great and wonderful fairly new addition to the world of food security in the GTA. For more information, check out: http://shoresh.ca/about-shoresh/mission-vision-and-values/

 
The above is not an exhaustive list. I donate monthly to Interval House and the CRC. In the past many organisations such as the Elizabeth Fry Society had me among their regular donors. However, I think my top 10 represent a range of places, from social investing to radical peacemaking, that are my priorities at the end of 2015.

A Couple of Brief Thoughts on Means and Ends

It seems like a million years ago, but I clearly recall a conversation among members of the Alliance for Non-violent Action around non-violence and choice.   At the time there were sit-ins and blockades of the Morgentaler clinic.   There were some with ANVA who took the position that because the tactics were similar to those used by ANVA and others in the anti-war/anti-nuke movements they were part of our movement.   Others were clear that it wasn’t just the tactics but the cause that needed to be considered.    It wasn’t just the tactics that determined the nature of the movement but a combination of aims and tactics—non-violence can easily be used to promote a far less just, open and compassionate society.

I also remember a conversation in regards to disruption of events.   For some it was a way to speak truth to power.   For others, such efforts contain echoes of jack boots and were a statement of an unwillingness to accept the value of free speak.   For these later folks our tactics should be ones we’d be willing to tolerate against us—if we would feel intimidated by outbursts of anger and efforts to silence our speech, we shouldn’t use such tactics against others.

One of the major reasons I am politically pessimistic is that some movements I’d like to support are using tactics I oppose and some movements I oppose are using tactics I have long advocated.   I am longing to see a unity of means and ends.

Thoughts on the Canadian federal election and parliament

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Federal election. It is hard for me to get excited about it. I am not connected to any movement with the strength to hold elected officials accountable. I am not a member of any political party or a part of an organised political tendency. I do have major concerns about issues ranging from lack of decent, safe and affordable housing to the destruction of ecosystems, but none of the political positions being expressed by the various parties running candidates in the federal election engage or inspire me. And one of my major concerns, that of effective governance, does not even seem to be a part of the political discourse.

We seem to expect less of those elected to a national legislative body, in terms of the ability to actually do the work of participating in a deliberative body that sets budgets, policies, laws, etc., than we do of those elected to sit on the board of a non-profit. We would not tolerate directors of a co-operative behaving in a meeting the way we accept Members of Parliament behaving while in session. We would not tolerate the degree of conflict and convergence of interests on the board of community centre that we accept in our legislatures. We expect better chairing, and greater respect for a chair, at the meeting of a rate payers’ association than we accept from our legislators. I accept that the partisan nature of legislative bodies undercuts efforts to find common ground on issues, but it should not result in a destruction of effective governance.

There are major initiatives to change the voting process in Canada. I am more interested in better decision making by those elected—real parliamentary reform.

CO-OP EVICTION LAW REFORM – A STAFF PERSPECTIVE

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT PRESENTATION
EVICTION LAW REFORM – STAFF PERSPECTIVE
FRIDAY, JULY 17TH
STANLEY KNOWLES HOUSING CO-OPERATIVE

For those who don?t know me, I am the co-ordinator of 43rd Housing Co-op and have been for 17 years. Celia Chandler will be doing the bulk of the presentation, helping us to learn more about the practicalities of eviction under the new system. I’ll be talking briefly about what is has been like from a staff perspective to deal with the transition.

I’ve been working in the sector for almost 20 years, having worked at three co-ops over the years. I did not get involved to take away housing from people, but to help develop and provide long term affordable housing. Taking away housing, which is what we do when we evict someone, is hard to do and something I find emotionally draining.

43rd Co-op is an acquisition rehab co-op. There are still a few tenant households, people that were given the choice of co-op membership or remaining tenants when the co-op was formed 20 years ago. Effectively we have been using the new eviction model the entire time as the tenant eviction process is the model for the the new process. Historically the tenant process involved three steps—an initial notice, filing a 2nd notice with the tribunal, and going to the tribunal—the later including strongly encouraged on site mediation to reach a settlement prior to a hearing. The co-op process involved three or more steps—the initial notice to appear, the board meeting, serving a notice of the board decision, a possible member appeal, filing for a court hearing and a court hearing. In either case, if the judgement went in favour of the co-op, the sherriff’s office would be scheduled for a formal eviction. The tenant process took approximately 2 months; the co-op options 4 to six months. For arrears matters involving tenants I was able to do all the work. For tenant behavioural evictions and all co-op matters co-op lawyers would do the bulk of the work. With tenant evictions I was the focus of any frustration or anger from the tenant; with co-op member evictions the board was the focus of much of the dissatisfaction but I was still the audience for it. Members realise that different boards have different priorities, seen in offers to settle or the offering of reasonable repayments when the board was seen as more hard line. Getting memorandums of settlement approved by some boards was also problematic.

After co-op eviction law reform the process for co-op eviction has come close to matching the tenant process—-a notice to appear, a decision by the board, a possible member appeal, filing of notice with the tribunal, with a two part tribunal hearing process. The time period seems to be two to three months. The legal costs are lower than going to court. It feels that boards are now more likely to want to proceed to eviction than in the past—perhaps due to lower costs and a clearer process or perhaps hard times are leading to higher arrears and causing more stress in households which leads to more behavioural concerns. Our by-laws haven?t all been brought up to date, which can be problematic if members expect a particular process or to forms to be a certain way based on their familiarity with the old model by-law. It does seem that boards are accepting mediation around arrears more readily with the tribunal system, which is a real plus.

In regards to dealing with member arrears, I have found the new process easier to understand and use, thanks primarily to good sector lawyers who have provided clear guidelines. The process is straight forward and getting to enforceable agreements is quicker, helping to both address arrears and to help avoid evictions. I am still unclear about behavioural evictions—there are different forms and options for non-arrears evictions and there are still some matters that need to be dealt with through the court process. It would be good if the behavioural by-laws contained little more than ?Do not offend others. Do not be easily offended.? 43rd has started the behavioural eviction process but not gone to the tribunal or to court as other resolutions were implemented. Having a new process for eviction may be giving co-ops motivation to reconsider many by-laws addressing behaviour that have been passed but never court tested. Tribunal decisions could help guide such discussions.

A FUNERAL SERVICE, INCLUDING HOMILY

I don’t preside over many funerals.   Recently I was asked to preside at a funeral service that was hard for all concerned.   Here is the final version of the service, including homily.

Funeral Service for Ryan Hind                                                                                      March 17, 1974 to February 28, 2015

Introit/Opening Prayer

God our refuge and strength,

close at hand in our distress;

meet us in our sorrow and lift our eyes

to the peace and light of your constant care.

Help us so to hear your word of grace

that our fear will be dispelled by your love,

our loneliness eased by your presence

and our hope renewed by your promises

in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 Greeting/Welcoming

 On behalf of the family of Ryan Hind, thank you for coming this morning to share in honouring his life and memory.   We gather together to celebrate a life and morn a passing of someone dear to many in this room.   Those of us who are not close friends or family are also here to help share the burden of grief and to let those who cared about Ryan know that they are not alone at this time.

 Opening Prayer:

 God of hope,

we come to you in shock and grief

and confusion of heart.

Help us to find peace in the knowledge

of your loving mercy to all your children,

and give us light to guide us out of our darkness

into the assurance of your love,

in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Readings & Reflections

First Reading:

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?

Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?

These are the units to measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.

Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?

But had he befriended those really in need?

Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,

To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,

But how many were sorry when he passed away?

(Anonymous)

 Second Reading:

Remember me when I am gone away,

gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

you tell me of the future that you planned;

Only remember me; you understand

it will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet, if you should forget me for a while

and afterwards, remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

a vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

better by far you should forget and smile

than that you should remember and be sad.

(Christina Rossetti)

 Community Memories:  

Friends and Family of Ryan are welcome to share memories

HOMILY

Third Reading:

Because of the LORD’s great love

we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those

whose hope is in him,

to the one who seeks him;

it is good to wait quietly

for the salvation of the LORD.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke

while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence,

for the LORD has laid it on him.

Let him bury his face in the dust—

there may yet be hope.

Let him offer his cheek

to one who would strike him,

and let him be filled with disgrace.

For men are not cast off

by the Lord forever.

Though he brings grief,

he will show compassion,

so great is his unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring affliction

or grief to the children of men.

(Lamentations 3:22-33 New International Version)

My role here today is that of being a representative of the community.   Most of you here are friends and family and acquaintances of Ryan.   I’m not.   But he is a part of my world.   We knew people in common. We lived in Toronto and likely complained about the cold and made jokes about the Leafs or former mayor Rob Ford.   He died tragically.   But he was and isn’t alone.   People care about Ryan; strangers offer prayers for him and his family; in many ways we do what the Jewish community calls sitting Shiva—sharing in the grief and helping to carry the burden of lose in whatever way we can.

And part of our responsibility as members of a caring community is to remind family and friends that Ryan’s life wasn’t defined by what happened at the MacDonald’s.   He was a sports fan, especially of the Colts. He wore a NFL jersey at the visitation. I have heard many people tell of his generosity, his kindness, his exuberance for life.   Everyone of those who knew Ryan, who cared for him, who now grieve for him and feel a sense of lose, have memories of Ryan that should be nurtured and reflected on—you don’t make and keep friends without being a part of good times; family members will remember the cute toddler or the dreamer; you have something good in your minds about Ryan.   These memories should be cherished because only you have them.   The rest of us only have partial glimpses of who Ryan was. You have the depth of knowledge from which wisdom comes. We share your grief but we do not have what you as family and friends have—memories of Ryan not in crisis or the news but in good times.   That is the best way to honour Ryan while respecting your own grief and loss.

I have had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem twice.   I have watched Muslim and Jewish boys play soccer together; I have heard the Muslim call to prayer blended with Christian church bells and the sounds of the shofar (ram’s horn) being blown at sunset.   I heard a busker playing It’s a Wonderful World as children from different races and backgrounds played in a public square.   Yet, walking around the walls of the old city I could see barbed wire and bullet holes—a harsh and vivid reminder that even in one of the most sacred spots in the world, a place where peace is waiting for a chance to blossom, there is violence and hatred and bloodshed.   HaMakom (literally, the place)/Allah/God wants peace while humanity, in our frailty, has problems living this out.

If violence can occur in the sacred places of the world, it isn’t a surprise when violence erupts in our secular temples.   It is always a tragedy with far more victims than the world sees. Ryan would have died at some point—that is part of the human condition.   But he did not need to die when and how he did.   Ryan death would have always been mourned, even if he died in a hospice aged 107 surrounded by loved ones   But his loss is more keenly felt because he died in a violent way in a situation that makes little sense to us on the outside.

Those who have reached my age have watched loved ones die. We know that time transforms but never eliminates grief. We miss those who were one a part of our lives.   At times a memory will cause a smile; at times tears.   While few among us will have the experience of morning the tragic death of someone close to us, many have a lived experience that helps us have empathy with some of what Ryan’s friends and family are living through today.

Our responsibility, as people from the world beyond Ryan’s family and friends, is to remind those close to Ryan to not let his life end where and how it was frozen in time.   Ryan will continue as long as you hold onto the memories of the Ryan who laughed and cried and drank and argued and played games with you—the real Ryan.   The rest of us are here to help carry the burden of grief so that family and friends can honour Ryan and begin their healing journey.

A couple of thousand years ago a wandering teacher in the middle east had a dinner with friends, a meal shortly before he was killed. He didn’t ask a lot from his friends—he was the one more likely to be asked for things—but did ask them to agree that whenever they got together and shared a glass of wine to remember him.   Friends and family of Ryan, whenever you get together in the future whether at a kitchen table or a Timmy’s or a bar, raise a glass in his memory.   You have decades of memories to share and keep alive.

The Lord’s Prayer

 Celebrant: As our Saviour taught us, let us pray,

All: Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial,

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

 Final Commendation

Invitation to Prayer:

Before we go our separate ways, let us take leave of our brother Ryan Hind.   May our farewell express our affection for him; may it ease our sadness and strengthen our hope. One day we shall joyfully greet him again when the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys even death itself.

Silence

Signs of Farewell

Celebrant: Saints of God, come to his aid!

Hasten to meet him, angels of the Lord!

All: Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.

Celebrant: May Christ, who called you, take you to himself;

may angels lead you to the bosom of Abraham.

All: Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.

Celebrant: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,

and let perpetual light shine upon him.

All:      Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.

Prayer of Commendation:

 Into your hands, Father of mercies,

we commend our brother Ryan Christopher Hind

in the sure and certain hope

that, together with all who have died in Christ,

he will rise with him on the last day.

Merciful Lord,

turn toward us and listen to our prayers:

open the gates of paradise to your servant

and help us who remain

to comfort one another with assurances of faith,

until we all meet in Christ

and are with you and with our brother for eve:

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 The Committal:

 In peace let us release our brother to his place of rest.

May the angels lead you into paradise; May the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.?

May choirs of angels welcome you and lead you to the bosom of Abraham; and where Lazarus is poor no longer May you find eternal rest.?

Whoever believes in me, even though that person die, shall live. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever:

All: Amen.

Celebrant: Go forth in the name of Christ.

All: Thanks be to God.

THOUGHTS UPON LEAVING ISRAEL AND RETURNING TO CANADA

The feeling I had last year, stepping off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport is still strong—Israel feels like home.   Leaving here includes planning to come back, the next time to focus on studying Hebrew.   I am feeling quite torn, and the only experience I’ve had that comes close to the same impact was when the (then) most wonderful person in my life left for Greece and I didn’t think I’d ever see her again.

I really don’t know why this particular place on the planet is drawing me so intensely.

This visit, unlike my first, was one where I was not really a tourist.  I did two short term volunteer placements through Skilled Volunteers for Israel.  While primarily focused on helping baby boomers from the Jewish community find a way to contribute to Israel by arranging placements with a range of non-profits, they welcomed my application and worked hard to find suitable placements for me.

My intent to combine volunteering with studying at the Conservative Yeshiva of Jerusalem fell through due to lack of enrolment in the course I wanted to take.

The two placements were very different.   At Israel Elwyn I was primarily a compassionate presence within a programme for intellectually challenged adults. It had been decades since I’ve done work with such vulnerable people.   I had been worried that my many years of working within the co-operative and non-profit world and primarily with well educated, highly skilled individuals would have created barriers that would be hard to overcome.   But that provided to not be the case.  There was mutual comfort with each other.   My role was definitely not that of a therapist but as someone from the broader world who was spending time with those all too often forgotten.   My lack of Hebrew wasn’t a barrier.   My lack of training wasn’t a barrier.   My not being Jewish wasn’t a barrier.   Being a patient person who could smile was sufficient.

IMG_20141113_124427 Brian-at-Elwyn-300x169

Among the things I noticed at Elwyn was that there were a substantive number of followers of Islam on staff.    From women wearing hijab to men at prayer, to an outsider it looked like Israel Elwyn was a place where practical and effective compassion trumped religious and cultural divisions.    It was also the only place where I saw this barrier crossed in any significant way, unlike my last visit where it seemed quite common place and was exemplified by watching young people from the Jewish and Arab communities playing a pick up game of soccer.

photo

The placement with the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations was a completely different experience.   I specifically focused on trying to get more groups committed to participate in a fair tourism project.   This is an effort to create an on-line catalogue for those organising trips to Israel/Palestine in order to encourages “tourists to engage with multiple narratives, and creates an encounter between visitors and representatives of the local population, both Jews and Arabs.”   This was done primarily via computer.   About 27 groups have agreed to participate so far, with the target being 30.  This is an important initiative in the long term—those going on pilgrimages or group explorations to the middle east need to be encouraged to go beyond their comfort zone to find out more from the diverse voices arising from different communities in a troubled land.

While actually having a longer work week in Israel than I have in my normal life, I did have time to wander about Jerusalem.  The place was far more tense than my last visit.   There was a greater police and military presence even in Jewish neighbourhoods far from the Old City and the Green Line.  Going into shopping centres involved having my backpack searched and going through a metal detector.   In light of the car attacks some schools in Tel Aviv cancelled field trips to Jerusalem.   On a day when I was planning to visit the Temple Mount and specifically the Dome of the Rock I was unable to do so because it was closed due to political tensions and threats of violence.

IMG_20141108_120201 IMG_20141102_132913 IMG_20141108_115532

Even in the commercial heart of the Old City, the suk, there was definite worry brought about by a large drop in visitors and a dramatic drop in sales.   It was my previous experience that many merchants would try hard to get passers by to enter their stores and, with so many tourists about in normal times, most stalls would have possible buyers moving in and out.   One stall owner was a bit more persistent in trying to get me into his store, offering a glass of tea to enjoy while I browsed.    My response was a bit of a surprise to him—I reminded him that I had visited his store with my wife about a year ago.   We had gone  in so she could look at the scarves and came out with a more expensive item.  He laughed and offered  “coffee, not tea, and conversation, not a sales pitch” until a paying customer came by.  I was there over 20 minutes before someone else came by.   He said it had been like that for months; there was a real decline in Israelis visiting the suk and fewer foreign visitors than normal.  This meant a real decline in sales—something worrisome to those selling dry goods and metalwork, but a real crisis to the vendors of fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, baked goods and other perishables.

SAM_2992

Loss of tourism dollars has a ripple effect into various segments of the local service economy.   Areas with already high youth unemployment find the problem growing.   Pressure from the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement has resulted in the closing of some factories in the West Bank and having production shift to Israel or other countries, increasing unemployment in an area already having high unemployment.

Increased religious fundamentalism woven into conservative political movements is hardening positions across Israel/Palestine.   Even groups founded  to engage in constructive dialogue have, in some cases, become rigid advocates of either Israeli or Palestinian positions that seem set in stone.  Individuals who have devoted many years to constructive engagement have been marginalised and, in some cases, accused of the crime of wanting to normalise things rather than promote the struggle for a Palestinian state on one side or compromising Israeli security on the other.

Petty harassment of Arabs is very real.  As an example, in various trips involving taxis and going through check points, my Arab drivers were always asked for identification which was not the case with other drivers.   Fear of violence was also very real, but cuts across all divisions.  Even if not directly dealing with police and military security, the at times overwhelming presence of armed people is both a source of deeply felt tension and a reminder of the possibility of violence suddenly erupting on a bus or street corner or a place of worship.SAM_2999

Deliberate provocation by political leaders is a real problem, from Knesset members trying to change the dynamics around access to the temple mount to Palestinian Authority leaders calling those that have engaged in self-directed political violence martyrs to Islam.  Those that are advocating for real and effective engagement are pushed aside or threatened for challenging such positions.

And yet, in the midst of conflict and tension, I kept finding hope.   On a small scale when strangers provided directions or let me know of cultural events that crossed divisions, or on a larger scale such as when Reuven Rivlin, the President of Israel, spoke at a memorial for the victims of an Israeli attack on Arabs at Kafr Qasem, Israel isn’t limited by what might appear to dominate its image in the media.   It is still a nation struggling define itself, a place that is truly a Jewish homeland and a land of Christian and Muslim and Druze and Baha’i and Samaritans and other spiritual traditions.  It is a place with an elected leadership representing a wider political spectrum than many in the west are accustomed to.   The full range of Judaism, from those that oppose the existence of the state of Israel to Messianic Jews, have a shared land where many such differences are open and irresolvable and part of the dialogue.

I am still puzzling out in my own mind what is it about Israel that makes me feel that it is home.  None-the-less, it has become so to me.   I’ll be returning to study Hebrew and returning again as a volunteer or in some other way be in Israel in a sustained and meaningful way.   It is a land of peace and conflict and hope and despair—not unique in that regard—but it is a place that speaks intimately to me.