Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"I am Jerusalem"

Today, at 6 p.m., there was an interesting lecture given by a friend I often meet in ecumenical encounters where we together try to witness to the reality of living faith in Jerusalem. Dr. John Tleel is a well-known personality in Jerusalem: a retired dentist, a man of reflection and faith, he had written many years ago a first version of his book "I am Jerusalem". He just published a new revised version of the book that now includes a lot of very interesting and historical documents. I had the opportunity some weeks ago to write a short article in my Le Monde blog (Abbaa).

Tonight, on this 26th of April 2009, the meeting had a different aspect and appearance. The lecture was taking place at the Swedish Center at Jaffa Gate that often organizes specific meetings centered on East-Jerusalem and Palestinian matters. They also have special meetings with Israeli and Armenian artists who are somehow positioned on the verge of the Jewish society. Per se, it allows a real freedom of speech and sharing ideas. Some people were missing tonight. Indeed, some friends of Dr. J. Tleel do live outside of Jerusalem and some email was read in his honor; an admirer living in Gaza could not come but assured him of his deep respect and friendship. Others were also missing, but the people who had come were certainly true friends if not "faith companions" of Dr. John Tleel.

H.B. Theophilos III, patriarch of Jerusalem also arrived and sat quietly. Dr. Tleel and the patriarch have known each other since the young boy and future primate of the Eastern Orthodox Church arrived from Greece. He was Patriarch Benediktos' deacon, which underscores a historical link over the past 40 years of turbulent events.

John Tleel has the courage to state that "he is Jerusalem" and had been for several generations, since the time his ancestors arrived in the Holy Land. He speaks perfect Greek, Arabic, French, English and some Hebrew and reminded his long path along the century: from the British Mandate and the end of the Ottoman empire to Jordanian rule over half of Jerusalem, then 1967 and the coming of the Israelis in East-Jerusalem. The atmosphere was rather "pro-Palestinian", say "pro-Arab". At times, I am definitely not sure it makes any sense to consider that a group or people back this or that other part of the inhabitants whether Jews, Arabs, Palestinians or Israelis. Things are often not said, not clear or too sharply clear-cut and this is always too much.

As a matter of fact, John Tleel is hurt, wounded; he suffers from all these events he had to go through. There is much more than any kind of partisanship. It makes it more real and sensitive. He sees the failures that passed through his life and focused on two powerful events that we truly should meditate: the visit of Pope Paul VI in January 1964 and met "on the mount of Olives, the place of peace par excellence" Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople with the assistance of late Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem who lived up there. It has been for him and all the inhabitants a tremendously strong and great venue, unique because of the theological and spiritual consequences that opened up the road to something that only shows up with much hesitation at the present.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI also returned the incorruptible relics of the major Holy Land Saint and initiator of the "Jerusalem Typikon", Mar Sabbas, a Cappadocian Greek who had firstly been a monk in Jerusalem, then had been sent to the desert of Judea by St. Euthymos. He thus created there a magnificent monastery in 483; in 2002, we celebrated the 1500 anniversary of the unique monastery located down in the southern part of the country, under the Palestinian Authority. It had a tragic history as most of the Christians in the Holy Land. The Persians assassinated the monks on May 16, 619. They were later replaced by the Muslim Arabs. Nonetheless, the return of the incorruptible body of the Saint in 1965 was considered as an immense sign towards the huge history of faith shared by the local Eastern Orthodox Church. Mar Sabbas was carried from the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis to the desert where he had lived and the great monastery. It is truly wonderful that John Tleel as an "authentic "I am Jerusalem" man could mention the two events. They were the most significant and real signs of hope in the "earth-quaking" region of Palestine, Eretz and the Middle-East.

As he was lecturing, Jaffa Gate got full of Jewish people, all generations gathering in to walk to the Western Wall. It is the "Remembrance day for those who fell for the State of Israel". It tracks back to the year 1860, when the Jews of the Old City were murdered by the Ottoman rulers. The following day will be the Independence Day of the State of Israel. At the present, Dr. John Tleel is a "permitted resident" in the city where he has spent all his life. As he was speaking, the question could be pictured by looking at our audience and the crowds down the road at Jaffa Gate. The Patriarch of Jerusalem accompanied a long-term friend who has been faithful to the Rum-Orthodox Church, both in its Greek and Arab context, teachings and traditions. A Syrian-Orthodox friend whose destiny is also so peculiar took the pictures while a Swedish pastor, a Palestinian assistant and mostly Scandinavian and Arab guests were listening to history.

There is a very special atmosphere in Jerusalem. It is unique. So many people would pretend to say "I am Jerusalem" without any insights into the life-long experience of a man of faith. John Tleel mentioned all the footsteps of Jesus' life that climbed to Jerusalem since his childhood and died there, was buried, resurrected ans ascended to heaven, calling all humankind to hope a victory over death. This is his testimony along a tragic century that broke the apparently regular order of the Ottomans.

In Jerusalem, we pass through walls and still remain invisible or opaque to each other. Down the street tonight, any Jew would say "I am Jerusalem", because of 3000 years of fidelity to King David. The same who came from Bethlehem.

Dr. Tleel's book is available at the Franscican Bookshop at Jaffa Gate (Jaffa Gate). Whatever opinion or concern, the book is real; it speaks with emotions and detailed facts, private and societal events. At this point, it is far more interesting than any usual guide.
Dr. John Tleel (left)

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