Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Little Girl, Arise

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

There's nothing more fascinating than old photos if you want to get a hold on the history of a place.
So on International Women's Day, this 1929 photo of the Jerusalem women's democratic club is fascinating.  This was just 9 years after women's suffrage was adopted in the USA.  Their focus was on non-violence, human rights, and democratic values.  Where did this originate?  On this international women's day, it is significant that a Palestinian Women's Bill of rights was adopted in 1994, the year that Palestinians achieved their first breath of self-rule.  There's plenty of room for growth when it comes to women's issues, but five out of 19 of Palestinian cabinet ministers are women and many leaders in education and business are women, including the head of the Palestinian stock exchange authority and Governor of Ramallah region.

The first school of girls in Jerusalem was given the name Talitha Kumi.  That's an Aramaic term that occurs in the New Testament.                                                                                                                                                            In Mark 5:41, when Jesus encountered a twelve-year old girl at the moment of death, he took her hand and said, "Little girl, arise."  So it was very appropriate, that this Aramaic term was used for the name of a school that lifted up young girls through education and career development.  The Talitha Kumi was a long-time landmark in Jerusalem, northwest of the Old City on King George Street.  The name positioned below the clock and above an arch announced to all that education for young girls was important.

These were some of the first Lutheran Missionaries.  They did not come to convert others but to show their faith in service to others.  They came from a small village on the Rhine River of Germany called Kaiserswerth, where there was a school of Deaconesses.  Their most famous graduate in 1853 was Florence Nightengale.  But three others came to Jerusalem that same year to establish Talitha Kumi.  In subsequent years hundreds of Arab girls graduated to become nurses in health ministries and to improve their lot in life.

After the 1948 war, when the Lutheran congregations were located in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the church lost the school which was demolished to make room for a new department store.  Yet thousands of cars drive by each day to see the arch with its clock and the words Talitha Kumi, left as a monument of earliers days.
Talitha Kumi, however, did not die, but a new school was built in the West Bank town of Beit Jala-- now one of the top coed schools in the country, where Christians and Muslims study side by side, learning respect for each other's faith, and enhancing their academic work with strong programs in music, environmental education, and peace studies.

Talitha Kumi began as a school for girls.  Also in the 1850s another German named Johannes Schneller arrived in Jerusalem with a number of Syrian orphans.  This developed into the Schneller Syrian Orphanage and Boys School.  This was the first school in all Jerusalem to offer a liberal arts curriculum, science, math, history, language.  As a German Lutheran institution, like Talitha Kumi, the school was closed and property confiscated and turned into an Israeli military base until 2008.  Now it will be turned into housing development for orthodox Jews.  Today the ELCJHL operates four k-12 schools in West Bank cities of Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and Ramallah with about 2,000 students, an amazing figure for such a small church.  Half of the students are Muslim-- in Ramallah 80 %.  This fits with the philosophy of missionaries 150 years ago, that their purpose was not conversion, but the education of young people to contribute to the better of Society.  Notice again the 1929 photo above of Christian and Muslim women uniting over common values.  Christians and Muslims have lived together in this place for almost 1,400 years, and their future depends on their development together in schools where Christians are taught to respect Muslims and Muslims are taught to respect Christians.

Last month in Ramallah Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the guest speaker for the cornerstone laying for a new Lutheran school in Ramallah, one that will quadruple in size the current school.  This is a clear endorsement that the PA respects the work of Lutheran Schools, especially the interfaith education setting, and the focus on top-notch education for young girls.
Later blogs will return to the schools.  There are many good stories to tell.  For now, here's one recent experience with the schools, when Fred served as a judge for the students of all four schools coming together for their annual English Bowl.

Many of the 24 Eighth, ninth, and tenth-grade students who competed, along with teachers and judges at Dar Akalima School in Bethlehem.

This young woman, a ninth grader, competed in interpretative reading as also in extemporaneous speaking.  This is amazing when English is a second language to Arabic and they learn German as well.

The four judges, English speakers from England, Canada, and the USA
A Dar Akalima Teacher proudly congratulates her medal-winning daughter.  A perfect story for International Women's Day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
by Fred & Gloria Strickert