Posts

Re-entry

An update from two volunteers’ semester in Bethlehem

Last February, John and Barbara Fritsche traded their downtown Chicago condo for a small apartment in the bustling center of Bethlehem.
They’d wake every morning to the sounds of church bells, calls to prayer, and shop-owners hawking their goods. They found themselves immersed in an energy that even downtown Chicago can’t rival.
A lifetime of experience in arts and education (John) and legal work (Barbara) combined with a shared passion for Middle East peace led them to volunteer at Dar al-Kalima University of Arts and Culture for the semester.
During his days on campus, you could find John with his sleeves rolled up, sporting an apron spattered with clay. A retired education and ceramics professor, John Fritsche assisted in the ceramics classes and led assessment workshops for faculty. He spent time with students both problem-solving techniques and listening to their hopes and dreams.
“These students are so hungry for opportunity,” he shared. “As students, some have already launched small businesses and are here to hone their craft. We get to support them in both ventures.”
After teaching, John often joined students for tea in their homes, glimpsing their world beyond the classroom. As he and Barbara discovered, hospitality marked their daily interactions with Palestinians.
On Barbara’s last day in Bethlehem, she shared a 5-hour meal with Nuha Khoury, the Academic Dean of Dar al-Kalima. The perfect end to a semester filled with meaningful work and even more impactful relationships. Over the last 4 months, Barbara applied her 35+ years as a general practice attorney as she worked directly with college’s administration. With Nuha, she developed policies and procedures to be used by students, staff, administrators and faculty. She also gave tours of the college to English speaking visitors.
As a runner, Barbara was immediately struck by the lack of freedom of movement in Bethlehem. She’d start each day, jogging through the winding streets of Old Bethlehem, only to be confronted by ever-present separation wall that surrounds the city on three sides.
In her first week there, she noted that not only physical barriers limited movement. She met a Bethlehemite whose family member died in Jerusalem, yet she could not get permissions to attend the funeral just 6 miles away. Throughout the weeks and months that would follow, she and John would be reminded of the ways the occupation threatens to restrict not only Palestinians’ freedom of movement but also their freedom to simply exist. Despite these hard revelations, they clung to Rev. Mitri Raheb’s definition of hope: “Hope is when you know the world may end tomorrow, but you continue to plant olive trees.”
This is the work they were privileged to join. “It was truly an amazing and incredibly rewarding experience. We are forever changed,” Barbara shared.
You can read Barbara’s account of her time in Bethlehem on her blog.

Nuha Khoury with Barbara Fritsche

Dar al-Kalima launches international student film festival

This April, Dar al Kalima University of Arts and Culture launched the first film festival in Bethlehem showcasing student films from across the world. From April 1-6, the college screened over 74 films from 16 countries and 18 schools. For six days straight, the college drew crowds from morning until evening to watch student films and participate in discussions and workshops. Jury committees comprised of internationally renowned filmmakers including Annmarie Jacir, awarded works in three categories: fiction, documentary, and experimental.

During the opening ceremony, Rev. Dr. Raheb noted that this festival signals Bethlehem as a cultural capital of the Middle East. “This occupied city whose concrete walls have tried to trap our people is also a city that embodies the world, that creatively resists imposed limits,” he announced. “By creating this global artistic exchange in the heart of Palestine, Bethlehem becomes a window to the world and a bridge that connects people across national, religious and cultural boundaries.”

Student organizers also shared this vision. Rana, founder and director of Dar al-Kalima’s film club, shared, “We are a generation that grew up without movie theaters or local film festivals. Yet, today, here we are, producing films that compete in international festivals. We could not do this without the support of our professors and the film program here.”

The festival opened on Land Day, a holiday that celebrates the connection of Palestinians to the cherished land of their ancestors. This timing was not a coincidence, film professor and festival director Said Andoni remarked. “Our film is a tool of resistance, a vehicle by which we explore and raise awareness of culturally relevant issues.”

Dar al-Kalima students picked up two awards.

Salah Abu Neima’s “Area C” won best Palestinian short film. The movie tells the story of a Hussein, a young Palestinian boy who tries to keep his home and family safe from Israeli settler’s daily attacks in Area C, a Palestinian area in the West Bank surrounded by Israeli settlements. Shayma’ Awawdeh’s “4th Floor” received an honorable mention for its account of a young woman who moves out of her family’s home to seek independence. While transporting her belongings on an elevator, she discovers the unexpected awaits her.