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Diocese of Jerusalem School Book Campaign draws to a close

Posted on: July 1, 2003 10:59 AM
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[ACNS source: Development Office, Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem]

Dear Friends,

Salaam and greetings to you from Jerusalem. Welcome to the last month of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem Book Campaign.

The Diocese of Jerusalem has a powerful educational ministry, witnessing the love of Christ to almost 6000 students this academic year. We believe that children are the future, and that a quality education gives them the tools that will enable them to become productive and creative members of society.

The School Book Campaign aims to provide a sizable addition of books to the libraries, in each of ten Diocesan schools. The campaign has profiled a different school each month, for the current academic year. This month we will introduce St John's Episcopal School in Haifa, Israel.

We ask that you make a commitment to sponsor a certain. This is an ideal way to make a link between Sunday school classes, Church school classrooms, youth groups or individual families and the children of the Holy Land. Five pounds or ten dollars will buy a book.

We have an additional goal, in that we hope that you will develop your personal relationship with the children of the Diocese of Jerusalem, and that this will evolve into a long term and sustainable friendship.

St John's Episcopal School

Four teachers in St John's School's staff lounge gather in a huddle as computer science teacher Simon Sabbah shows off a 20 to 30-year-old class photo. One teacher laughs as she spots a childhood photo of her husband, a former student at the school.

Sabbah is compiling this and other photos for an historical project conducted by the Israeli teachers union, which chose St John's as one of 100 Israeli schools to partake in the program. In the process, a new generation of teachers and students is learning what old-timers have known for years - that St John's School and the Anglican Church have had an extensive legacy in this Mediterranean coastal city.

"The church and the school grew up together," explained the Revd Canon Shehadeh Shehadeh, priest at St Luke's Episcopal Church in Haifa and chairman of St John's School, while sitting in the school's teachers' lounge last month. "We were the first school in Haifa, when there were only 100 Jewish people in Haifa."

These days, the Christian school contains more than 400 students, one-third of whom are Muslim and a few who are Druze, and it has plans to expand even further. Unlike most Anglican schools in the Holy Land, St John's is not run by the diocese but by the local Anglican parishes in Haifa - a feature that allows people who know the region to manage the school's operations, Fr Shehadeh said.

The school's Christian emphasis means that students not only learn the Three R's, and subjects such as history and computer science; they also engage in religious education classes and attend chapel every day.

On a Wednesday afternoon last month, hundreds of enthusiastic students donned in light blue tops and blue jeans filed into the Church of St John the Evangelist for their chapel time. A recently restored pipe organ dating from the 1890s stands in the 68-year-old church. However, students on this day sang modern worship tunes to the sound of an electronic keyboard, reciting words emblazoned on a projector screen in front of them. Later, they listened to a talk by a teacher who read some Scripture passages.

"The aim behind it is not to convert Muslims to Christianity, but to make Muslims and Christians aware of ethics," Fr Shehadeh said of the chapel services and religious education classes. "Every student knows that our aim is not for them to be converted. We make them aware of the true message of the gospel and the salvation of Jesus Christ to everyone."

Unlike most major cities in Israel, Christians make up the majority of Haifa's Palestinian population. More than 60 percent of the some 35,000 Arabs in Haifa are Christian, the majority being Greek Catholics. Haifa contains no Muslim schools, so the city's Muslim population mainly depends upon public schools or local Christian schools like St John's. Many of these schools were built by overseas mission organisations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Traditionally, Haifa had a majority Arab population, but that all changed when thousands of Palestinians left the Mediterranean port city during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Today, some 90 per cent of Haifa's 250,000 to 300,000 people are of Jewish descent. Fr Shehadeh estimates that if the Palestinians had not fled or been driven out of their homes in 1948, his congregation at St Luke's Church would contain some 11,000 Anglicans rather than the 280 who worship there today.

Haifa generally is known as a city where Palestinian and Jewish residents coexist in peace. However, local Palestinians still face myriad challenges, according to school officials.

"When it comes to minorities, we have to prove ourselves more than others in society," Fr Shehadeh said. "In a decade or two, it will be difficult for a non-Jew to exist respectfully in this society."

As a result, there is a temptation for Christians to go to other predominately Christian nations, such as Australia, the United States or Canada, where they can adapt relatively easily to the new culture, he said.

Economic woes are yet another challenge facing the local population. St John's School only receives 60 per cent support from the Israeli Ministry of Education, so it must subsidise additional costs through tuition fees.

"It makes it hard for many of the parents of students who are poor," Fr Shehadeh said, though he added that the school offers financial support programs for needy students.

The school spends more money per student than most Israeli schools, and St John's continues to maintain the reputation as one of the top schools in Haifa, he said. Most teachers have at least a bachelor's degree, and all of them are paid the standard rate that teachers receive in Israel.

The school not only benefits from the leadership of director Akram Haddad, but also from school advisers Hannah Abu Hannah and Wajeeh Awad. Abu Hannah is a retired teacher, poet and writer; Awad is a lecturer, counselor and coordinator for the Arab College for Education in Israel in Haifa.

St John's high reputation means the school cannot accommodate all the parents who want to enroll their children there. However, the school hopes to expand within the next few years to help meet the increasing demand. Fr Shehadeh says he hopes to build new elementary classrooms next to the school's kindergarten, which stands a few city blocks away from the rest of the school near St Luke's Church.

If approved, the St Luke's campus would hold kindergarten through third grade classes, and the current campus would hold the remaining classes. Eventually, Fr Shehadeh says he would love to build a high school, but he described the project as a long-term goal that would take lots of planning.

Meanwhile, there is plenty of other work to do, according to school officials.

"Our ultimate aim is to educate students who can live in this modern life and manage in this ever-changing world," said Awad, who not only serves as one of the school's directors, but also used to be a headmaster at St John's.

The type of preparation Awad describes does not happen in a purely academic setting at St John's School. At the end of the day, one of the most endearing features of the school is the sense of community it provides, school officials say.

"The school is known as the family of St John, and we don't carry the name only among the teachers," said Fr Shehadeh. "We don't only talk about love; we show them our love, and we try to solve most problems with our Christian presence."

We accept direct transfers to our account in Jerusalem, checks through the post, or offer contact with organisations that support our work, in your home community. Please contact me for banking information.

Thank you for your support of this exciting project. With my warm regards,

Nancy J. Dinsmore
Development Officer
Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

PO Box 19122
Jerusalem 91191

Fax: 972 2 627 3847