Prayers4Peace: Because of Tabeetha I have learned to be myself everywhere.

Because of Tabeetha I have learned to be myself everywhere.

By: Rev Muriel Pearson, Church of Scotland

‘Because of Tabeetha I have learned to be myself everywhere,’ Daniel, a grade 11 student explains. He is sitting with half a dozen fellow students around a table in the library, talking to visitors from Scotland.

Daniel and his fellow students talk about how they value the diversity they find in Tabeetha, of how they feel they belong to one family, of how their social skills benefit.

Tabeetha School is a unique Christian School in Jaffa, Israel, run by the Church of Scotland. It is the only mainstream school the Church of Scotland runs anywhere in the world. You might say it is an accident of history, as it came under the Church of Scotland’s governance because its founder Miss Jane Walker- Arnott left her school to the Church in her will in 1911.

Today, Christians, Jews, and Muslims study together. They know their own identity as Palestinians or Israelis or Ukrainians or Russians, as Greek Orthodox or Catholic, and they are not afraid of difference. They talk about how to explore difficult topics- recognizing multiple viewpoints and assessing sources for reliability. It is no wonder these young people go on to brilliant careers in business, commerce, diplomacy, medicine, and law.

Miss Walker-Arnott had left her native Scotland to live in Palestine because of her delicate health, but she and her sister in 1863 started a school in her house with 14 girls as students, Christian and Muslim together, learning reading and writing, arithmetic and lacemaking. Thomas Cook, the travel entrepreneur, was so impressed that he gifted the Walker-Arnotts land and enough money to build a proper school. In 2023, 160 years later, the school has 330 students from kindergarten to grade 12, studying in English and sitting A-Levels.

You might say it is an accident of history, but because of this legacy, there is a Christian school in Jaffa where Jews, Christians, and Muslims learn together and live together as living proof that the intractable and polarized issues that hold the whole country of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory in a terrible grip can be challenged and overcome. There are other Christian schools of course, but the combination of English tuition, small classes, and an independent curriculum make Tabeetha different.

Yet while the difference can be celebrated it also leaves the school vulnerable. Tabeetha receives a smaller grant from the Ministry of Education than other Christian schools because it does not follow the bagruit– the curriculum specified by the Israeli government. This in turn increases reliance on income from fees. It is hard to get the balance right to employ the best teachers and staff and keep the fees within reach of ordinary people. The school buildings, built in the airy Ottoman style of Old Jaffa, are beautiful: but not fit for purpose. A multi-million-pound refurbishment is needed. The conversation with students described at the beginning outlined their frustrations at the lack of facilities for changing after a sweaty game of soccer and the difficulty of moving around the school, which has no access for students with a physical disability.

 

The Board of Governors, based in Scotland apart from the two ministers of St Andrew’s Jerusalem and Tiberias, Rev Dr Stewart Gillan and Rev Muriel Pearson, can see changes are needed. A strategic review and programme of investment are required to keep the Tabeetha star shining bright.

Within the Church of Scotland, Tabeetha is not perhaps as well known as it should be. It is a witness to unity in diversity which should be highly prized. In a recent assembly at Tabeetha School I described it as a tartan school: made up of many colours woven together in a unique pattern and as a Christian school, threaded through with love.

I believe Tabeetha School is not an accident of history but a witness to the world. The question is: How do we support, develop, and create the conditions where Tabeetha School can continue to flourish? Are there church partners prepared to support and invest in Tabeetha?

The school gets its name from the woman in Acts, who is so beloved because of her service: Tabitha or Dorcas. When she died, many of the women she’d supported crowded around Peter, showing the shirts and coats she had made them. Like Jesus with Jairus’ daughter, Peter puts the mourners out of the room and prays with the body. Then he said, ‘Tabitha, get up!’ And she did. (Acts 9:32-43)

In a climate of ever-increasing segregation in terms of both areas of residence and opportunity, where Israelis are divided amongst themselves and Palestinian or Arab Israelis are disadvantaged in Israel and viewed with suspicion by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, Tabeetha School defies the norm as Tabitha did. It is our hope and prayer that the school, like her namesake, will continue to be a good news story and bring many to believe that new life is possible.

Let us pray:

God whose name is Love
We give thanks for the love and learning
In Tabeetha School.
We give thanks for generations of students
Christians, Jews and Muslims
Who learn together, and learn
How to live in diversity and unity.
We pray for the Board of Governors
The parents, students and teachers
Who are working together
To build a sustainable future
And above all we pray for shalom
Peace, wholeness, flourishing
For all your children in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Amen 

 

Notice: This article was written before the outbreak of war on October 7th. In a more polarized society than ever, Tabeetha is needed more than ever. Donate to the work of Tabeetha today at https://tabeethaschool.org/donate-to-tabeetha/.   

If you’d like to know more about Tabeetha School follow us on Instagram or Facebook or get in touch with Kenny Roger, Secretary to the Board of Tabeetha School kroger@churchofscotland.org.uk Or me, Rev Muriel Pearson mpearson@churchofscotland.org.uk 

About the Author: Rev Muriel Pearson was the Parish Minister for the Church of Scotland in Glasgow for nearly 17 years. She now serves as the Associate Minister for St Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

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