Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission. – Toni Morrison
Winter Camp at Deir Ammar &
School vacations are almost universally welcomed by children in every culture, particularly when they include an activity that promises some fun. In early winter Palestinian public schools are on vacation for 2 – 3 weeks, a time that can be long with nothing to do.
In the Deir Ammar refugee camp and Kufor Ni'ameh villages there was plenty to do. Seraj Fellowship students planned "winter camp" for 20 - 30 children, including art and craft projects in the libraries themselves and, when the weather turned warm, hikes, picnics and story-telling. In Deir Ammar the program was run by volunteers and the sponsoring organization. Lectures for mothers were held on health and nutrition followed by team-building exercises for children combined with games and art.
As individual Seraj libraries develop successful programs like "winter camps", the Advisory Council will share them throughout our library network. More "winter camps" to come!
Seraj Now is a page on our websitewhere you can regularly find recent Seraj news.
Abed, a BJ Wagner "Seraj Fellow" from Jiflek
The Seraj community is privileged to have begun working with an extraordinary young man from Jiflek named Abed who is one of our BJ Wagner Fellows. Abed is studying English language (translation) at Arab American University in Jenin and hopes eventually to open his own office for translation. When not studying he helps his community planting bushes and trees, painting the library and planning educational games for children.
In early January the Salamehs convened a meeting of all the Wagner Fellows in Seraj's Ramallah office to review their responsibilities, encourage and motivate them with an awareness of what mentoring by a young adult college student can mean to younger boys and girls.
Abed, who because of flying check points had the longest and most uncertain commute to the meeting, arranged to sleep over in Ramallah the preceding night. Laurie reports he arrived early the next day to help set up and stayed late to help clean up. When the construction site in Jiflek was mysteriously cleaned up, it turns out it was Abed who removed the trash and dangerous materials and expanded the space where the children can play safely.
In America, Abed's behavior would be commendable, but what makes young people like Abed and the rest of our Wagner Fellows extraordinary is that they excel despite the many disincentives that come with Occupation, living under military law and facing a struggling economy.
The official opening ceremony of Searj's 8th library in Jiflek has been a long time in coming, but it's now scheduled for March. Stay tuned!
Reflections on a Visit to Palestine
Meet Seraj Board Member
Editors Note: A personal visit to Palestine is the best way to gain a deep understanding of the Occupation and the situation facing Palestinians. If you are interested in a trip, Seraj stands ready to help with information & advice. Contact us.
During the summer of 2015, I spent 2 weeks in Palestine and Israel. I long had been interested in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and in the many attempts by U.S. Presidents to broker a peace agreement that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State, particularly as envisioned in the Oslo Accords
I first met Palestinian student, Estephan Salameh, while he was studying at North Park University and taking courses in community development with Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). As a board member of SCUPE, I was privileged to meet a number of international students. My relationship with Estephan has been one of the most enduring out of those years. I was introduced to his new American wife Laurie by a mutual acquaintance and agreed to help her establish a U.S. charity that could support the creation of children’s libraries in small Palestinian villages as she joined Estephan in Palestine. That was the beginning of Seraj Library Project. It was impossible to say “no” to Estephan and Laurie when asked to join the board.
Having always wanted to visit Palestine and Israel, fellow Board member, Paul Parker, convinced me to join a trip he had organized. We visited with many Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals, some government spokesmen, college students and ordinary citizens. We also visited with spokesmen for the various religious groups in both Israel and Palestine. While visits to Biblical holy sites were both memorable and amazing, the most memorable visits were to spots connecting us with the current life and times of both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. This included a Seraj Library in a refugee camp in Bethlehem, the Tent of Nations farm of an American educated Palestinian Christian, the town of Hebron south of Bethlehem, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (memorable more for the conflict present when we visited than its biblical and historical interest).
Having been acquainted with the Camp David Accords negotiated by President Carter and the follow-up Oslo Accords pushed by President Clinton, I was anxious to view first hand the state of those efforts, especially in recognition of the failure of the subsequent Camp David Summit and of two Intafadas. Seeing first hand the Israeli military occupation of East Jerusalem, Hebron and other major portions of the West Bank, hearing about the military’s intimidation of the Palestinian family farm, the family’s creation of Tent of Nations and the family’s remarkable Christian commitment to non-violent resistance – all of this and more left me convinced that the two nation solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict envisioned in the Oslo Accords was virtually dead. The massive number of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the division by walls, special roads and special vehicle license plates leaves me unable to imagine the existence of a meaningfully independent Palestinian State. Even in that depressing picture of settlements and the ugly, intimidating wall, the resilience of Palestinian Christian and Muslim college students, farmers, small business people, artists, intellectuals and government people was uplifting. I remain hopeful for better days, even as politicians on all sides continue to add to the polarization.
Making it a monthly habit
We try to make fund raising for our Palestinian partners as painless as possible, and, frankly, not annoying. But as much as we want your financial support, we also want you to benefit from your support of Seraj – by getting to know our Palestinian partners through our bi-monthly newsletters and deriving real satisfaction in knowing you're making a positive difference in the lives of children, young adults and families who live under difficult circumstances.
We hope more and more of you will commit to a monthly gift to Seraj carried out automatically on your credit card. Make it a small amount – equivalent to one Starbucks fancied-up coffee – or two. And when you see it on your monthly credit card statement, take real pleasure in knowing you're making a difference.
For every new donor who signs up for monthly giving, we'll send a picture of a grateful Seraj student to help you remember what Seraj is all about.
To make a donationclick here, and please consider a monthly or quarterly commitment.
John Cassel and Cotton Fite, Seraj Board co-chairs
The 2017 Seraj Benefit
A new day, a new time, a new venue
Mark your calendars forSunday afternoon, October 15at the Chateau Ritz, 9100 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Niles. The venue is spacious, has an excellent chef and serving staff, and abundant parking. It's still very accessible to guests from the North Shore and much more accessible to those from the western and southern suburbs. Plan to join us!