Reflections by Cathy Hoffman

For many people, especially at this time of year, I imagine Bethlehem means the birth place of Jesus,  a Christian center of  great significance and perhaps a desired destination.

People with some current knowledge or exposure to media, may think of Bethlehem as a Palestinian city, one associated with conflict and perhaps danger or fighting being surrounded by a “separation” wall,

Having just visited Bethlehem with a delegation from Cambridge, I now have a 3rd perspective characterized by contrasts. To me Bethlehem is a multi-faithed city where Muslims and Christians share government office, school, work places and neighborhoods and one where many of the formerly Christian majority have left because there is no livelihood.  It is a vibrant, welcoming city cut off by a wall which separates parts of the city from other parts, and all of the city from the rest of the West Bank and next-door Jerusalem. It is a city with a Chamber of Commerce building with demonstrations of marble, mother of pearl dioramas, embroidery and other quality goods for trade without means to export or import, a committed and quality Rehab hospital which can’t rely on patients getting there or reimbursement from insurance, an all volunteer children’s cancer project serving children and their families who have no ability to travel back and forth health services. It is a place of great hospitality yearning for a return of tourism, relationships and visitors to come and stay and people who value the opportunity to travel, work, study without the restrictions and humiliations of checkpoints, permissions and sieges. It is a city where elementary and high school students study enthusiastically but getting to school may be interrupted by checkpoint stoppages, closures and Israeli military shutdowns, where university students pursue degrees in hotel management, engineering, journalism and the humanities knowing they may not have any opportunity for careers in their professions.

I am really hopeful to be part of the Cambridge-Bethlehem people-to-people project -  an experiment where  people in Cambridge from many walks of life are invited to connect with their counterparts in Bethlehem.