Return to Memoriam
Professor of Psychology
Seattle Pacific University
We Irish Americans speak of thin places, where the natural and ethereal readily reach out to each other. Here we especially encounter the presence of God or of saints who have passed on before us (and yes, even faerie magic). Last Wednesday my students and I experienced a thin place when we shared a reading by Father Henri Nouwen on death of a loved one, new spring and Jesus Christ's resurrection. We did not realize it at that moment, but this devotional was for Wadad who died a few hours later. Perhaps our devotional eased Wadad's passage into God's eternal presence, after all we were not strangers to her. Wadad was in this very classroom about three weeks before, when we were blessed to be her last group of SPU learners. She captivated us with her story of violence, flight, exile, and return as a Palestinian Christian, and she exhorted us to relinquish complacency and to work actively for peace. In a fine-tuned harmony, we returned a blessing to Wadad, who, though quite weary and ill, was pleased indeed to be teaching again in an SPU classroom.
Permit me to add additional glimpses of Wadad to Don Holsinger's eloquent description of her return to Jerusalem. Even as Don, an historian of the region, found Wadad's life experiences moving, I as a student of the psychologies of war and peacemaking found her "heart" metamorphosis particularly compelling. When Wadad was forced from her homeland in 1948, she was a teenager separated from her parents. Together with her sisters, she survived a terrorizing flight into exile and became what we term today "unaccompanied refugee children and youth." At that point in her life she was filled with anger and hatred. In her own words: "I would have gladly picked up a gun and shot the first Israeli I saw." She embodied the experience and feelings of many of today's youth around the world displaced by violence, living in desperation and little hope. It took a number of years before Wadad's "faith in God was rekindled and [her] acceptance of the love of God impacted [her] feelings of hostility …" At the end of her life, her outrage was no less, but her goals were to seek peace between Palestinian and Israeli through God's justice and compassion.
And on a lighter note. Wadad often spoke before groups, addressing her own experience and the current reality of Palestinians in the Middle East. At one such engagement, she was asked, "What missionaries brought the gospel message to you and your people, so that you became Christians?" She burst into her broad, bright smile and chuckled. "My dear, " she replied, "if it weren't for the mission work of my Palestinian ancestors, you who claim European roots would not be Christians!"
Professor of History
Seattle Pacific University
In 30 years of studying and teaching the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I have heard countless personal stories that convey the poignancy of two peoples, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, torn asunder by their deep religious and historical ties to the same piece of land. Perhaps no story has touched me more deeply than the one shared by my friend and colleague, Wadad Saba, Professor Emeritus of Music at Seattle Pacific University, who died this year on a late-February day as acts of violence were ravaging the land of her birth.
It is the story of Wadad's return to her hometown of Jerusalem after 42 years in exile, having grown up there as a Christian Palestinian Arab and fleeing just prior to her 16th birthday during the war that surrounded the establishment of Israel in 1948. In 1990, protected by an American passport, Wadad was finally able to return to Jerusalem for a visit. She had no trouble locating the house in which she had grown up. Aware that some Palestinian-Americans were being met by stones and insults when returning to visit their confiscated homes, Wadad purchased a bouquet of flowers from the first-floor flower shop. With heart pounding, she climbed the steps and knocked on the door of the second-story residence of her childhood home.
An elderly woman answered the door. Unable to speak English, the woman called for her daughter to translate into Hebrew. When Wadad explained why she was there, they invited her into the living room (Wadad's former bedroom), brought Arabic coffee and cookies, and listened to her story describing the terror of war, the loss of family possessions, the three-year separation from her parents and the decades of longing to return home. Then Wadad asked the elderly woman how she had come to possess the Saba residence. Wadad listened as the woman described growing up within the ancient Jewish community in Iraq. Her family had fled to Israel after the 1948 war, bringing with them similar stories of dispossession and heartache. The two women continued telling their stories, now without need of a translator, for they had discovered through their shared experiences that they also shared a common maternal language — Arabic.
When it came time to depart, the Jewish woman put her arm around Wadad's shoulders and with a tremor in her voice said, "Isn't it awful what people do to people? Next time you come to Jerusalem, please come visit your home again." Wadad's concluding words are a fitting epitaph for a beautiful life that brilliantly reflected God's love on those around her: "Tears were the obvious response for both of us. For one brief moment, by the grace of God, the walls of partition dissolved and traditional enemies responded heart to heart."