About us

 

There has been an active and vibrant Palestinian Quaker community in Ramallah since the late 1800’s. In 1910, this community built the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and later added another building that was used for community outreach.

The Ramallah Friends Meeting has always played a vital role in the community. In 1948, the buildings and grounds became the home to many Palestinian refugees. Throughout the years, the members of the Ramallah Friends Meeting organized numerous community programs such as the Children’s Play Center, the First Day School, and women’s activities.

By the early 1990’s, the Meetinghouse and Annex which housed meeting rooms and bathroom facilities, fell into disrepair as a result of damage inflicted by time and impact of conflict. So serious was the deterioration of the meetinghouse that by the middle 1990’s it was impossible to use the building at all.

A further blow to the Friends and the wider Palestinian community was the high level of emigration brought on by the economic situation and the hardships arising from the continuing Israeli military occupation. The Meetinghouse, which had served as a place of worship for the Friends in Ramallah, could no longer be used as such and the Annex could no longer be used for community outreach.

 

In 2002, a committee consisting of members of the Religious Society of Friends in the US and the Clerk of the Ramallah Meeting began to raise funds for the renovations of the buildings and grounds of the Meetinghouse. By November, 2004 the renovations were complete, and on March 6, 2005, exactly 95 years to the day after the dedication, the Meetinghouse and Annex were rededicated as a Quaker and community resource.

Friends meet every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. for unprogrammed Meeting for Worship. Everyone is welcome to attend.

History

There has been an active and vibrant Palestinian Quaker community in Ramallah since the late 1800’s. In 1910, this community built the Ramallah Friends Meetinghouse and later added another building that was used for community outreach.

The Ramallah Friends Meeting has always played a vital role in the community. In 1948, the buildings and grounds became the home to many Palestinian refugees. Throughout the years, the members of the Ramallah Friends Meeting organized numerous community programs such as the Children’s Play Center, the First Day School, and women’s activities.

By the early 1990’s, the Meetinghouse and Annex which housed meeting rooms and bathroom facilities, fell into disrepair as a result of damage inflicted by time and impact of conflict. So serious was the deterioration of the meetinghouse that by the middle 1990’s it was impossible to use the building at all.

A further blow to the Friends and the wider Palestinian community was the high level of emigration brought on by the economic situation and the hardships arising from the continuing Israeli military occupation. The Meetinghouse, which had served as a place of worship for the Friends in Ramallah, could no longer be used as such and the Annex could no longer be used for community outreach.

 

In 2002, a committee consisting of members of the Religious Society of Friends in the US and the Clerk of the Ramallah Meeting began to raise funds for the renovations of the buildings and grounds of the Meetinghouse. By November, 2004 the renovations were complete, and on March 6, 2005, exactly 95 years to the day after the dedication, the Meetinghouse and Annex were rededicated as a Quaker and community resource.

Friends meet every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. for unprogrammed Meeting for Worship. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Who are the Friends and What Do They Believe?
By Thom Jeavons

Former Steering Committeee Member, Friends of Ramallah Friends Meeting Quakers (FRFMQ).

The Religious Society of Friends, sometimes known as the Quakers, is part of the larger Christian family. Friends have from their origins disavowed creeds under the conviction that how one practices and demonstrates one’s faith in daily life is more important than what one says about what one believes.


So, a key, distinguishing feature of Quakerism is that it is experiential religion. uakers are a people who seek an authentic experience of the Divine, the presence of God, the living Christ,; and who believe that experience is available to all who seek it in spirit and in truth; and who believe that experience will transform our lives for the better, and inspire and enable us to transform the world for the better.

With our focus on experience, we are often distrustful of words to explain our faith. But it is fair to say the essential tenets of Quakerism center on five points.


God is real. What the first Quakers found, and Quakers ever since have both experienced and taken as a given, is that the Divine is real. That spiritual experience is real experience. And while the Divine cannot be seen, touched, or measured; those who have known this Presence know that nothing could be more real or more important to living whole, good, and meaningful lives.

God is accessible and knowable directly and immediately. The way Quakers worship, make decisions, and look for direction in their lives reflects this conviction. Quaker worship is about “communion” just as much as any celebration of the Mass is; but we believe that the Presence of the Divine can be known inwardly and directly, without need for any outward sacramental representation. The way we make decisions and seek guidance, both individually and corporately, assumes God’s presence and wisdom can always be know by those who seek the Divine “in spirit and in truth.”

There is a spark of the Divine, “that of God,” in every person. It is because there is that of God in us – because are “created in the image of God, male and female” – that we can connect with the Divine power and love that is at work in the universe – that is transcendent, that is beyond us. This is also one reason we strongly affirm the dignity and inherent worth of every human being, and so stand opposed to violence and seek justice and peace in all circumstances.

Jesus Christ has a uniquely important role in revealing the nature of God to humankind. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, had a transforming spiritual experience when he heard a voice that said “there is one, Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition.” Quakerism has always been strongly anchored in the Christian tradition. Quakers have long held that the Christian scriptures offer invaluable insights and present critical truths on which we should reflect and to which we must respond to live whole lives.

Being “faithful” – literally “full of faith”– requires and creates a genuine community, and a community committed to seeking wholeness and peace for all people. Friends saw the early church as the model for their religious movement and practice of faith. They looked to create a community like that in which people were drawn into and nurtured in a living, transforming relationship with the Divine by which they were inspired to live in a way that would transform the world for the better. They still hope to create that community again today.

These are five essential beliefs that shape modern Quaker faith and practice. Out of our experience of God’s presence and our practice of faith come our “testimonies,” our commitments to equality, integrity, peace, and simplicity. These are ways of behaving and explaining our behavior that “testify to” – that is point at and give evidence of – the core of our faith, which is the reality of the presence, love, and power of God we know as that heals and transforms our lives.

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, encouraged the first Friends to “let their lives speak” to all persons about the power and love of God. Quakers at their best strive to have both our words and our lives testify to our faith; and hope that he way we live our faith can help mend the world

 
 

The Spiritual Benefits of Picking Up Trash

by Saleem Zaru

Clerk, Ramallah Friends Meeting

Palm Sunday, 1965

It’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Sunday School has just drawn to a close. In about half an hour, friends will begin to gather for Meeting for Worship.

“Saleem, go to Abu Nassar. See if he can spare an empty cardboard box”, asked my father as he began to pick up the trash that had been thrown from Main Street by passersby’s into the front yard of the Meeting House. “The yard will not be presentable if we leave it this way.” It is Palm Sunday and soon the Meeting will be full of people.

Out of the Meeting’s front gate, I turn right and run down Main Street to Abu Nassar’s store. It is only one shop down from my father’s pharmacy. I know Abu Nassar well and am certain he will not mind giving me a box; he’s done so countless times before, nearly every Sunday. But this time, to my surprise, Abu Nassar closed his store early. Apparently, he had already left to join the Palm Sunday procession. It seemed to me that everyone in town must have been there.

Returning to the Meeting House without a box, the consequences quickly become clear to me. I was destined to another episode of picking up trash by hand and carrying it by the armload to my father’s car which was parked all the way down the street. It seemed that the Meeting House’s front yard had become a convenient place for merchants and peddler’s to discard their trash. Why did I have to pick it up?

 

Collecting trash before Meeting had become a routine Sunday chore --a weekly ritual of sorts. It felt burdensome. As I grew a little older, I often thought of ways to get out of it. As soon as I was old enough to walk home alone, I used this newly founded freedom as a way to avoid trash duty. Immediately after Sunday School, which at that time was held prior to Meeting for Worship, I would quickly dart away and walk home thereby skipping Meeting and the dreaded chore.

 Later I came to realize that by missing Meeting for Worship, I missed out on many other things. I missed the hymns which I so adored and enjoyed singing. I missed Don Hutchinson and Sina Mansour Hutchinson playing the organ so gracefully. How they pumped life into that ancient instrument and created such beautiful music, I still do not know! For truly that organ belonged in a museum perhaps more than it belonged in our Meeting House. But then again, it seemed so right sitting there where it was. It belonged in the Meeting House and offered a great deal of character to a present so deeply rooted in and enriched by the past.

I remember the day the pump organ stopped working. A piece of my soul went with it. The day we replaced it with an electric keyboard was bittersweet. To me it symbolized the beginning of a new era -one that was less pure, less authentic.

When I skipped Meeting for Worship, I also missed Ellen Mansour’s beautiful smile that always managed to uplift everyone’s spirit.  Her kindness reached out far beyond human expectations. I missed my father’s frequent messages and my mother’s deep sharing of a piece of her soul. It always amazed me as to how she put such spiritual matters into words. And of course, I missed Dr. Mansour’s readings from the Bible.

When I skipped Meeting for Worship, I missed coming to know new friends and visiting with old ones. They often came from places I had never heard of before. I found it fascinating; their stories were so interesting and intriguing. I missed Anna Langston’s sermon and Peggy Paul’s address. I missed seeing my grandmother, my aunt and my great aunt. 

Original pump organ, Ramallah Friends Meeting.

Missing Meeting for Worship meant missing the fellowship at the rise of meeting. After some time, I came to realize that I was paying too high of a price just to avoid picking up trash. I gave in. I stopped walking home by myself and stayed to pick up trash, all in order to be a part of the life of the Meeting.

Yet, still a child, I continued to beg my father with the question,“Why do we have to do this?”

His consistent reply: “We don’t have to do anything, son. We choose to do what we do. As frustrating as it may seem to you now, we must continue picking up trash. Day after day, quietly and patiently, we will continue the practice of removing that which masks the beauty of this earth. It is an important practice that keeps us going and working towards something larger than ourselves and more important than our convenience. That is what keeps the dream alive and cultivates the Spirit. One day you will understand the meaning of patience and persistence.”

Photographs were regularly taken at the rise of Meeting for Worship throughout the 1960's.

Tilling a Garden of Faith

Today, as I reflect back on my early years, my memories return with ease. It seems that every stage of my childhood has some form of meaningful connection to this place, this meeting, this community.

I remember being a shepherd in the Christmas play and what it meant to hear the joyous news of the newborn child. Carol, who later became my wife, played Mary that year and my best friend, Ricky, played Joseph.

As a young adult, I taught Sunday School. Together, with Bruce Stanley, I played guitar. Bruce was my teacher at the Friends School and became a good friend. I remember how he sang “Morning Has Broken”.

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world

 

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

 

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise ev'ry morning
God's recreation of the new day

As an adult, I stood in the front row of the Meeting House during my father’s funeral service. I listened to the many different religious leaders of the community bid him farewell. All the while, I drew strength from the inner peace that could only be nurtured by the sound of the silence in this very special place.

Today, more than thirty years later, as I reflect on our Meeting, I realize that circumstances beyond our control move some of us on to different places, while others of us persevere where they are. 

Friends, wherever you might be, I am with you in spirit. I am grateful for your presence and your perseverance. For those few steadfast faithful who continue the spiritual practice of picking up trash and have even begun to till the garden: you inspire me! Your patience and friendship inspires this Meeting to tend the garden of faith –not knowing the future, yet trusting in the One who holds the future. I thank those who never gave up, especially my mother. I trust we will continue to be inspired with a vision of service towards preparing the ground for a culture of peace and nonviolence.

Today, I celebrate all those once dreaded, not quite understood spiritual practices which now take on new meaning through the fellowship of the human spirit.

The Meeting's front yard today. A garden of peace, a garden of faith.

A Spiritual Anchor for Palestinian Quakers

By Sa'ed Atshan

Steering Committee Member of Friends of Ramallah Friends Meeting (Quakers), member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting and Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College.

 

 

It is difficult to put into words what the Ramallah Friends Meeting means to me. It is one of my favorite spaces on the planet—and it is a place where I feel at home, seek solace, and am able to find sustenance for my spirit.

 

While growing up in the West Bank, I spent countless hours walking around downtown Ramallah. I found myself often stopping in front of the Meetinghouse. It has its own gravitational pull. I thought about its rich history and how much has taken place in that building for decades upon decades. I admired it as a physical manifestation of peace and Quaker values. And I still do.

“As worshippers gather in silence, they hear the sounds of occupation all around them, and yet their prayers are for a better tomorrow, in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace, equality, and with the realization of justice.”

The Meetinghouse stands on Ramallah’s main street, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city. The main ice cream shop across the street always has lines of families eagerly awaiting sweetness. The jewelry shop greets prospective brides preparing for their wedding ceremonies. The shawarmeh shop prepares sandwiches in pita bread and dozens of vegetable topping options. The Meetinghouse is surrounded by the life and vibrancy of the Palestinian spirit. I have seen how universally Palestinian Christians and Muslims view this religious site with deep respect and admiration for the serenity it adds to their environment.

 

The resilience of Palestinians exists alongside the suffering that results from the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. The stones of the Meetinghouse, for years now, have born witness to the violence, human rights violations, and atrocities that Palestinians have endured. As worshippers gather in silence, they hear the sounds of occupation all around them, and yet their prayers are for a better tomorrow, in which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace, equality, and with the realization of justice. The Spirit calls on people of conscience to harness the power of that silence towards meaningful social change.

 

My connection to the Ramallah Friends Meeting began as a student at the Ramallah Friends School. The institution had a profound impact on my life, helping me grow intellectually, personally, and spiritually. I felt the presence of God in meeting for worship. Jean Zaru, Clerk of the Meeting, has been a hero of mine, and her tenacity, faith, and leadership, have kept the Meeting alive and as a sanctuary for Palestinian Quakers and Quakers from across the globe.

 

Even as I now live in the United States, I think about Palestine, my homeland, each and every day. For me, the Ramallah Friends Meeting is the heart of the Holy Land. I can still see, quite vividly, the olive trees in the garden, the Palestinian stone, the white benches, the colorful quilt displayed front and center, and the Covenant of Compassion featured on the walls in both Arabic and English.

 

A Friends General Conference poster reads,

 

“Silence is a natural demand
Born of a need for God,
Felt by young and old,
In all the world’s religions.

In silence we may worship together,
Sharing our search for life,
Sharing our quest for peace,
Sharing God’s gift of love.”

 

Last summer, as we sat in Meeting, in that silence, Jean shared a beautiful message that will always be with me. In it, she cited from Scripture:

 

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

 

Indeed, Palestinian Quakers are not many, but we persist, in Palestine, and around the world. The Ramallah Friends Meeting House is our spiritual anchor and it never ceases to call on us to return home. 

Service as an Expression of My Faith

By Mai Zaru

A fourth-generation Palestinian Quaker and member of Ramallah Friends Meeting, Mai is the author of The Resonance of Our Footsteps and currently studies special education at Brigham Young University.

  

 

 

What does it really mean to serve? It is waking up in the morning, thinking “what difference will I make today?”.  It is having a determined mind bent on justice, and an open heart for love. It is giving of your time, your effort, your concern, and indeed your life for others. It is lifting up our common humanity as we journey along, opening a trail through the thorns of this world, breaking past all the violence, hatred, anger, and injustice.

 

It has truly been a blessing to grow up as a fourth generation Quaker, where ‘to serve others’ was quite simply a natural expression of how one was to life their life.  And through the living of each day, you increasingly embody the characteristics of equality, simplicity, peace and service. We follow the greatness of others and live into the light of God.

For to be a Quaker, means to live daily life, every moment as a Quaker. For me, to live as a Quaker means to serve as my grandmother has served and give as my great grandmother has given. In every breath, every heartbeat, every step taken, every word uttered, they simultaneously witnessed to a broken society that became an interconnected home where service never ceases.

 

The Ramallah Friends Meeting has been that spark in my life, where to embody service has become my way of life. Four stone walls became a meeting, and an empty land became its garden. As we planted tree by tree, and scrubbed every inch clean, a small meeting became the home for thousands around the world and those of us nearby.

Meeting for Worship every Sunday at 10:30 AM

info.rfmq@gmail.com

+972-2-297-1314 

P.O. Box 1325, Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine