Last week, we welcomed several new members to the MCC Palestine and Israel Team. Joanna Hiebert Bergen, her husband Dan Bergen, and their daughters Emma and Chloe arrived on July 30. Jo and Dan will be the new country reps, Chloe will attend the Anglican School in grade 11, and Emma, who recently graduated from high school, will spend several months volunteering with local partners. With their arrival in Jerusalem as reps, Ingrid and I have moved to Bethlehem to work directly with local partners—a change we’re very excited about.
And while we’re excited to welcome new reps and new roles with MCC, Ingrid and I are much more excited to welcome the youngest member of the MCC team, our first child, Lukas Leander Rodrick Beiler, born August 1 in Bethlehem at Holy Family Hospital.
He arrived while we were actually in the very process of welcoming the Bergens, visiting various partner organizations in the Bethlehem area. At about 7:00 p.m., we were just wrapping up a tour of Aida Refugee Camp with our friends from Lajee Center. Walking down a street in the shadow of the Israeli separation wall near the camp’s entrance, I got a call from Ingrid. She was with our colleague Rachelle Friesen helping to prepare a welcome dinner for the new reps, when her water broke. We promptly ended our tour, piled into the van and headed to Rachelle’s apartment near Manger Square where Ingrid was waiting. I threw a towel on the seat and drove Ingrid to our apartment, saying a quick prayer of blessing as we passed the Church of the Nativity. At home, we grabbed our pre-packed hospital bag, and made it to the hospital at about 7:30. As we entered the hospital doors, Israeli fighter jets were roaring overhead—not an uncommon sight and sound in Bethlehem. Lukas Leander arrived the following morning at 10:45 after a sleepless night of difficult labor, followed by an epidural and smooth delivery.
The glad tidings of our babe born in Bethlehem brought many kind blessings from our partners—some so eloquent that we had to share them. From Jihan Nazzal of the YMCA Rehabilitation Program:
It was a pleasure to hear that you have been granted baby Lukas Leander as the most precious gift from God. Congratulations! May God bless him with good health and happy life, and may your new baby angel fill your life with pleasure and laughter and your heart with more love and inner peace , and may he bring every meaning of happiness and peace into your life. Someone said: “A baby makes love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, a home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.” Heartfelt wishes to both of you.
From Jamal Juma’ of Stop the Wall:
Hope everything is well with you Ingrid, healthy, strong and happy. Lukas looks great. His first breath was from the air of Palestine and the first thing he saw in his life is Palestine. It is in his blood now, where ever he goes, he will take her with him, its sadness and happiness, strength and weakness, its peace and wars, the strength of its people and the weakness of its occupier, the patience of its cactus and the steadfastness of its olives. Wherever he goes she will stay with them, in his heart and blood. … Put on his tongue a drop of olive oil and whisper in his ear “welcome to Palestine”.
We named him Lukas after our favorite Gospel, which we especially appreciate for its emphasis on Jesus’ concern for justice and message of liberation for the oppressed and marginalized. It is also the Gospel containing the most complete Bethlehem nativity story—as well as Mary’s Magnificat manifesto—which will always connect Lukas to the place of his birth.
An added layer of significance: A son of Zoughbi Zoughbi, the director of Wi’am Center, one of our Palestinian partner organizations, is a fine young man named Lucas. Here’s a photo of him debating Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration against the Israeli separation wall. We’ve enjoyed Lucas’s hospitality and cheerful, joking personality during many visits to Bethlehem before we moved here.
Though the middle name Leander was chosen primarily to honor my mother, Leanna, we soon were reminded that a son of Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, an Israeli Jew of Argentinian heritage and the founder of Israeli partner organization Zochrot, is named Leandro. We haven’t actually met Leandro, only Eitan, but I later realized that last year I had read about Leandro’s refusal to serve in the Israeli military. I hadn’t made the name connection until being reminded of it in an article Eitan posted on Facebook about a Nakba Day observance Leandro participated in shortly after we had already chosen the name Leander.
Though beloved in the West, such symmetrical forms of “balance” that “bring together both sides” can be problematic here because they often gloss over very asymmetrical structures of power, privilege, oppression and violence. However, in this case, especially the relatively serendipitous way in which we had arrived at each name, this coincidence felt like a fitting confirmation of our name choices. Both partners—one struggling against the injustice of the occupation, the other seeking to name and reverse his country’s legacy of oppression—represent of the kinds of people, activists and allies, whom we want to influence Lukas as he grows in wisdom and in years. We’re pleased to have our son share the names of our Palestinian and Israeli partners’ sons’ names.