Joyful life in Bethlehem

At a L’Arche community, I learned something about working and dreaming for peace.

A few years ago in Bethlehem, early one morning, under the surveillance of watchtowers, I walked down the hill from the place where Christ was born—from the Church of the Nativity at the heart of the city. Winding through narrow alleys, I finally made it to Ma’an Lil-Hayat, the L’Arche house of Bethlehem. L’Arche is an international network of communities that organize their lives around people with disabilities.

When I arrived, everyone was already gathered in the main room. A woman greeted me with a smile and waved me to an empty chair. As soon as I sat down, a young man dashed from his seat across the room. He stood in front of me, almost on top of me, his eyes dancing—first glancing at my forehead, then the ceiling, then my beard, then the ceiling, only looking into my eyes for a flash of a moment, a flicker of mutual recognition. He smiled and, in a voice much louder than I’m used to, he said, “Yes.” Just one word, and then he rushed back to his chair.

After their morning ritual of sharing and singing, the 30 people in the room divided up into five groups for a day of working on crafts. I was led to one of the rooms and, as I entered, I saw him again, seated at a table with four other people—and he saw me. He jumped from his chair, bouncing his way to me. He came to my side and pointed at the empty chair beside his. He said the same word again, as he pointed: “Yes.”