Maureen and I are on loan from the Bruderhof to Tantur Ecumenical Institute, which hosts international scholars and students on a hill outside Jerusalem. We help with Tantur’s daily tasks: cooking, maintenance, olive harvesting, and library filing. When we first arrived three months ago, we had the delight of making a home out of a tiny hermitage (previously a shepherd’s hut) tucked into the hill. We scrubbed down the walls in its one room, kitchen, and bath, squeezed in a collapsible table and convertible couch/bed, sewed curtains by hand, and planted flowers around the house and on the roof.
Just beyond the garden, traffic is noisy on the litter-strewn road. Joseph and Mary passed by when the traffic was donkey and camel. Stretching to the east is Shepherdsfield – yes, those shepherds’ fields. Bethlehem is just down the road.
As a child, Emmy Arnold, cofounder of the Bruderhof, began anticipating each Christmas one hundred days in advance, counting down the days from September 16 in childlike expectation. Since then, Bruderhof members have made it a custom each year to dust off the carols that day and celebrate with stollen, a delicious German Christmas cake overflowing with nuts and fruit. Here in Jerusalem, we decided to celebrate One Hundred Days as a sort of Hermitage housewarming, complete with stollen and carols, together with Tantur’s staff and guests. Ingredients were to hand. Almonds: knock down nuts with pole. Raisins: pick grapes, dry in sun (we have lots of both). Dried apricots: easy, Tantur serves these for breakfast. Result: the Holy Land’s best stollen.
We let out the word that coffee break was at the hermitage, and staff, guests, and students – Muslims, Christians, and Jews – crowded onto our porch. Arabic coffee, bitter and aromatic, paired with sweet German stollen in a fine metaphor for peace and goodwill. In a rush of excited Arabic, our friends commended Maureen’s baking and hermitage homemaking.
It was later, in the dusk, that we sang. Among the carols was “How far is it to Bethlehem?” Not very far indeed, say fifteen minutes’ walk. See, there it is through the olive trees.