The Christian Lebanese
© Copyright 2020 by Ronny Flatau
At Janna’s house,with her husband, and grandchildren. July 27, 2018
It was a hot summer day in northern Israel and me and my friends were hiking. We were carrying heavy bags, and Janna saw us through her fence. She took pity on us, and so She invited us in, to sit with her over coffee.
Janna’s husband was a retired engineer, and he seemed to have been a particularly dedicated worker. He used to build dams, apparently. He was an exceptionally interesting man, full of stories.
Janna explained that everyone in the village was highly educated. All the men were doctors or engineers, and all the women teachers or educators.
When you meet Janna and her community, you instantly realize why it’s like this:
Janna was originally Lebanese, coming from a country full of beauty, and culture. She, and her Christian community, lived peacefully for years, until hate and discrimination invaded.
As time passed, chapels were burned, and people were murdered. Janna’s community was forced to escape. But in Israel, the Christians didn’t fare much better.
At the time, Israel was hoping to become a Jewish country , and the Lebanese Christians- being a minority group- were forced into secluded villages in the south, only having a way out by education, and money.
All of Janna’s kids were highly educated, even her only daughter, which was surprising, because Janna had a very traditional belief system.
She made everything she could by hand, wanting to preserve the ways of her ancestors before her. She would make her own seasoning, by drying leaves of a plant called “zaatar”, and would grow her own dates
To create a sweet syrup- one the family sells, claiming it has many health benefits.
Despite us not paying Janna a dime, she fed us with these delicacies without ever muttering a word.
I assume it was the middle eastern approach to hospitality, By which you must feed your guests even if it isn’t warranted. But throughout the visit, a different thought flew through my head: maybe, she was being so kind, because we were Jewish?
Janna explained they admire the Jewish community, despite knowing they were not considered a part of it. When I asked why, the answer was unclear- But it must have been the will to be more than a minority- to “fit in”.
Janna’s community was treated like dirt, and only recently they were “upgraded” to a tourist attraction. Janna didn’t want it- any of it. Which is probably why she almost insistently dissociated with the community.Because of this , Janna insisted she wasn’t Arab, despite being of Lebanese origins. “ Where we come from, does not define us”, she explained “neither does our food, or our language”.
Janna believed wholeheartedly that she was just Christian- neither Arabic, Israeli, or Lebanese. She believed who we were was our culture, our religion- that who we identified as, had everything to do with ourselves, and not with other people’s perception of us . “Many call me Arabic because of my language, but it isn’t true, that isn’t me. People can identify me however they want, but in the end that isn’t my real identity .”
We ate like kings and then entered Janna’s house- a wonderful, ancient building. Despite it’s grand appearance, inside, it was the definition of modesty- including only what was needed, a few rooms and an upstairs balcony. In the house we saw Janna’s wedding photo, in which she was indeed 16. She was a beautiful girl, who seemed full of spirit. In a way, that spirit never seemed to have left.
In the living room, there was a professorship award, signed with the name of one of Janna’s sons. “He was a brilliant man, my boy”. She smiled .” Soon after he got that- he suffered a deadly heart attack”.
In response to our horrified faces, she said: “what can you do? You keep living” . It's not that it didn’t sadden her, in fact, I’m sure it did. but if she would always feel sad she wouldn’t be able to keep living- that was, at least, her perspective. I thought it was unique.
We left for a short tour of the town, returning to see a tray full of freshly picked pecans and more coffee. This time- there were more visitors. They were the children of the dead son.
The carelessness in their eyes made me wonder if they knew at all, but I quickly noticed the deep eyes of the oldest. These eyes have experienced things, hard things.When you look for that depth, you must remember , It’s only a tiny sliver of a difference, but with practice, you can spot it easily.
As her brothers ran around playing, Janna helped us crack the pecans. It was a first for me, but I succeeded. Those were the freshest pecans I had ever tasted. Janna had that Sliver in her eye too, the same as the daughters. But Janna wasn’t sad, not at all. She felt like a winner, it was apparent. These struggles helped her build up her life philosophy.
I was sad when we left, but I knew I would never forget Janna. And as the passing years proved, I never did.
Flatau is an art student who lives in the country of Israel.
Throughout the past five years, she has been part time traveling
throughout her country, and throughout other countries as well.
Except for writing, she is also a hiking instructor, has done work in
the subject of biology, enjoys singing and has recently created her
first animation, featuring art and narration created and written by
her. This was one of her many adventures, taking place while hiking.