Professor Joe Goldblatt
The American poet Emily Dickinson, a recluse for much of her life, wrote …
“Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -“
During these dark and tumultuous days it is easy to lose the last shreds of hope as we are surrounded and bombarded by so many tragic news stories of hatred and violence. However, in my darkest moment, several dozen messages from friends throughout the world have helped me rediscover new hope.
Shortly after Israel was attacked by Hamas who murdered 1400 citizens with 200 more kidnapped and held as hostages, I began to receive texts, emails, phone calls, and a few knocks upon my door asking how I was feeling and if they could help. Each and every person who reached out to me did so because they knew that the Jewish people have a close and often personal connection to Israel. I am one of these people.
In 1999 the World Bank asked me to travel to Bethlehem, Palestine to conduct a series of workshops in order to prepare the Mayor and his staff to produce what would be the greatest event of their lifetimes. The event was, of course, the millennium celebrations of 2000. The Mayor and his government had been given a large multi – million US dollar grant and the World Bank was now trying to insure that it would be used effectively.
Upon arrival in Bethlehem I was distressed to learn that the travel agent had selected the cheapest hotel and to my dismay and shock there were electrical cables hanging down from the ceiling and literally sparking in the reception area. My sleeping room was even worse with a foul smell and when I called the front desk to investigate the young host almost perfunctorily opened a drain in the toilet and extracted a large wiggling rat. I immediately changed hotels.
My new hotel was entitled The Manger Hotel (https://www.mangersquarehotel.com/) and was literally located at the front door of the the famous traditionally recognized birthplace of Jesus. I thought it was ironic that as a Jewish person I was now staying in a hotel named for a place where two thousand years ago another Jewish family had finallly found shelter when no other innkeeper would welcome them.
Following my morning workshop that was attended by a dozen tourism and event professionals, I was asked to meet with his honour the Mayor of Bethlehem. Excitedly, the Mayor told me his plans to celebration the tolling of the giant clock in Manger Square at midnight to mark the new millennium.
“We plan to release 2000 live white doves! They will symbolize our commitment to peace in our lifetime.” Then he asked me “What do you think?”
I explained that all of the world’s media would be assembled in Manger Square and there would also be dozens of giant Klieg lights to illuminate the square through television to billions of people all over the world. When the doves are released they may fly directly into the hot lights and be roasted and the television viewers would see this massacre and horror upon their television screens.
The Mayor frowned, shook his head from side to side, stroked his long white beard and asked me if I had an alternative suggestion. I told him that a few years earlier at the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway the organisers used doves constructed of a light weight latex and filled with fifty percent helium and fifty percent oxygen so they would slowly rise during the opening ceremony and could also be recapture and reused to promote what was at that time the first green Olympic Games opening ceremonies.
He smiled, thanked me, and showed me to the door.
On the evening of 31 December 1999 as the clock struck midnight in Bethlehem Square 2000 live doves were released and the majority died in Bethlehem Square. The Mayor obviously rejected my professional advice.
Although I was dispirited that my recommendations had not been heeded I returned to Bethlehem twice more to continue training event professionals to produce better and safer events in the future. One time when I conducted a similar workshop in the neighbouring state of Jordan one of the Arab leaders asked me “Why do you keep coming back here?”
My answer reflected the final lines of Emily Dickenson’s poem where she wrote …
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Therefore, with every text, email, telephone call, and personal visit I received this past month I was further emboldened with hope, a thing with feathers that through unconditional love, never ever asked a crumb of me. I will continue to hold tight this feeling of being surrounded by love and compassion as to me it represents hope upon the stormiest and strangest sea I have known in my lifetime.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot