Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Introducing... Gillian Holding

"One early morning in late spring 2014, I found myself sitting on the steps of the Armenian Guest House in the Old City of Jerusalem looking up the Via Dolorosa at a group of Japanese Christians struggling down the road under the weight of a massive cross. Turning my head to look down towards El Wad ha Gai street, I could see ultra-orthodox men rushing in the direction of the Kotel to pray, and Muslim shopkeepers opening up for the day. Just another day in Jerusalem, at a point of spiritual, geographical and religious intersection.

I was meeting my daughter (then living in Jordan) to go to a peace dialogue conference for Israeli Jews, Palestinians and a few internationals just outside Bethlehem. It was a further step on a personal journey to try and understand the unknown and unfamiliar, which had started in earnest five years earlier with my first visit to the Palestinian territories, and had since led to numerous visits to the area, including an extraordinary trip in 2013 visiting both sides as part of a mixed group of Leeds Jews and Muslims.

Engagement in local interfaith and dialogue work these last few years has not just been important for me personally, but also professionally. Since 2010, I have made a continuing series of work on the subject of conflict and the everyday, questioning my own prejudices and assumptions and beliefs. I have become convinced of the need to talk and listen and understand those we do not know in order to find peace. And inter-faith and inter-community dialogue is as important here in Leeds as anywhere else.

When I was invited to participate in The Stations of the Cross at St Edmunds, I accepted with enthusiasm, thinking back to those times Id walked the Via Dolorosa, albeit not from a Christian perspective. But being allocated the first station - the condemnation of Jesus - presented a particular challenge for a Jewish artist. After all, this stage of the narrative lies at the root of the history of Christian anti-semitism, and exploring the gospels accounts in the light of what was to follow was slightly disconcerting. As a lawyer, I was sensitive to inconsistencies and contradictions and found myself searching for an historical account of this charismatic first century Jewish leader.

Two thousand years on, a palpable rise in anti-semitism of a slightly different nature is disturbing Jewish communities across Europe. And not just the Jewish community; there is a disconcerting and worrying suspicion of Muslims everywhere based on unfounded assumptions and prejudices, and appalling persecution of entire groups of Christians in the Middle East. Saddest of all for me at the present time, is the unfounded demonisation of an entire people by the Israeli government, alongside the growing demonisation of all Israelis by a large part of the Arab world. I think being honest about our own prejudices is a vital first step in overcoming the general intolerance many people face on a daily basis."

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