Lazarus Church in Bethany, Palestine. Wikimedia Commons

In Bethany, Among Samar’s Children

She is Palestinian and Christian. In her “home,” over one hundred orphan children learn to forgive, and a group of Palestinian women put their lives back together. Then, there’s a bread bakery where she tries to make money and create jobs
Andrea Finessi

“I pass through this world only once. If there’s a good to do, a kindness, an action, let me do it now, O God, because I won’t pass this way again.” Samar always repeats these words. She says them in Italian learned from her many friends in Italy.

Samar Sahhar is Palestinian and has lived in Bethany since 1971, when her parents moved there from Jerusalem. For thirty-three years, she has run an orphanage, a work that her family began, renting a very old room used for sheep, in order to be able to accept ten children, and while her father said, “Ten, that’s all, no more!” the Israeli social worker continued to entrust them with more. Afterwards, having bought a piece of land and built a new structure, it became possible to host more Palestinian children. “It was the realization of a dream.”

For Samar, difference in origin doesn’t matter. “What language does a child cry in?” her parents replied when asked why they, Christians, would care for so many Muslim children.
Today her “home” in Bethany is full of well-fed children who look at you with amazed and curious eyes, children who come up to you and want you to take them by the hand or pick them up. They don’t have parents, and Samar has become a mother for all of them.

Space for everyone
“Here in the Holy Land, where Jesus brought all His love, it’s a sin that there should be war. We must always look for people who can shake hands for a future in this world. There’s space for everyone,” and among these people, she has chosen the most innocent, children who become adults and have the consciousness that Samar has transmitted to them. One of these particularly impressed her. “A boy who grew up with us went to Lebanon and was asked to kill some Christians. He responded, “How can I kill Christians, when the people who most loved me were precisely them, my family in Bethany?” Samar stops to think, “They continue to follow our history, with the desire and the curiosity to see things for what they are.”

It is a huge responsibility. She has over one hundred children, seventy-two boys and thirty-one girls, who live in separate facilities. After the boys’ orphanage, a home for girls was created in response to the need to help some girls and women, because there are no facilities in all of Palestine to host them. “I began by welcoming the sisters of some men who were already with us, and when the social worker sent me a family, I felt responsible for accepting not only the men, but also the women who needed a home. I created a new structure and called it ‘Lazaros,’ because I always ask God to give life back to these women in Palestine, as Jesus did with Lazarus.”

The girl at the Church of the Nativity
One day, three nuns, walking to Bethlehem, found a girl chained in a cave. Some parts of her body were burned. They brought her to the hospital, where she stayed over a year while she was treated and had several plastic surgeries. “Now, she is thirteen years old, and is attending school for the first time. She didn’t want to go, but now she is one of the best students. Her report card the first semester was one of the best. Now we also have her sister, who also was burned all over by her mother. Some time ago, we went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and I told her, “Go to Jesus and ask Him for something.” When she returned, she told me, “I asked Him to forgive my mother.” Samar is silent for a moment, and then says, with the smile of someone who never ceases to be moved by this child, “She was clubbed in the head and lost all her teeth; she has trouble eating. That this child could ask Jesus to forgive her mother for everything is a miracle!”

Bread in the garage
Samar’s story is truly full of miracles. One of these is the bread bakery, “the biggest in Bethany.” The idea was to earn some money for the orphanage, feed the children, and give some Palestinians an opportunity to work.

Samar signed a contract for $75,000 with a Tel Aviv Israeli to buy the machinery. “I was penniless, and feared ending up in prison, but in the end everything was paid off, thanks be to God.” Rent for a space on the main street was too high–an enormous figure. She found a garage in a very isolated spot. “I rented it and modified it to become a bakery. Everyone said I was crazy, and told me that things couldn’t work this way. To my great surprise, when they built the wall, the road in front of the bakery became the city’s main street. Someone came to my office and said, “So then, you’re working with Sharon!” I replied, “Someone much more powerful: I’m working with Jesus.”

The Israeli from whom she’d bought the machinery didn’t want to come to Palestinian territory to assemble it. After a great deal of insistence, she convinced him. “I wouldn’t come for a million dollars, but for you, Samar, okay.” When the work to prepare the bakery was complete, they had a party, a dinner in a Bethany restaurant. They truly made a big sacrifice to participate. At the same table, there were Muslims, Jews, and Christians. “We ate together, and it was a beautiful witness for all my children as well.”

Generating an awareness of the meaning of life
Even the fact of being the mother of so many children is a great help. Since 1971, Samar has been living an experience of virginity–“the better to live my maternity with the children,” she says. In 1994, she entered the Memores Domini under the guidance of Fr. Giussani. In this way, she learned that generating life signifies “generating an awareness of the meaning of life,” as a parent does. Samar is moved again when she talks about her “maternity.” “I felt that these children without a mother, without parents, were calling me to be with them to continue the work begun by my parents, with all my heart. I call them my children. We are like a family, and we have never considered each other in any other way. In Bethany, in this place, I felt my vocation to be a mother.”

A Christian Palestinian, mother to a hundred children, and martyr. And yet, precisely this testimony of her charity and her very presence in this land are signs of peace and change for all the children she has generated.