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For those observing, may we wish you a healthy, safe, and sweet 5781.

Palestinian Woman Creates Easter Workshops amid Virus Lockdown
Salam Al Bandak works with children during an outdoor workshop. (Photos courtesy Salam Al Bandak; all children appear with permission from their parents)

Palestinian Woman Creates Easter Workshops amid Virus Lockdown

Bethlehem artist uses internet to teach families how to make holiday decorations

Bethlehem, the cradle of Christ, will celebrate Easter this year under curfew. The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian territories on March 5, after the first cases of coronavirus were identified in the city.

Social distancing is the order of the day. Gatherings are forbidden and people must stay home unless on urgent errands.

Mass and prayers will be broadcast on local TV channels and social media platforms so Christians can watch from home, while all the public activities, such as Easter egg hunts, bunny visits and street performances by scouting movement youths, have been canceled.

To help fill the gap, innovative virtual activities are being posted online, targeting children and families.

Kamel Hamed, the PA’s governor of Bethlehem, stressed to The Media Line that this is not the first time the city will be greeting Easter under full closure.

“[It is] like what happened in 2002 [during the Second Intifada], when the Israeli occupation raided the city and besieged the Church of the Nativity,” he said. “We had a similar atmosphere then to the restrictions under COVID-19.”

According to Hamed, citizens will not be allowed out during Easter and are being instructed to pray at home.

“We have to show full commitment,” he stated. “We can pray at home and watch the Mass broadcast on social media channels, such as the Holy Family Church Facebook page.”

Fann wa Salam (Art and Peace), an educational, artistic and therapeutic initiative aimed at helping children explore their abilities, has been broadcasting virtual “eco-friendly workshops” on its Facebook page this Easter season.

The workshops focus on using “up-cycled” materials from food and cleaning material packages to create Easter decorations in an atmosphere of “creative and joyful teamwork.”

Materials that can be used for Easter decorations, shown during a workshop.

Salam Al Bandak, a Palestinian artist and founder of Fann wa Salam, explained to The Media Line that she hopes to cheer people up and spread positive energy during the lockdown while teaching them how to create things together, something that can help families forge a sense of shared responsibility.

“They have to prepare the materials as well as the work space in advance of the live broadcasts… which creates a sense of responsibility,” Bandak explained. “They can use objects and materials from their homes, such as cartons, boxes, leftover pieces of plastic, cans and other things – after cleaning them first, of course – to create the decorations.”

Salam Al Bandak instructs children at a Fann wa Salam workshop prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fann wa Salam conducted its first eco-friendly workshop last Tuesday, she said, on making Easter eggs from dough.

In her feedback, one mother said she made her own decorations after her children finished. “Thanks for this…. I need time for myself. It’s so relaxing. The girls were upstairs so I had time to do this.”

Another mother wrote: “The girls had so much fun; they were engaged with all their senses.”

A third mother also expressed appreciation.

“Well done,” she wrote. “It was really nice.”

Yet another wrote: “When he [her son] saw you during the workshop, his face was transformed and looked happier. He got excited and wanted to do things himself. It’s good that the live broadcast has been saved for those who couldn’t watch it live.”

Making Easter decorations from dough during a virtual session of Fann wa Salam.

Bandak explains that she designed the workshops to be safe for all age groups and tells families when they need to be careful.

“I have people partaking in the workshops from all of the Palestinian cities, also from Haifa and Amman, which fills my heart with joy,” she noted.

She said the workshops are provided free of charge even though, as a self-employed freelancer, she generally depends on them to make a living. She also faces the dangers all people encounter during these times of coronavirus.

“I need a proper place to film, so I have to leave my house, which puts me at risk given the current situation,” she said.

The workshops and other activities of Fann wa Salam can be accessed via https://www.facebook.com/fannwasalam/.

Father Shamal Abu Saadah, a Bethlehem-based Catholic priest, told The Media Line that this year, there will be no public manifestations of Easter, including those related to the Arab culture of family gatherings and street activities – although this could have an up-side.

“It could make it a very special year, where Christians pray real prayers from the heart, unconcerned by outward appearances,” he said.

Abu Saadah notes that during the global pandemic, people have become more appreciative and desirous of prayer and fasting.

“People turned to their Lord in repentance, and the Lord protects everyone,” he said.

His prayers were broadcast via his Facebook page last Thursday and Friday evenings.

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