Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Burying John Grauel (Guest Post)


A reader of this blog, Paul Shaviv from New York, recently connected with someone who had given a talk in Ireland about Christian Zionists, including John Grauel.  It prompted him to write the following memoir, which he was kind enough to share with me:

In 1986 I was the Director of the (grandly-named) B’nai Brith World Center[1] in Jerusalem, the representative office of B’nai Brith International in Israel, reporting directly to BB International in Washington DC.   The job was, in its own way, interesting, and dealt a lot with diplomatic and interfaith contacts.
One day in September I received an unusual call from Dr Dan Thursz in Washington DC.   A former Methodist minister called John Grauel had passed away in New Jersey, where he lived.  Moved by Jewish suffering under the Nazis, Rev. John Grauel became a leading Christian Zionist, and was well known as the only Christian volunteer on the ‘Exodus’.   Having left the Ministry (perhaps under slightly unclear circumstances), he partly or completely earned a living lecturing to Jewish audiences about his story.  He did a lot of work for American B’nal Brith, speaking at its youth camps and other gatherings; and was also, apparently, a regular speaker for UJA.
Grauel’s family (not clear who this was; he had two adopted Palestinian Christian sons, who may have lived in the USA with him) claimed that ‘Golda Meir promised him that he would be buried in Jerusalem’.  No written record of this promise existed, but no–one wanted the embarrassment that could follow publicity if the ‘promise’ was unfulfilled.  The Israeli Consulate in NY could not help.  UJA New York had promised to cover the costs of sending the body to Israel and costs of a funeral – but on condition that someone else arranged it.  Dr Thursz asked me if our office in Jerusalem could help.  Could I arrange a funeral for John Grauel?  I have to say that arranging the burial of a Christian minister in Jerusalem was not something I had expected to tackle.
It took a week or so[2] to arrange.  I decided to start at the end – find a cemetery and a burial plot.  If there was no grave – there could not be a funeral.  I called my friend Ake Skoog at the Swedish Theological Institute on Rehov Haneviim, whom I knew through interfaith activity.  He gave me some telephone numbers of leaders of the Christian communities in Jerusalem.  Not all could be approached – the deceased was a Methodist and a Zionist….  But eventually I spoke to the local clergyman who was in charge of the former Templars Cemetery in Emek Refaim in the German Colony.  He readily agreed that if we could get the body to Israel, he would open the cemetery and open a grave.  This was a major achievement, and we now tackled the next issues – how could we handle the body once it arrived in Israel; who would conduct the service; and what was the appropriate format of the funeral?
There were some relatively bizarre dimensions to the exercise.   I called the Jerusalem Chevra Kadisha for advice.  They told me immediately that there was only one company in Israel that specialized in handling Christian bodies, typically including the nuns and priests also brought for burial in the Holy Land  (or Christian tourists who died while in the country)– and that was ‘Ambulance Bnei Brak’.  It sounded inherently unlikely, but I called the number they gave me. “Ambulance Bnai Brak?” I asked when the phone was answered.  “A shulem!” replied the voice at the other end in a thick Hungarian Yiddish accent.  It turned out that in an ‘Only in Israel’ scenario, this was a completely Haredi/Hassidic operation.
I arranged with them that they would collect the coffin from Ben-Gurion when it arrived, and deliver it the next morning to the cemetery in Jerusalem.  They told me that they would probably bring the body to Jerusalem the night before “and we’ll leave it in the Chevra Kadisha in Rehov Shamgar”. I didn’t argue.
I knew the Pastor of the Scottish Church in Jerusalem (next to Yemin Moshe, and opposite the Old City), because of our negotiations over the adjacent site (see footnote 1).  He agreed to conduct the graveside funeral service. “If y’say he was a Man of God, we should give him a Christian burial”.
So we had the grave, the logistics and the clergyman.  We fixed the date (I think it was a Friday morning), and got Washington to confirm the transport of the body with El Al.  Next, we had to arrange the funeral.  A few calls to Misrad haBittachon promised us a Naval Guard of Honour.  Israel TV were interested in covering the event.  The Jerusalem Municipality agreed to send a representative.  We contacted the organization of ‘Exodus’ survivors, and were promised that the legendary captain of the ship, ‘Ike’ Aharonovitch would attend (“If he’s sober”, I remember our contact gloomily promising).  We seemed to be set.
On a bright Jerusalem morning the huge iron gates of the cemetery were wide open.  A crowd of perhaps fifty or sixty people gathered.  A grave had been dug and the gravediggers stood by, watching.  A grey bus drew up, and a about a dozen or so young Israeli sailors in full white dress uniform got out, and were lined up near the grave.  It was impressive.  The camera crew from Israel TV, a couple of reporters and various VIP’s trickled in.  ‘Ike’ Aharonovich arrived and was escorted to a place of honour at the front.  The Scottish pastor, resplendent in his colourful canonicals, stood with open bible.  The only person missing was John Grauel….
We waited.  Outside the gates, I noticed a blue van pass by, then reverse back past the entrance.  A minute or so later a face peered round the entrance to the gate – black hat, beard, long peyos dangling. He grinned, stepped forward and gestured to others, whom we couldn’t see.  A minute or two later six ‘avreichim’ entered the cemetery gates, on their shoulders the coffin of the Rev John Grauel whom they carried to his last resting place….. 
The honour guard snapped to ‘Attention’. 
The Pastor, visibly amused, composed himself and intoned the burial service.  As the coffin was lowered into the grave, in his broad Scottish accent he recited Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous ‘Requiem’:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.

 The crowd shook hands, murmured to each other, and left.  The grave was filled; the clergy closed the cemetery gates. ‘Ambulance Bnai Brak’ wanted to know who the deceased was, and why he was so important. They shared with me that when they had opened the coffin (as they were legally required to do) they were worried because he was ‘wearing a sort of tallit’[3]. I reassured them that the deceased was definitely not Jewish.  That day Israel TV carried a nice item reporting the funeral.  A neighbor of ours remarked that they had seen it, and were sure that they had glimpsed someone in a kippah ‘one of those Reform rabbis’ who seemed to have been in charge…..
Jon Grauel had been buried in Jerusalem.[4]

[1]  This project was intended to be a permanent Israel-Diaspora Center in Jerusalem, funded by BBI.  The building that is now the Begin center was commissioned and designed for this purpose.  BBI abandoned the project  and the building plans and site were sold to the Begin Center when Dr Daniel Thursz (d. 2000), the then Executive Vice president of BBI, left the organisation, and the lay leadership changed.   Fortuitously for this story – see below in the article – the site was overlooked by the Scottish Church in Jerusalem.
[2] For three days in the middle of this, I had to fly to Istanbul to represent BBI in the funeral of the victims of the terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue.  But that is another story entirely.
[3] Was this a tallit – probably an American-style silk scarf-like tallit, which he might have worn as a philo-semite – or some priestly vestment?
[4] Sometime later a tombstone was erected over his grave, bearing the inscription in Hebrew ‘Yonatan ha-komer’ (John the Priest).  I have no knowledge of who did this.   Photos are online -- http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/40/Grauel.jpg/220px-Grauel.jpg

No comments: