WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE

"We all want friendship. This is one of life's most basic needs, and people find it here," Anna Johnson tells me. Anna volunteers three days a week at Ma'an lil Hayat, a L'Arche community in Bethlehem. The first L'Arche community was founded in a small village in France by Jean Vanier with the intention of bringing people of varying ability to live together and share life in community. Through the years, the community grew, with members deciding to start similar groups in their own countries. Today there are 149 communities in 37 countries, including Palestine. Local culture dictates that Ma'an lil Hayat is not residential, but members share life together five days a week. Indeed, the meaning of their name is "Together for Life." Ma'an has 29 core members with various disabilities, ranging in age from 16 to 46, attending in two different sites- one in central Bethlehem and one in a village just outside the city. They arrive every day by 8:30 a.m., when they gather for announcements, share news, pray together, and sing songs, along with the "assistants," the program's term for members who are staff. The day I visited, news and announcements included one core member modelling her new sneakers and another smiling shyly when an assistant shared that she had attended a party the day before. Everyone clapped and celebrated these joyful events. They closed their sharing time by singing, Muslims and Christians together, with a Taize song adapted to Arabic, "Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten, God alone fills us." After a moment of silence, there was a flurry of activity as everyone prepared to receive their assignments and begin their work day.