Birth: I Henrietta, daughter of George and Katherine Siksek, was born in the Old City of Jerusalem close to the monastery of Saint Michael’s at one side and the monastery of Saint Katherine on the other. I was born in what is now known to be our living room. The birth took place at 2:30 P.M. on Wednesday the 16th of January in the year 1918 which is shortly after World War I. Later I was told by my mother that I was a blessed child born during the first twelve days after Eastern Christmas.
All through my childhood I felt much loved and attended to, just like brother John who was five years older than myself and brother Simon who was five years younger. I was baptized: Henrietta Latifeh. Latifeh being my grandmother’s name on my father’s side.
Nationality: I am an Arab Palestinian, holder of a Jordanian passport, and a local Israeli identity card and a travel document (laissez-passer). God knows what the future holds for us Palestinians, yet we do pride ourselves in our Palestinian heritage.
Religion: I belong to one of the most ancient of Churches known in the Holy Land, the land which witnessed the birth and crucification of Christ, namely the Church of The Arab Christian Greek Orthodox faith. Sometimes I pray in Mar Yacoub, (Saint James) near to the entrance to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I used to sing among the choir of that church. I sang in Arabic, so did all the choir, the tunes used were Byzantine tunes. Very beautiful.
Schooling & Education: I went to the Swedish elementary school, situated then in Musrara quarter outside Bab-el-Jadid, one of the gates of The Old City of Jerusalem. All my school–mates were Arabic speaking. Rurik, who was destined to be my future husband, lived with his parents and four brothers in Musrara as well and went to the same school I went to. He seemed to like me and I chose to sit at the same bench he sat on, being of the same age.
As hostilities flared up in the Holy Land, my parents moved me to the Friends Girl’s school in Ramallah. It was a day School but had also a boarding arrangement. After graduation I went to Beirut to study in the British Lebanese teacher Training College, where I graduated with honours.
Both of these educational institutions, the Friends School and the Teacher Training College, were partly responsible for my interest in wild flowers. In Beirut we used to take the train up the hills, then after a few stops get down and gather flowers. In Ramallah we used to walk down the “wadies” (valleys) and pick flowers for the wild flower contests held at Jerusalem’s citidel in which we were winners for many a year. Until now the wild aroma of those flowers comes back to me, even though I am now 89 plus years of age.
Higher Education: I was taught where it was available. By now I was a teacher who taught all levels from KG to high school. Wherever my teaching job took me I sought higher education though I had to be choosy. I knew too that I could not give up teaching as things were bad in those days. Sometimes I studied to obtain marks, other times when my teaching load was heavy, I audited.
I accomplished myself in the following educational colleges: the Near East College of Theology, Beirut College for women, George Washington University (in D.C.), Kalamazoo University in Michigan (School of Librarianship). Courses taken were psychology, methods of education, reading abilities, writing for children, preparation of educational materials, reading problems, etc.
Through the courtesy of Point Four I visited and worked in the following publishing houses in USA: Row Peterson, Rand McNally, Scott Forseman, Charles Scribner, McGraw Hill, And State office – Bureau of Text book publications in Sacramento, California.
In addition, I had the chance to read at least 500 children books, attend book reviews, see color separation in action and understand preparation of formats, visit libraries, attend and participate in “story time”, visit schools, attend to students as they read from their own text books. My expressed wish was to study text book publication in both the East and West parts of USA. That, I am glad to say, was realized.
Publications: 1- “The Gallant Five,” the story of the beginnings of the Arabian horses, for teenagers. Library of congress. Catalog card Number 63-9330. 2- “Libyan Folk tales” (Ya Hazarkcom) meaning get ready to hear. 3- Twelve Palestinian Stories – presented to UNRWA schools as guidelines on which to build student discussions. 4- Short Tales: Published in Beirut by Manara Library. 5- A number of English stories about children in Palestine. Published in Red Cross American Magazine. 6- A number of stories and educational articles published by Beirut El Masa, and in Jerusalem’s Al Kuds.
Employment: 1-Eleven years of teaching during British Mandate Government. I taught at Alawieh Girls School. Situated on Passion Rd. Old City of Jerusalem. 2-Five years as teacher at the American School for Girls in Beirut. 3-Two years and a half in the Ministry of Education in Amman. Office of Educational Materials. 4-Two years and a half at the Ministry of Education, Tripoli – Libya – Office of Educational Materials.
Broadcasting: Though I considered “going on the air” as fun and a recreational adventure I felt that this media has a gigantic effect which reaches people of all walks of life though it was a children’s program. I realized too that my listeners were old and young all the same. I started to go on the air in 1939. My first program was in my name and it was about the effect of teachers in history.
The minute my broadcast was over, Sayyed Ibrahim Toucan, a Palestinian poet and the director of Arabic programs, called me and asked me to handle the children's program. A 45 minute one! Ibrahim Toucan suggested that I use the name of “Suad” and so I liked it since it meant happiness to children. I carried this name for many many years. From 1939 –1967!
In no time mandolins and guitars played Arabic songs, plays were given, little ones captured the scene, and success played its magic wand. It seems I had the right voice for broadcasting, the right pronunciation and the right approach to listeners.
Letters of listeners indicated successful programs, too. Again I was asked to handle the youth programs in literary Arabic and with the help of Batroni Orchestra and sometimes the help of the Arabian Takht. Music, narratives, ethics, poetry, and the program was chosen to be the show program of “This is Jerusalem”. Later both the children’s and the youth programs were for one hour and fifteen minutes, also in most cases they were weekly too.
Somewhere in between all of this, the Near East broadcasting Station in Jaffa asked me to give a set of literary reviews covering the Arab World. To facilitate matters a car was sent then to Jerusalem to take me to Jaffa where the station was located. Also it was ordered to take me back right after the broadcast!
By 1967 I had done hundreds of broadcasts. The old and the young heard my national songs, the stories of valor as well as the stories that spoke of ethics and historical events. A nation was being educated in various ways through the Radio media.
Later on “Suad” took to the road, yet renewed her broadcasts in Amman and Beirut with Fairoz, the woman of the loveliest voice around, joining in to sing at children’s programs. New diaspora has broken the “harp” so to speak. “Su’ad” could no more go on the air. She has done her share in this vast field. Twice she had faced danger with her team of children. Once when the broadcasting station was attacked with shells on Queen Melissenda Rd. and the second time was when she and the children witnessed cross fire at Nebi Daoud road.
The Four Homes of Mercy: Through all these long years of enrichment in one’s life, a Home for incurables was being founded by Katherine Siksek, the mother who gave all her love to those who needed care and attention. Back in my own house I was introduced to a new vocabulary such as: Bylaws, minutes of a meeting, agenda, haemoplegia, paraplegia, nurses, training, upgrading and invalids. Those words sank in my memory to be awakened in me in due course.
Mother (Katherine Siksek) was one evening writing a thank you letter in English. Father helped her in writing her Arabic letters. I came in to see mother and found her head on the desk; she was sleeping. “Mother” I gasped. “Let me help you,” and I did here after. Another incident affected me immensely. One day I visited mother. She was in bed. She had always asked me to give my full time to the Homes of Mercy and I avoided the issue. This time, she repeated and I saw tears in her eyes. “Yes Henrietta, what about lending a hand?" She said. “Yes, yes mother I will” came my answer. And I never, never resented helping the Four Homes of Mercy. Without knowing it, the Homes became everything to me in my life.
A Mission Unlike Others: As mother rested in peace, I was elected by the executive committee to head the Homes of Mercy as an Executive Honorary Secretary.
Slowly I started to understand matters. God had prepared me all these years to the task ahead. It was as though I had lessons in speaking in public to be able to speak to groups at the Homes of Mercy. I was made to perfect, to a degree, my language in both English and Arabic to be able to excel in writing. Even the wild flowers that I learned to love and have pasted and printed into cards, or calendars, or letter pads, all to be sold in benefit to the Homes. My endeavors to find new ways of acquiring help was not lost in vain, continually I learned to improvise.
The world around me was taking a new face. The Tadleek of long ago and the Tamreij found their sequels in the modern world. Rehabilitation, included physio and occupational therapies. I held the fort like the “Sentinel at Pompeii” and waited until a specialized new generation showed up. To me now I no more see the maimed, the underprivileged as such; I see them as worthy human beings in a worthy country.
I now also see myself ordained into a ministry much unlike any other. Katherine Siksek had once placed a plaque at the entrance to the Homes in Bethany. It read: “By Love serve one another.” How true to our needs is that.
Honored: No one can really fathom the extent of my happiness as I was five times honored one by China and four by my country folk.
The first time I was honored on 19/11/1996 by the Society of Arab Studies headed by Feisal Huseini. The ceremony took place at the University of Jerusalem, I was honored for excellence in the fields of voluntary services and love to one’s country.
The second honoring was on 16/10/1999 held by the Palestine National Authority – the Ministry of Social Welfare, I was honored for services in the field of Social Work.
The Third honoring was held on 2/11/1999 at the Union of Women, by the Union of Palestinian Women in Jerusalem.
The fourth honoring was given when the Institute of Tamer offered me an honoring in Ramallah in the presence of the Minister of Education.
The fifth honoring was unique as I was invited to China for receiving the award of IBBY by Peter Schneck for Al-Asayel Al Khams (2006).
I count my blessings and thank God for steering me forth into what I now feel honored to do in service to the sons and daughters of Palestine.
Many lovely people have come to my side. These affected me immensely, I think of them as associates, stationed in various places around the world. They understood the need and came to help. An Arabic quotation says, “no one hand can clap alone.” How true could this be?
A lot more lies ahead. Trusting that He who enabled me to be a useful pebble in the corner stone of our Palestine, can help me further and enable me to see that the underprivileged at the Four Homes of Mercy enjoy the benefits of excellent care. God be my help, my guide and my protector.
Henrietta Siksek Farradj Jerusalem Up-dated February 26th, 2007