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Sido Rafiq Farah

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

Grandparents give the gift of showing you where you come from. In their fast walk, in their propensity to hoard, in the cadence of their conversation. In remembering their childhood, in doing what they love, or what must be done for those whom they love.

This week I bid farewell to my paternal grandfather who was one month shy of turning 99 years old. Sido was Abdel Halim Hafez-esque, something in the jaw. He had a modesty about his stance, a generous smile that continues to grow warmer after greetings, and eyes that glimmer inquisitively.

He was from Shafa’amr and had lived in Haifa in 1948, in Ramallah in 1967, and in Lebanon between 1977 and 1985 during its civil war. My grandparents’ friends used to joke (however morbid) that war followed them where they went. The truth is that my grandparents lived a life of service, they went where they were needed, and they made better the places they went. After the Nakba and after many people fled ’48, my grandfather decided to board the last train to Haifa to assume the priesthood there. During that time, an Israeli soldier pointed a gun to his head. My grandfather lived to marry, have four children, and to tell this tale and many more.

Despite the wars he lived through and the long journey of displacement, Sido had a ‘peace’ about him. Taking after his name “Farah” meaning joy, he was easily contented and reveled in contagious laughter. Unlike anyone I know, he was spiritual. He was a theologian and a priest but I see him as more of a disciple than a preacher. He never claimed or argued, he asked questions in pursuit of moral truths and he listened. He continued to evolve his understanding of the world and myth until his last days. My mother once asked him to give us a Sunday school lesson and rather than encouraging us to embrace the bible, he simply said “love and forgiveness and that’s all”. That stuck, especially in a family of agnostics.

My siblings and I got to know my grandparents better as adults when we moved to Canada. Their home was a little Palestine. Their schedule revolved around Arabic news programs (which is a commitment if you factor in the time difference). Among my grandmother’s drawings were binders upon binders of their writings. They were both cultural figures and intellectuals back home, and they continued to engage with politics for as long as they were alive. My grandmother, Najwa Kawar, was tireless in her mission to write Palestinian stories, pass on, and translate folktales and oral history to our generation. My grandfather was her pillar.

When I went to do my Masters at SOAS, University of London a few years ago, my grandfather told me that he used to access the SOAS Library to write The History of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem 1841-1991, a volumized book. I remember thinking how his now small frame has lived through whole worlds much larger than life itself. But his life was so much bigger than his noted accomplishments too. Through his career he was uniquely positioned to counter the pressure put on churches to whitewash Zionism. He organized tours, published articles, and some of his colleagues changed their sermons to refer to the holy land as Palestine, and not Israel, while some became proponents of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement and passed it in their churches. In some historical document, Sido was referred to as ‘The Red Priest’ because he had socialist values and had published an article in a Communist paper. But when I asked him about the reference, he told me he doesn’t associate himself with any party or sect. One of my proudest moments was when a few years ago the Anglican Church in Canada passed same-sex marriage and he had voted for it. This is a man who cannot be defined by place or time, much less by his profession. He was a priest that practiced what he preached, he lived by his teachings, primarily Love.

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