With almost no tourists in Bethlehem our baubles have become even more important.
So says Suzan Sahori, a stalwart of the local Christian community, who has created a thriving business with talented Palestinian artisans, helping them earn a much-needed income.
‘Times are especially tough, so Bethlehem Baubles have become a bit of a lifeline,’ explains Suzan, who was born in the town and has lived through many changes. ‘We especially rely on the UK to support us.’
In 2009 Ros Pollock, founder of the company, was living in Jerusalem with her family – and she and Suzan become firm friends. Ros wanted to help the Bethlehem community by diverting the Hebron glassblowers towards making unique and beautiful Christmas decorations, instead of their usual tourist glassware. Suzan helped her make that a reality.
The baubles are blown in the ancient glass factories of Hebron using mostly recycled glass and open furnace techniques. It’s hot and sometimes dangerous work but the glass blowers are very experienced – mostly Muslim families who have been working in glass for many, many generations.
Once ready, the baubles are moved to Bethlehem – about 15 miles away – to be hand painted by Christian women in their homes while they’re looking after their children. Jasmine, one of her team says: ‘It’s so hard for mothers to get jobs in Bethlehem so this project really matters to us. We all love the idea of the baubles travelling to so many countries. There are about 40 of us in total involved in this project. It makes us all feel good that we are making something that is really appreciated.’
Every year the Bethlehem Baubles design changes. The 2020 bauble is more significant than ever ‘after the ghastly year we’ve just had,’ says Roz. Each bauble has a 2020 ribbon and is a positive memento of keeping going.
‘We have lots of supporters who have built up a big collection of designs and love giving them as Christmas gifts,’ says Roz. ‘They are now sent all over the world but the UK is especially good to us. Our glass blowers and painters are kept busy for about four months of the year but we’d love to be making more so that they’re busy all the year round.’
One of the great things about this project is that it brings three faiths together in a part of the world that isn’t famous for unity. The baubles are made by the Muslim community, Christian ladies paint them and the Israelis ship them off around the world – ‘bringing us all a little bit closer,’ says Roz.
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