George Anton Kiraz

Jan 29, 2023

Water the Willow Tree

Memoirs of a Bethlehem Boyhood

Gorgias Press 2021

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In Water the Willow Tree: Memoirs of a Bethlehem Boyhood (Gorgias Press, 2022), George A. Kiraz tells the story of a young Palestinian boy growing up in Bethlehem, fascinated with understanding his Syriac roots even as he drew steadily nearer to the day when he would inevitably be transplanted to the United States.

George first traces his ancestors’ migration from Upper Mesopotamia—present-day Turkey—to Palestine in the aftermath of the horrific Sayfo genocide of 1915 (known more popularly as the Armenian genocide); in doing so, he provides a personal history of the Syriac presence in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

He then describes the realities of that presence through memories from his own boyhood, offering an intimate look at myriad aspects of Syriac life in Palestine in the 1970s and ’80s: church community and religious identity, brushes with ancient history and artifacts, conflicts with the Israeli occupation, fraught custodianship of Christian holy places in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Readers will meet many of the community members who influenced and encouraged George in his nascent academic interests, and they will even learn about his father’s role in the legendary discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

George is known for his contributions to Syriac studies and to the preservation of the Syriac language and heritage. These tasks, though, are not just the sum of his professional CV; they are the story of his life, his ancestry, his family’s survival. This memoir chronicles his lifelong investment in the Syriac world and the childhood experiences that would later shape so much of his later academic life.

Water the Willow Tree
offers an illuminating account of a Bethlehem boyhood to readers with a range of interests; anyone interested in modern Syriac heritage and diaspora, the Sayfo genocide, Palestinian history, or religious pluralism and minority communities will be alternately informed, entertained, and moved by George’s story.

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Ari Barbalat holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of California in Los Angeles. He lives in Toronto with his family.

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