Priest's 'shocking but wonderful' trip to Holy Land

By Kevin Unitt 29/02 Updated: 29/02 09:03

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Rev Coles by a section of the eight-metre high wall which the Israeli government is building to divide off the Palestinian West Bank area. (s)

A PRIEST from Lillington has described his first ever trip to the Holy Land of Jerusalem and Palestine as a “shocking but wonderful” experience.

Rev Graham Coles, of St Mary Magdalene's Church, has just returned from a fortnight-long visit to the troubled region to discover what life was really like for the people there.

As well as seeing well-known Biblical sites he also visited a Syrian Orthodox monastery, an Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem and two places on the West Bank which are open to all races and religions - a school in Ramallah and a olive farm called the Tent of Nations.

He told The Observer: “It was a wonderful experience and I hope to return again to forge links for the Coventry diocese.

“It was inspiring to see how people live amid the problems, many have grown up with them always there.

“I met and stayed with some great people, Palestinians and Jewish families and Christians.

“The restrictions on movement were a real shock in places like Ramallah, where you felt like cattle as you went through the checkpoints, so its incredible to think many people – including school children - have to do that every day. While I never felt in danger, the soldiers with machine guns were a constant reminder of the tense situation.

“The high segregation walls and CCTV cameras always made you feel like you were being watched so it was very oppressive in that sense.

“It is a shame that people suffer for political reasons and a real concern to me that many Christians are emigrating due to the restrictions of general life there.”

And Rev Coles met and had a meal with a Jewish couple during his trip - Norman and Lola Cohen - who once lived in Lillington before emigrating to Israel 30 years ago.

Rev Coles takes up a post as priest-in-charge of Cubbington Parish Church next month.

Norman and Lola Cohen, who Rev Coles met on his trip to the Holy Land, describe their old and new lives:

Norman was born in Coventry in 1923, where the family business was destroyed in the Coventry Blitz causing them to move to Leamington where they remained and opened a business - Lancaster House Carpets. Lola was born in Birmingham and moved to Leamington after her marriage to Norman.

I (Lola) was for over 20 years a teacher at Arnold Lodge School and a counsellor for many years at what was then known as the South Warwickshire Marriage Guidance Council.

Norman was active in local affairs having been a member and at one time, chairman of the Leamington Chamber of Trade. He was also chairman, until they left Leamington, of the Heart of England Leukaemia Research Fund. I gave talks to schools, church groups and luncheon clubs all over the Midlands on 'The Jewish Way of Life' and together we ran the Leamington Progressive Jewish Group and Jewish religion classes for the Jewish children scattered around the area. We were also active in inter-faith activities. We have two daughters, Stephanie and Gail, who both attended Kingsley School. Gail now lives in London, Stephanie, married to a 10th generation Israeli, lives in Jerusalem.

Norman served in the war in the Royal Signals, going over to France on D-Day, subsequently travelling through France, Holland and Belgium, ending up in Germany in the Army of Occupation. The discovery of Belsen Concentration camp had a deep and lasting effect on him. We both felt very British but nevertheless, the establishment of the State of Israel made us very conscious of how lucky we had been not to have been involved or to have lost family in the Holocaust and of the need for a Jewish state for Jews who had survived or were still being persecuted.

Norman felt a sense of guilt that as a trained British soldier he had not been in Israel to help in its creation. After our older daughter who had come to Israel as a premature baby nurse, settled here, we began making frequent visits and felt more and more that this was where we were meant to be. We shall always miss Leamington but have never regretted our decision to come and live here. In Jerusalem we work at promoting Israel's good image against a barrage of inaccurate reporting in the world media and also reach out to the many Christians who love Israel, volunteer here or come on visits, organising home hospitality visits and welcoming them into our own home. We also run an organisation called 'The British Israel Group,' whose informative articles about Israel reach thousands of subscribers all over the world.

We would love to hear from any old friends who read this at and have a blog at on which we post our articles about life in Israel and interesting news items.

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Rev Coles outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem - the low doorway is intended to make pilgrims bow as they enter. (s) Latest News
Norman and Lola Cohen, once of Leamington and now living in Jerusalem. (s)

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