Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Friday, 30 November 2012

I'll Remember You by Paul Eisen

Michael Prior died in 2004.

I first came across him at a lecture given by Marc Ellis at St Mary's College where Prior was Head of Theology. From the outset it was clear that the two men did not get on. Ellis, the ultimate 'Jew of conscience' was promoting his vision of an ethical, prophetic Judaism and Michael, the rebel Irish priest was finding little in Jewish behaviour or scriptures to justify such claims.

When I first began getting involved with Palestine solidarity, Michael had already been on the scene for quite a while. So, by the time I met him, Michael was already known to be trouble, having written a book or two certanly damning Zionism to hell, but also damning Jewish scripture with its "warrant for genocide" (his words) to pretty much the same place.

He didn't much like me at first. Then, as now, the movement was riddled with  'silver tongued Jews' (his words again) busily pushing their own Jew-of-conscience agenda.

At the time, I was trying to set up a meeting between Palestinians, some church-folk and some rabbis to plan for a big, public Deir Yassin commemoration. I really wanted Michael to come but he wouldn't. I think he also at the time, declined to appear on a speaking platform on which I was appearing.

But he did turn up to the very first UK Deir Yassin commemoration in 2000 - a picket outside the Ministry of Defence. He just turned up, signed the book and left - and he did take part in 2001 at the Peacock Theatre. The thousand-strong audience there won't forget his joining on stage Sheikh Zaki Badawi and Rabbi John Raynor for the closing momemt of commemoration. What I most remember is him in the bar before the event banging on the table shouting at God "Where are You? Are You there? Speak!"

I saw him next in Jerusalem in 2004 at the Sabeel conference. I'd just written "Speaking the Truth to Jews" for a book he was editing. He obviously liked the piece and was much warmer towards me.

At the conference,  he appeared along with Marc Ellis. Michael gave his usual fiery presentation whch did much to damp down the adulation that always seemed to follow Ellis in Christian circles. Ellis, clearly not averse to using tried-and-tested methods, had already publicly remarked that Prior 'bordered on the anti-Semitic'.

Then he was dead. He fell off a ladder in his Order's communal garden. Some people think he was pushed. Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that there must have been quite a few who would echo King Henry's words "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

I attended the Memorial Service. It was just beautiful with its deep reflection of Michael's Irish wildness. I particularly remember the day because, invited to participate in the service, for the first time in my life, I understood what 'communion' meant.
Fr. Michael Prior

So there you have it and, if you've got this far, you may be wondering why I've bothered to write about Michael Prior in the first place. It's clear I didn't know him all that well and, for most of the times we shared, he didn't like me all that much. So it's all the more strange that I miss him as much as I do, and even stranger how many times I find myself wishing Michael was there so I could  ask him "What do you think Michael? Is that right? Should I have done that?" I don't know what he would have said but I know I would have got a straight answer.

There's some lines from a much-loved song

There's some people that
You don't forget
Even though you only seen them one time or two.

In the end,
My dear, sweet friend,
I'll remember you.
Well, I'll certainly remember Michael Prior and you Reader, you can hear those lines delivered here (If you're in a rush, they're at 1' 37"):