Father Abraham Shmuelof was a singular figure on the landscape of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel.

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He was born in 1913 in the Bukharan Quarter of Jerusalem to a large Jewish family that had moved to Jerusalem from Iran in 1900. Part of his education he received at the College de Freres in the Old City of Jerusalem. He would later write about his youth and young adulthood that it was a wild time in search of pleasure. In 1939, he joined the British army and was taken prisoner in 1941 by the Germans along with the other British soldiers in Greece. He would spend the next four years in prisoner of war camps in Greece, Yugoslavia and Germany.

It was in the camps that Abraham would begin to read the Bible and reflect on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. He waited until liberation in 1945 to accomplish his resolution to be baptized and on arrival in England, at the end of the war, he presented himself at the Catholic church in Newcastle and was baptized. When he returned to Jerusalem, he bid farewell to his family and entered the Benedictine monastery of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. One year later he transferred to the Trappist monastery in Latroun where he lived for five years as a monk. In 1948 Latroun became part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the abbot of the monastery decided to send the Jewish monk home to Israel for his own safety. Crossing Mandelbaum Gate, Abraham re-entered the monastery of the Dormition. He was sent to study theology in Rome, Belgium and Germany and then returned in 1956 to Dormition Abbey.

Attracted to the Byzantine rite that he had studied in Germany, Abraham left Dormition Abbey and was received into the service of the Greek Catholic diocese of Galilee and was ordained by Archbishop Hakim in Nazareth in 1956. Fluent in Arabic, he served in succession as teacher in the seminary in Nazareth, as parish priest in Sakhnin and then in Jish but it was not easy to be a Jewish priest in a church that was completely Arab. In 1967, after the War, Father Abraham was able to return to Latroun that now was within the borders of the State of Israel. During the following years, Father Abraham moved between Latroun and the service of the Greek Catholic church in the Galilee and its bishop Joseph Raya, however he found no peace.

It was toward the end of the 1970s that Father Abraham moved into Isaiah House, becoming a part of the Dominican community there. Here he found a degree of peace with a community focused on the study of the Jewish tradition, dialogue with the Jewish people and the pastoral service of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. One of the projects for which he is best remembered was undertaken during these years: the recording of a complete reading of the Hebrew texts of the Bible, the Tanakh and the New Testament too. His fluent Hebrew resounded from his recordings, his celebration of the mass and his own (sometimes polemical) writings.

(The voice of Father Abraham reading the texts of the Tanakh can be heard here: Listen).

Father Abraham died in 1994 and was buried in the grounds of the monastery of Saint John in the Desert in the Judean Hills. He is remembered simply as “Abouna”, a dynamic presence not without contradictions, within the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel.