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Recollections of Pilgrimage:
Nine Days with the Guardian in 1957

by Bill Washington

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Chapter 3

Arriving ‘home'

When I arrived in Israel I was carrying some rather strange ‘gifts'. Knowing Rúhíyyih Khánum's keen interest in indigenous peoples, a passion that remained undiminished during her travels through so many different countries in later years – and I witnessed this some years later when I was privileged to help in arranging a barbecue and other gatherings in Darwin for Rúhíyyih Khánum and Jessie Revell to meet with some aboriginal peoples on their way home after the dedication of the Sydney Temple in 1961 – Frank Wyss had insisted I take some gifts to her of Australian aboriginal artefacts: a boomerang, a bull-roarer (a small, carved piece of wood tied to the end of a cord woven from some native grasses which was traditionally used to alert the womenfolk that the men were gathering for a corroboree which the women were forbidden to watch) and a woomera – the spear throwing stick. The woomera had been too big to squeeze into the suitcase and was strapped to the outside.

There was also a package of eucalyptus tree seeds which Frank had asked me to take to the Guardian who, he said, was always in need of more trees for the gardens, and the eucalypt had proved its ability to flourish in the climate and soil of Israel. Although the seeds had been obtained from the Forestry nursery in Canberra and had been certified free of disease, I was aware that plants and seeds are usually forbidden import in many countries and I was not sure how they would pass through customs. Dr Giachery had told me, before leaving his home in Rome, that I must tell the airport officials at Tel Aviv that I was visiting "His Eminence Shoghi Rabbani"; he insisted several times that I should do this, so it was my ‘opener' to any discussion with these serious-looking officials. And I was really amazed at how this statement opened all doors. From that point on they were smiling and very helpful; the seeds were no worry and all the odd-looking things I carried raised no comment.

It seemed to be enough that I was visiting the Guardian, and it suddenly struck me how much serious ‘external affairs' work the Guardian had done since the creation of the state of Israel some nine years before, and with the Palestinian Mandate authorities for many years before that. Patiently and persistently he had laboured long to establish such a relationship with the government officials that everyone knew of him, respected him highly, and along with that went a high respect for the Faith itself. Anyone who was connected in any way with Shoghi Rabbani was automatically welcome and trusted – and this was at a time when the State of Israel was still at war with Egypt and was threatened by all the surrounding Arab states. Finding some camera accessories, extension lens and so on, in my luggage, the officials even wrote on my passport the serial numbers of all this photographic gear, certifying that it had been brought into the country – not purchased locally - which would ensure that I would have no difficulty with whoever was on duty when I left.

Arriving at the Pilgrim House later that day, I passed on Frank's greetings and gifts to Rúhíyyih Khánum, who insisted that they were things not only to be looked at but to be used. Following a brief explanation of the purpose of the bull-roarer, she was swinging it around in the foyer at the entrance to the Pilgrim House in dangerously close proximity to the beautiful crystal chandelier suspended in the centre of the foyer. Jessie Revell came to see what the noise was all about and, with a look of pure dismay on her face, chased us out into the garden. Here Rúhíyyih Khánum insisted on testing the boomerang and, before I could alert her to any possible danger, the boomerang was whizzing its way over a large hedge bordering the road and footpath. A moment later a very surprised Arab gentleman peeked over the hedge with the boomerang clutched in his hand – it had nearly decapitated him.

That was my introduction to Rúhíyyih Khánum, the wife of the Guardian, and I must say that it removed any trepidation I was feeling. She was so natural and so relaxed that it took away any tension and really made you feel at home. With the passage of time and her own passing in January 2001, I realized that this was probably the same garden beside the Pilgrim House where she was interred. It is fortunate that the Abhá Kingdom is a realm of the spirit and not physical things; I can well imagine the damage her ever-youthful enthusiasm could have done there.

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