He Was a Gentle Soul

I first met Phil Berg in August of 1990. At that time, he was working at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (currently known as Jerusalem University College) as the campus manager and all-around odd-jobber. We both lived upstairs in the main building of the old Bishop Gobat School on Mount Zion. At the top of the stairs our doors faced each other, his on the north, mine on the south. Phil’s door was almost always open throughout the day and late into the nights. He was a quiet, contemplative man, a voracious reader and usually could be found in his room reading a book about the Middle East.

One of the things I remember most about Phil is that he was always even tempered with a selfless spirit, ready to help in whatever way had been requested of him. Whether it was carrying luggage up or down the narrow and steep stairs, shuttling people to or from the airport, or opening the Oasis at an odd hour, Phil was willing to serve.

Phil served me in a different way, though. During the fall 1990 semester, the prospects of war in Iraq were growing every day. Frequently, Saddam Hussein published threats to launch an assault on Israel. Tensions among Israelis were growing in a noticeable way, and I wasn’t terribly affected by all the threats of destruction…until one particular day when I became pretty anxious about the whole thing. On that day, Phil had opened the Oasis and I was the only customer. We struck up a conversation about the white elephant in the room, the pending war, and in a moment of vulnerability, I shared with Phil how I was feeling about it all. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember the effects of his message: my soul was instantly calmed.

I was so moved by that moment that I wrote it up in a short story and sent it to Decision magazine, thinking it might be published. It wasn’t, but that doesn’t reduce the importance of what I learned when Phil demonstrated two Bible verses for me:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11 KJV).”

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NASB).”

Phil, I’m a better person for having known you. Thanks.

You can read Todd Bolen’s tribute to Phil here.


  1. Thanks funny that you mention a story of Phil calming you. I think he had the same effect on JUC (formerly IHS) in the Fall of 2000 when violence erupted.

    I was also impressed with Phil’s hospitality.

    I have a link to “secure.shevet.org/” on my web page under the Philip Berg tribute for anyone who wants to make a donation to his family.

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