Dr. Reja-e Busailah, 91, was born in Jerusalem, Palestine, and died in Indianapolis December 6. He was preceded in death by his parents, Yasin and Lulu (Haj Ali) and by his first wife Hannah Selwyn Busailah in 1999. He is survived by their daughter Nawal and son-in-law Heath Knuckles of Crawfordsville, IN, and grandchildren Cody, Dante, and Alex. Cody and his wife Gabriella gave Grandpa three great-grand sons. Also surviving are siblings Mohammad Busailah and wife Edna of Glendale, CA; Najeebah Zhalan of Damascus, Syria; Laila Souibri of Rabat, Morocco; and Salwa and husband Muhammad Abu Ebeid of Amman, Jordan. Also surviving are numerous nieces and nephews. His wife, Tanya, affectionately called Tanyusha survives as do her parents, Lloyd and Carolyn Roberts of Denver, IN, and his sister-in-law Sabrina Sigmon, her husband David, and their children. His many “readers” also survive: all the kind people who have read to him over the years and helped him type his writings. They are family to us. Also surviving is the whole town of Kokomo, whose adopted son he was. Indeed, he is being mourned here, across the country, and around the world as tributes pour in from friends, artists, poets, and writers.
Blind since infancy, Reja-e broke all the molds. He never let anyone tell him no. His determination and feistiness were unparalleled. He was an intellectual man of letters, a thrill seeker, a world traveler, a great host, and a lover of people, great food, strong coffee, music, art, animals especially cats, and walks in Highland Park. He was a dominate physical presence with his bone-crunching handshake, baritone voice, and back-cracking hugs. “Good to see you!” he bellowed everywhere.
His accomplishments are too numerous to mention here as right now people everywhere are sharing personal stories of how this man impacted their lives. Helping others gave Reja-e his greatest joy. Just to chronicle his achievements let us note the following: he earned a B.A. in English literature from Cairo University, Egypt; next a Special Education degree from Hunter College in NYC where he met his first love, Hannah Selwyn; from there he founded a school for the blind in Kuwait and taught there; finally, restless, he returned to New York to begin a Ph.D. program for English from New York University where he simultaneously taught for the Institute for the Blind.
Next Reja-e and Hannah, now married, made their home in Kokomo where he taught English at IUK for the next 30 years. Together this couple founded Project Loving Care, a charity for orphaned Palestinian children which they ran out of their home for decades before it became The United Holy Land Fund. Dr. Busailah and his seeing eye dogs were an icon on and off campus. He loved his colleagues and students and had many loudish parties at his residence for his students where he said “the floor shook.” Nearing the end of his career, he turned to travel again winning a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at a university in Morocco. Later, in his seventies, he went to teach at Birzeit University in the West Bank, Palestine.
Reja-e mourned and raged about the destruction of his hometown of Lydda, Palestine, all detailed in his memoir. Yet, he created his own village here: the fruit stand people, the shoe store, the grocery check-out people, the pharmacist, his favorite waitresses he asked for by name and who doted on him, and all his doctors and nurses, his dentist, veterinarian, and anyone Reja-e ran into. He made us slow down and remember that we are people first and businesses second.
Reja-e took another blind leap of faith when he found love again and married Tanya Roberts in 2002. She was his match in all things adventure, travel, writing, and art. Together they formed an ironclad bond with ropes of steel. Everything they did was for each other. She was his Ariel and he was her Prospero. There was no “I” in their marriage, only “we” and “us.” With her insistence and dedication, he wrote his award-winning memoir: In the Land of my Birth: A Palestinian Boyhood (Palestine Book Award 2018) and the following year the poetry companion piece: Poems of a Palestinian Boyhood. Dr. Busailah is published in many scholarly journals at home and abroad and has published many poems and articles in magazines and on-line formats throughout his long writing career. Every day found him reading, writing, Facebooking, e-mailing, and thinking about his YouTube poetry channel. He wanted a Twitter page and argued that the Pope had Twitter. He barked questions to Alexa, his favorite electronic, asking it bizarre questions making it say, “Hmm…I don’t know that one.” He talked in Arabic to his brother every single day. He loved his family. He loved everyone. He was tireless. He could do anything but see. We thought he was immortal…
Join us for a socially distanced Celebration of Life at Rodgers Pavilion in Highland Park on W. Deffenbaugh from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday December 12. In lieu of flowers, please donate to either of Reja-e’s favorite charities: The Seeing Eye Dogs (https://www.seeingeye.org) in Morristown, New Jersey or The United Holy Land Fund (https://www.uhlf.global) in Burbank, Illinois, by following links on their website or calling for the address.
McClain Funeral Home, Denver, Indiana, has been entrusted with arrangements. Expressions of sympathy can be shared online at www.mcclainfh.com.
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