March 4-10 Monday Up early to help prepare breakfast for the German group.  They wanted to eat by 7:00 which means we were up by 5:45 to shower and then out in the kitchen by 6;15 to help Badia and Elias O get things set up for breakfast. Today they were touring around Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, a long day. We are enjoying the German group very much.  There are three couples, two older couples (60s) and one younger couple (30s or 40s), two women, and one man, a priest and their leader, Berrhard Pfaff.  He is also the driver of their van.  One of the women’s name is Uli -short for Ulrike.  She is in an interesting business in southern Germany, tours using old fashioned touring coaches.  You can see what her business offers at   Her shortened name, Uli, in Arabic means “speak”  Badia’s daughter, Ronza was at the guest house one evening and asked Uli her name.  When she replied, uli, Ronzi thought that Uli was asking her (Ronza) to speak.  This was a source for a good laugh.  From the way the members of this group interact with each other, it is evident that the members of this group enjoy each other very much.  They are very organised also.  Each morning before they leave for the tour for the day, they make sure they have packed plenty of bread, water, and things to eat on the way, along with plates and utensils, their own.  When they return, the first task is to come into the kitchen and wash everything to ready it for the next day. I went to Nardeen’s class this afternoon.  Today they were to write about what they wanted for their future.  I have been with this class many times and, in fact, recording some of the students who had written the best of the thank you notes to Pilgrims of ibillin.  Today, Nardeen said that the students wanted to talk about their future rather than write.  That was fine with me.  One of the basic skills the English teachers seek to help the students develop is the skill in speaking English.  We have done a lot with different classes in which we use the Ungame and give students a card and then have them talk about the question or topic on the card.  We have found the students to be very receptive to this, in fact one student came up to Jane after a class and thanked her for giving her the opportunity to talk. Nardeen’s class has 37 very active ninth graders.  We set the criteria that the students had to be quiet, not an easy task for this class, so their fellow students could talk.  They managed to stay relatively quiet.  It was necessary only a few times to stop and ask for quiet.  One student commented that he want to be a philosopher  – not a very usual desire among these students who are mostly oriented toward science or medicine. Tuesday Again an early morning.  Today the German group left for the north of the Galilee, including Biram, the village of Elias Chacour’s birth and from which he and his family were evicted by the Israel soldiers in 1948, a story well told in his book, Blood Brothers. A different but colorful sunset picture images03_05_13sunset-2 Wednesday Today was the day the German group went to tour Akko.  Jane and I find it interesting that many of the groups that come here do not go to Akko.  We find it one of the more interesting places just to walk in the old city and see the narrow stone streets with many arches and old shutters and gates.  Especially interesting are the walls that withstood the siege of Napoleon.  As I wrote in our blog from our first stay, November 2011 through January 2012, we were in Akko several times.  With a German architect we were able to go under the existing Melkite Catholic Church to the church that was here during the crusades, 1150 or so and even down into the large cistern where water was stored for the city. Akko also has a long history of being an important port for trade. It is mentioned in Egyptian writings as early as the 1900 BC.  It still serves as an important source of income for Palestinian who go out every day to fish.  Fresh fish can be found for sale in the old souk. After the German tour group left, I walked over to the Niwano Peace auditorium.  Here students on the student councils from five Melkite Catholic Schools were gathering.  In addition to all of her cooking for the guests at the guest house, Badia had been busy helping to cook lunch for this gathering of an expected 150 students, administrators and the Archbishop.  The students enjoyed the food prepared for them, as did the teachers. images03_06_13studentcouncil-9 images03_06_13studentcouncil-10 Students were present from Mar Elias in Ibillin, Mar Elias in Haifa, the Melkite Catholic high school in Shefa’mer, in Nazareth, and Jish.  The event was organised by Gloria, Gloria one of the high school teachers, along with Johaina, the elementary and middle school principal, and Kamil, a teacher at the elementary and middle school. Kamil and Johaina The Archbishop was present and spoke. Archbishop Chacour Music was also part of the program.

I left when the morning session broke for lunch and returned to the guest house. At night we were joined for dinner by Elias AG and Fawaz, one of the high school teachers, but for this group more importantly, the person who organizes Mar Elias’ student exchange programs to Germany. Elias spoke about the high school and Mar Elias more generally. Tonight Badia made her special dessert, waffles, topped with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce and sprinkles. special dessert Our guests, and we, were delighted. After all this, things got “serious”.  Uli brought out a hand written letter and began to read it to Bernhard. IMG_2392 The group was taking this opportunity to thank him for organizing and leading the tour. IMG_2393 They had enjoyed themselves very much.  After reading her letter, they presented Bernhard with a gift. IMG_2387 IMG_2388 He opened it and began to laugh with great joy — it was one of the paper weights, looking like the globes we give at Christmas time that, when turned upside down, start to snow.  In side the globe were goats.  Everyone started laughing and Bernhard was delighted.  Early in his stay at the guest house, he had shown us a whole portfolio of pictures of his neighbour’s goats.  Evidently he spends a great deal of time with them and has names for each of the goats. IMG_2391 Thursday Today our German friends left. IMG_2394 Since we were expected a group from the International Center for Mary to arrive on Saturday night, we quickly went around to the rooms, stripping the beds, gathering towels, wash cloths etc and taking them up to the roof top washing area, where Jane began the task of washing. Friday One of Jane’s blind students, Bonsiana is now being taught by Hanadi.  This is a good move, since Bonsiana has great difficulty with English (as well as most other subjects, we found out).  Hanadi just returned this year from two years in New York City at CCNY.  She is an Englsih teacher and of course speaks Arabic, so she will be able to work more closely with Bonsiana. Today, Jane had both Ashraf and Nur in the room with her and found having Nur very helpful in working with Ashraf.  Nur understands English pretty well.  Jane is working with Ashraf on his oral skills.  He is a senior and when he applies for colleges he will have to go for interviews, in English.  Having Nur with her, Jane could tell Nur what she was trying to get Ashraf to vocalize in Arabic and then Ashraf began the process of speaking in English. Saturday Early in the morning, around 8:30, we left for Nazareth to go to the English Hospital to see Dr. Hakim, the plastic surgeon who had removed a basil cell from my left cheek soon after we arrived last September  - an agreement I had made with my dermatologist before we left in late August.  Today he would look at a growth on my right arm where the tricep muscle is located.  We arrived early and when we walked into his office, he greeted us and immediately looked at my arm.  He said it would be best to remove the growth and do so in the operating room under local anaesthesia.  So he scheduled me for next Thursday, telling us to come some time between 10 and 12 noon.  So we were back in Ibillin very quickly. Today we made sure the necessary number of rooms for our guests from International center for Mary were prepared.  We have made a check list of items to make sure each room has the necessary number of towels (bath, hand, wash cloth), bath mats, TP, bars of soap, toilet bowl deodorant, that the pamphlet providing information is in the room, etc.  We open the doors, and i make out a list of the rooms with the names of the persons in the rooms (as this list has been sent to me in advance, usually upon my request).  For the group coming tonight we needed two rooms with a double bed (two married couples — although this assumption does not always work), one room with three nuns, two rooms each with two nuns, and three rooms with one person in each room — eight rooms altogether. The group from the International Center for Mary arrived around four.  After showing them their rooms, they moved into the library and set it up to watch a projected DVD.  Five of the members were still to come, including the director of the center, Luc Lagabrielle. It turned out that three of the nuns coming from Nazareth had difficulty finding their way here. Elias, Badia’s husband, did his usual thing.  He spoke with them on the phone and gave them directions, not once, but at least three times.  He finally got in his car and drove into ibillin to see if he could find them.  He figured our what they had done, taken a left instead of a right and he found them at the building for a language school in Ibillin, not Mar Elias. They had asked for simple meal, no meat.  Badia prepared a delicious soup and several salads along with rice. Sunday This morning after breakfast, the group from the International Center for Mary moved all of their luggage into the library so we could clean up the rooms to be ready for another group coming in tonight.  Then I walked them over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  They brought implements for mass and, for after their worship service, we had set-up a room for them to use behind the church in which to continue their retreat.  I showed them the two options they could use including the filtered hot and cold water dispenser and then brought them back into the church and showed them the area they could use to celebrate the mass.  Then I showed and talked some about the various icons in the church, including the beatitude icons.  I then returned to the guest house to help further with the set up for the group coming that night. We were expecting a group led by Michael Spath, a member off the Board of Directors of Pilgrims of Ibillin, and a professor in the Religious Studies Program, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, Ind.  He was bringing with him a group from the HearCare Audiology nonprofit organization.  They worked last year with Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (and much more), to provide hearing tests and hearing aid equipment for children in Bethlehem using the Bethlehem Health and Wellness Clinic Mitri had set up .  Now they were seeking to establish a relationship with the Mar Elias Schools to do something similar here. For those willing to stay with me, this is an interesting, to me, sample of one of the things I do as a volunteer.  I began email contact with Michael on January 23, 2013, after being sent his contact information from Elias AG,  by introducing myself and Jane as volunteers at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions through the Pilgrims of Ibillin (at the time not realizing that Michael was a member of the Board of Directors of Pilgrims of Ibillin) and that part of my job as a volunteer was to contact persons coming to stay at the guest house to be of assistance to them in planning their stay.  Michael responded on Feb 5th with a description of their plans and hopes, including screening for all 1st and 4th graders and helping students with special needs regarding hearing difficulties. Their planned stay was to arrive in the afternoon on Sunday, have a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, meet early in the morning with Elias AG, then meet with the Archbishop.  Then lunch and after lunch begin the hearing tests.  Dinner would be in Haifa.  After breakfast the next mooring, hearing tests and attending to students with special hearing issued would continue.  They planned to finish and leave for Tiberius right about noon time and have lunch elsewhere. I arranged with Elias for him to eat dinner with them on Sunday night and talk with them after dinner.  This was communicated to Michael on Feb 6 and also indicated that I was to meet with Johaina, the Director of the Elementary School and the one whose students would be affected by the work of HearCare Audiology. Later the same day I emailed Michael again with the results of my meeting with Johaina.  Based on their experience with the center in Bethlehem, an assumption was made that hearing tests were not performed on children in Israel, or that no tests had been performed for first graders.  In fact, under the Ministry of Education, all children in Israel are screening for hearing problems in grade one and again in grade seven.  The results are given to the parents and the schools are also informed. I do not know if the way children with hearing difficulties are treated in the Palestinian schools is different from the way children are treated in Jewish schools after the results are know.  If a child has a hearing problem needing further diagnosis and/or hearing aids, in the Palestinian village/cities tit is the responsibility of the parents. I reported this information to Michael and then was introduced to Angelina.  It was decided that screening would be done for the fourth grade class since no screening would be done by the state of Israel again until the seventh grade class and that I would inquire about any students already diagnosed with hearing problems so that they and their parents could be invited to come for further screening and testing.  In addition, I reminded them that this was the initial contact with the school and that they should view this as the time of making connections and finding out how best to serve the needs of these children during further visits — which was the plan of the HearCare Audiology group.  Over a period of a month we emailed back and forth to finalize plans, the final part being to provide a mailing address for HearCare Audiology to use for shipping their equipment and supplies to Israel instead of carrying it like they did the year before (as it turned out this would be a major mistake — their equipment and supplies have still not been released from customs). One important part of the preplanning was providing some detail concerning screening and other services the audiology group would provide so Johaina could sent out a letter describing this and let any parent who did not want his/her child to participate in the program, indicate this to her.  Angelina provided that information to me and I gave it to Johaine so she coiuld sent out such a letter at least a week in advance of the coming of HearCare Audiology. The group arrived in the late afternoon as planned and after getting settled in their rooms, I walked them over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and gave them a tour of the  Niwano Peace Auditorium under the church and then the church and its beautiful icons. Elias AG arrived in time for dinner and then spent about two hours with them afterward talking about living as an Arab/Palestinian/Israeli Citizen/Christina in Israel and about the development and vision for the Mar Elias Educational Institutions. I gave them the schedule that had been worked out with Johaina.  As mentioned earlier, their equipment and supplies had not been released from customs, so the plan for Monday was changed so Michael and Angelina would meet with Johaina early in the morning to find out about the four students whose hearing problems had already been identified and try to set up a time for them to meet with these students and the parents. Another facet of the scheduling was to see if one of the members traveling with the group, an art teacher in the US, could participate in art classes during the day on Monday.  I had arranged this also with Johaina, so the art teacher was scheduled to be with the Mariam Bawardi art teacher beginning at 8:00 am.  She would stay unit the time she would walk over to the place where the Archbishop would meet with them at 9:30 the next morning. Having gone over all of this, everyone was ready for bed.  Tomorrow is another day.

Note:  I found that I had skipped this week.  I went back and added information to each blog indicating the dates for the blog.

Week of January 21-27


(background from previous blog — we had taken to the bus to Nazareth on Sunday after church so we could stay overnight at the Abuna Firaj Pilgrm House with Sister Martha since we were all to go to Haifa on Monday for our volunteer visas)  Today we were up early, 5:30.  We ate breakfast and piled into Sister Martha’s car and we left for Haifa for the visit to the Minister of the Interior’s office to have our passports changed to reflect an extension of our volunteer visas.  We had to bring two passport photos and some shekels.  Leaving early, as we did, meant we avoided the usual rush hour heavy traffic.  Driving in with Sister Martha meant that we did not have to worry about finding the Archbishopric.  Sister Martha made all the turns and quickly we were entering the parking area in front of the Archbishopric.  We parked and went inside, our first visit to the Archbishopric.  I made sure I took a picture of the carved wall hanging depicting all of the parishes of the Diocese of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all of the Galilee.

Churches Diocese Melkite Churches

Sister Martha took us upstairs to where Archbishop Chacour, two nuns and another person were reading alternatively from the scriptures facing the front of a small chapel.  We stayed a while and then quietly left to find Edward with whom we would go the the Minister’s office.  Edward was in his office on the first floor.  We were waiting for two other persons to join us, a nun and Millie Lynne Johnson, another person the Archbishop was helping to get a volunteer visa.

The nun arrived and Edward received a call from Janet Lewis, a Methodist mission worker who had also been helping Millie saying they were stuck in traffic.  Edward gave them directions to the Minister of the Interior’s office and told them to meet us there.  We all climbed in to his car and left in order to be on time at the office.

After parking, we did finally meet up with Millie and then all of us crossed a wide street and headed toward the Minister of the Interior’s Office, down a long walkway, through security and up an elevator.  We entered the office with Edward and met the sixth person, another nun, who would be with Edward to gain an extension of her volunteer visa.

We were ushered into the area where several staff members were working behind an attached row of cubicles to assist people with visa issues.  Edward had all of the paper work ready.  We sat down opposite one of the cubicles and Edward presented all of the paperwork.  When the time came we each had to sign a document, pay some shekels (350 NIS each for Jane and me — a little less than $100), and then wait some more.  It turns out that the office in Jerusalem had sent a copy of the necessary paperwork not the original, so we were waiting of the originals to come vis fax.  After  waiting for about a half hour, the person helping us decided to proceed with our documents  and soon we all had our passports with the necessary changes to our volunteer visas (actually Edward kept the passports so he could make copies back at his office in the Archbishopric).  We were granted volunteer visas good until the end of October and, importantly for us, with multiple entry stamped on them. We plan to go to Petra

Wel left the office and Edward drove us back to the Archbishopric.  After we parked we went with Sister Martha to the kitchen and dining room area where the sisters there served us some coffee and pastries.  We talked about staying for lunch and Sister Martha checked on that and decided that it would be better to come on back to Ibillin and have lunch there.  So after getting our passports from Edward and Sister Martha’s car unblocked, we left for Ibillin.  We had told Badia that we were planning to come back for lunch and bring Sister Martha with us, so when we arrived she was not surprised by an extra person for lunch.  She knows Sister Martha well.  Sister Martha had lived at Mar Elias for a while, in fact she was living here in the old guest house, called the Peace House, when we came to Mar Elias in 2006.  And Sister Martha had come to the wedding of Elias’ and Badia’s daughter in the summer of 2012.

After lunch and the departure of Sister Martha, we sent out messages and emails letting family and friends know that our volunteer visas had been extended.


Today was election day in Israel and a holiday for the students and faculty.  However not for Elias AG since a group of Methodists was scheduled to visit from St. Paul Mininesota and he was the speaker for the group.  As usual with the help of Henry and Mousa, two of the workers at the school, we set up the sixth floor.  Tables with juice, coffee, and some kind of sweet.  Another table with the books of Archbishop Chacour, Blood Brothers, We Belong to the Land, Faith Beyond Despair, and a newer book about the Archbishop entitled Blessed Are the Peacemakers, by Patricia Griggs with Archbishop Chacour.  When there is time on their schedule the groups like to walk around the campus and also go into the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  This group did have time for this.


Today we had two groups of visitors who met with the Archbishop.  One group of Anglicans from England and another group of Presbyterians from Annapolis.   The Anglicans had a busy schedule but the Presbyterian group did tour the Church of the Sermon on the Mount


Today is a holiday, the Muslim New Year.

Late in the afternoon a group arrived to stay in the guest house for Thursday and Friday nights.  The group was from Michigan, mostly Presbyterians.  They had asked about visiting in the school, but Friday because of the Muslim Holiday there would not be any classes meeting at the high school.  The elementary and middle schools do not meet on Friday.  However, I was able to arrange time with the school for the gifted students that meets on Friday.

Pastor Anne Weirich and her group, primarily Presbyterians from Michigan, arrived late in the afternoon  The last person off the elevator was a delightful surprise, Raafat Zaki, whom we know from the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church )USA).  He is the Transitional Executive of the United Presbyterian Church (USA) Synod of the Covenant with his office in Maumee, Ohio.

After dinner we met in the library to go over the schedule for the morning and information about the guest house.  The schedule for the next morning included a visit with Enaya, the Director of the program for gifted students and then one of the members of this group had asked about playing her viola and guitar for the students.  I had asked Enaya about this and she thought that it would be good to invite the parents as well, so a concert was set up for 10:00 am the next morning.

Late in the night (actually early in the morning), Micha was arriving with a professor from Germany.  Micha had worked out with this professor a place for him to stay for a month while he was taking classes at Haifa University.  In fact, his coming spurred restoration work on the old guest house since there would not be a room available for the professor in the guest house wher we stay on a continuous basis during the month he would be in Israel.  He would stay here for a few days until we had larger groups coming and Micha planed to stay the rest of the night here rather than return to Haifa.


After breakfast, I walked Pastor Anne’s group downstairs to meet with Enaya so she could tell them about the program for gifted students.  I showed Rachel where the concert would take place at 10:00 also so she could get her things set up.

In the meantime, Jane had gone down to the high school to work with Bonsiana, Nur, and Ashraf, the blind students.

At 10:00 we gathered on the floor just below the guest house where chairs had been set up for the concert.  Rachel played her viola and then accompanied herself on the banjo as she sang for the students and parents.

She was very well received and after the concert was even asked by one of the teachers of music at the music center in Ibillin if she was available to come over in the afternoon to visit. However, the group would be acting as tourists the rest of the day so she was not able to make that visit.

When the group returned in the late afternoon, Jane, Elias and I walked them over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  After spending some time looking at the icons, they set up for a worship service in the area behind the iconostasis (the sanctuary) and we joined them for a worship service.  Rachel played her viola again — the acoustics were great.

After dinner Elias AG spoke with the group in a way that, from the responses of members, was quite moving.  Many questions were asked of him and he stayed for quite awhile.

Sunset tonight was spectacular




Pastor Anne’s group left by a little after 8:00.  When we have guests staying, the timing for leaving has to be coordinated with the beginning of elementary school and before the big rush of traffic for the high school.  Elementary school begins at 8:00.  Up to that time the area in front of the Elementary school/guest house if very crowded with kids running this way and that, so a bus coming into this area is not advisable.  As soon as the school begins, the bus can arrive luggage put on and the group can board the bus and leave.  An area that have to pass through on the way out of the campus is now experiencing numerous buses loaded with high school students and parents dropping off their students, so if the bus can get out soon after eight it is much easier.


Beds were stripped, and all the laundry taken to the roof where Jane started the washing  I went to the high school for Veronica’s class and came back and we rested.

As it turned out, our visitor from Germany found out that his classes a Haifa University would go into the evening.  The last bus from Haifa to Ibillin leaves about 5:30 so he would have a considerable extra expense to come back to Ibillin every night.  Through Emil, he was able to make arrangements for a place to stay right near the University so he moved to Haifa this afternoon.

More sunsets




We had planned to get up early and take the bus to Akko to be sightseers today.  But we were tired enough form the past week to decide not to to this so we went to church in Ibillin.  ?The shops we usually visit after church, bakery, meat market, and fruit market, are now closed on Sunday, so we walked back to the guest  house.  I called Salha to see if she had plans to go to the Kiryat where the supermarket is and if so if we could go with her.

While on the roof attending to the wash, Jane saw a large raptor flying overhead so I brought my camera to the roof and was able to get a couple of good pictures of our visitor in the sky.



While up on the roof I took some pictures of the poppies that were blossoming under the olive trees on the hill next to the school, one of which is shown below.


Salha called and said she and Ruba and one of Ruba’s cousins were going shopping, would we like to go.  We were ready and had a list to take with us.  Two items we get here are muesli and peanut butter.  The small local stores do not carry either of these items.  As Jane was walking around looking for other things she had a very pleasant surprise — she found a heating pad.  We had been looking for one since we first arrived.  Jane had burned out the one she brought from home last time and our strategy was to buy one in Israel thinking that this would be made for the electrical system here.  Every pharmacist we asked could not help us, so to find it here was a great surprise.

We returned home with our goodies and Jane enjoyed the warmth of her new heating pad.

Week of  February 25 to March 3

Monday was a school holiday to celebrate the 7th year since Elias Chacour was appointed Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Diocese of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and all of the Galilee. We were still in Nazareth (the first Palestinian to be so appointed).

On Monday morning, Sister Martha drove us over to the Salesian Church of Jesus the Adolescent  (according to the Lonely Planet, this church was built between 1906 and 1923 in a Gothic style).  It sits high on one of the hills of Nazareth.  There is a walk with many, many steps and ramps which, thankfully, we chose to walk down.  We spent time with the view from the site.  I was especially interested in taking pictures of the Melkite Catholic Church as part of a project to photograph as many of the churches of the diocese as possible, inside and outside.  The Melkite Catholic Church located in old Nazareth does not set apart from all the building that surround it so it is important to get where photographs of the outside can be taken from a place where it can be viewed from above.  As you will see from the pictures that follow, the view from the Salesian Church was exceptional, even thought it was not the clearest of days.





After taking photographs of the Mekkite church in Nazareth, we walked to where you can enter the church through the Don Bosco school.  You can see some of the architecture of the church in the pictures below.




After this we started our walk down the many, many steps and ramps unit we reached the old souk at the bottom.

Of course being in the souk we did make some purchases — a couple of CDs, one of the more popular recordings of Fairouz, a famous Lebanese singer whom Jane heard when she lived in Beirut for two years, and one featuring the oud.  The old souk goes by the entrance to the Synagogue Church, where it is believed that Jesus spoke the words we read in Luke chapter 4 when he read from Isaiah.  The church is the a Melkite Catholic Church, the one whose dome and crosses are in the pictures above.  The sock ends near the Basilica of the Annunciation.  We walked back up the street that goes around the the back of the Bssilica to the store underneath the building of whose shutters we often take pictures.  Here Jane found a couple of beautiful blouses.  Then we walked back passed the Basilica to a falafel place, but only had some fresh pomegranate juice.  Then we walked down to the main street and to the bus stop where we caught the number 18 bus back to the guest house.


During the day, Sister Martha had a new flat screen TV installed and after dinner we all sat down to watch what sister Martha called a musical.  It was in German.  She translated some as the movie progressed.  The name of the movie in German is Wie im Himmel, This is Heaven.  It was originally a Swedish movie.  The concept of the movie was quite intriguing.  It starts in a small village in Sweden with a boy who is an accomplished violinist who, most likely because of that, is picked on by other boys in the village.  He is being beaten up by other boys in a field as the movie opens.  It moves quickly to a later stage in his life where has become an accomplished violinist and then a famous conductor in Italy.  After a concert, he walks off the stage and collapses from a heart attack.  This was all sort of a prelude to the movie.  Then we see him coming back to the village of his childhood where he buys the old school, now empty, where he was a student growing up.  Then he becomes the choir director for the local Lutheran church.  The story then revolves around and explores his relationship to the choir members and their relationships with each other and other members of the community including the choir family members — sometimes very tense and difficult.  I kidded Sister Martha about her calling this a musical.  We enjoyed the movie very much, but is was anything but a song fest, although there is much beautiful music in the movie.  If you  google, Wie I’m Himmel you will find out more about the movie.


Richard picked us up around 7 and he drove us back to Ibillin and Mar Elias.  After getting our things back in the guest house, we walked to the high school to set up the sixth floor for a meeting between the Archbishop and a group of 30 people from Concordia College in Minnesota.  The meeting was to begin a 9:30.  The group arrived on time, but the Archbishop was caught in traffic and arrived about 15 minutes late.  The tour guide was quite concerned about how long the Archbishop would talk because he had the group scheduled for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee at 11:30, at least an hour’s drive away.  Once the Archbishop starts, however, it takes at least a hour and a half for him to finish.  As it turned out, the tour guide was so interested in the Archbishop’s talk, he came out and called and rescheduled the boat ride, even allowing for more than an hour and a half for the Archbishop to finish his talk.  As he usually does, the Archbishop stays and signs copies of his books.


Today while Jane stayed at the guest house I walked down to the highs school to participate in Maisa’s English class, scheduled for 5th period, 12:05 to 12:50.  I found out that she was not there that day (later I found out that one of her children had a high fever, so she had to stay home that day).  The name  of any teacher  who is absent on a given day is written on a piece of paper posted on an announcement board in the teacher’s lounge.  There is not a substitute system like we have in the states, so the students have a free period on the day that a teacher is absent.  Of course it is posted in Arabic, so I found out that Maisa was not at school when I asked some one to check for me.

Today at the end of the day for the elementary school, Jane put on her work clothes and a pair of gloves and went out to tackle the area that had not yet been cleared as part of the graden area for the elementary school.  The gourd is like a rock and she had not been doing much of this while we have been here, so she wisely set herself a limit of time that she would work.  She did make a noticeable difference, but it is an area in need of ploughing.  I think to try to use a rototiller would be very difficult since the ground is so hard.




We were beginning to get the rooms ready for another group coming from Germany.  This time a much smaller group, only 9.  We needed to use only six rooms, there are three married couples and 3 in single rooms.

Later in the day one of the workers at the high school, Henry came up to the guest house with two hikers from Italy.  Ibilin and Mar Elias are in an Italian guide book for persons on a hiking pilgrimage through the Holy Land.  The walking pilgrimage begins in Akko and the the next day is spent walking to Ibillin and Mar Elias.  The walk takes about 14 days, going from Ibillin to Nazareth and then on to the Sea of Galilee and down the Jordan Valey and up to Jerusalem and finally back near Tel Aviv.  I took them over to see the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  We took them up on the roof to show them Haifa and Akko, from where they had walked that day.


Then we got out some things Badia had frozen from previous dinners, thawed them out and we sat around and had dinner together and despite our difficulties in language enjoyed each other very much.  I found out that Emil spoke Italian very well and called him and asked him to explain how the showers work and ask them if they had any questions.  He had a good conversation with them and they with him.  Fortuitously, that very day, our friend Joe Maurer had forwarded a link to a power point with beautiful images from Italy.  I brought out my computer and started it up,  They exclaimed the name of each city/ village/resort as it came up.  By the time it ended I think they were ready to return home.  Thanks Joe.


Up to get the Italian hikers their breakfast and off on their way to Nazareth.  Jane down to school to work with the blind students.

Then in Elias office I was asked about having a group of 41 people come to the guest house to stay for two nights, March 8 and 9.  We already had a group scheduled for the night of the 9th and so we tried to find a way to accommodate both groups.  The rooms behind the church are quite nice.  On our first trip to Mar Elias in 2006 that is where our group stayed.  There  is also a nice area for meetings and a kitchen like area as well in a large room that serves as the entry to the guest rooms.  I thought this might make a good place for the group coming from the International Center for Mary since it is secluded and their primary purpose was a retreat.  I called Luc Lagabrielle who was making the arrangements and asked him about using this area.  He sounded interested and asked for more information regarding the rooms.  I walked over the the back of the church building and went through all of the rooms and then sent him the information via email.  He sounded interested but said he would have to check with his group and asked for some more time.  By the time I heard back from him, the other group had made another decision  As its turns out that spared us a very difficult weekend on March 8-10, having 41 in the guest house on Friday and Saturday nights, along with another 15 in the rooms behind the church for Saturday night and providing meals for them and then cleaning up the guest house for another group coming in on Sunday night — too much.

The group from Germany arrived close to 5.  We got them into their rooms and began the process of getting acquainted.  This was a group of 9 persons.  Their leader, a priest from a large parish in the Black Hills area of Germany, was an experienced guide in Israel.  One other person had been with him on a trip four years earlier.  There were two persons who understood and spoke English so we were able to get along pretty well.


Up early for breakfast for our group from Germany and then they were off for a full day in Nazareth.

I participated in Veronica’s English class, this time asking them to write about there home and their family.  Here families do not move like in the US.  In addition, they tend to build up, with the children living on different levels.  Sometimes the parent are on the lowest level, and then they build up for their sons and their son’s families. In the case of larger families, others homes will be built next door or near by.  in some cases we have found a whole network of related families living in an area.  A lot of cousins to play with.


After preparing breakfast for our German friends and eating with them, Elias drove us to the church.  The German group attended worship at the church today also.  After the service they went into Haifa for  a tour around Haifa and to eventually join Micha at this home for dinner.

After the service we walked over to Elias and Badia’s house.  They had invited us to come and said we would have some of Narouz’s birthday cake.  They live between the Mosque and the Greek Orthodox church.  Soon after arrival, Badia brought out tabuli, and the delicious small rolled baked stuffed rolls.  At the end of the meal we had some of Narouz’s birthday cake — Narouz was back at school in Kiryat Shmona — and  of course coffee.

Then Elias took us to see if Madji Daoud was home so we could talk with him about bringing group of Swedish tourists to see his home, the old olive press, and the Mariam Bawardi monument.  The door into the back yard was open.  Elias knocked on the door and instead of Majdi anwering, As’ad, his brother answered.  We had met As’ad before when he showed us around the Greek Orthodox church he was helping to renovate (the architect).  He wiped off a few chairs and we all sat down in the back yard under the grape vines — no growth yet — and near the large fish pond.  As’ad commented that some of the Koi are 10 year old, quite big.

We sat and talked for about two hours.  In the process, As’ad agreed to receive the Swiss tourist on April 3rd.  We spent considerable time talking about Ibillin and its history.  He showed us a drawing that represented the number of caves and tunnels believed to once be part of Ibillin, many now filled in and/or destroyed through the buildings of the local council.

One of the things he told us is that Ibillin was actually on the trade route between the Decapolis and Acre/Akko/Acco.  As’ad’s mother came out to join us bringing, of course, Arabic coffee with her.  She speaks English fluently.  We enjoyed more conversation with her and As’ad and then Elias drove us over to the fruit market and then back to the guest house.  We found, to our delight, there are still some very good pomegranates, so of course we bought some of them to take with us.

As mentioned earlier, we had the night off, the Germans were in Haifa for a tour and then dinner at Micha’s home, so we had a relaxed evening..

Week of Feb 18 — 24


Today the Methodist Volunteers in Mission worked on an area that the elementary school wants to use for an garden.





They worked until 2:30, including a lunch break, clearing the area.  It started raining at 2:30, so the group came in and cleaned up.  Their original plan was to work two mornings, Monday and Tuesday, eat lunch here and then go off to see some of the tourist sites.  (The guest house at Mar Elias is conveniently places almost equidistant from Haifa, Acco, and Nazareth and within easy driving distance to the Sea of Galilee.) With rain predicted for Tuesday, Micha asked them to just keep working on Monday and then spend the day on Tuesday visiting the different tourist sites.  Now the rain started on Monday.  After clearing up the group drove a short distance to visit Cana of Galilee, near Nazareth.

With the rain almost always comes clouds and sunseets.





The group was to spend the day touring.  As already noted, they had planned to work in the morning and eat lunch here, but with the change in plans, we made them a lunch to take with them, manaeesh, fruit, cut up peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes (Badia calls all of this fil fel — the Arabic name for peppers), dessert, and water.

We met with Emil’s class this mooring for two periods,

This was the night that the Archbishop had agreed to come to eat dinner and meet with the Volunteers in Mission  group.  After the meeting he stayed to autograph his books.


Volunteers in Mission Group left early for a long day.  Their plans included a visit to Biram the birthplace of the Archbishop.  With his coming to meet with them last night, the story of Biram would be fresh in their memories.  Being there to see the devastation makes the story in Blood Brothers come to life.

We met with Emil’s class again.  We got the key to the smart board room where we could watch a You Tube program, Suad Amiry’s talk well worth watching if you have not done so already.  We used her presentation to have them write about what they really love to do and what things act as “gravitational forces” to keep them from doing this.  We had some very interesting comments from the students.

Wednesday night was the last dinner for the Methodist Volunteers in Mission Group — they would leave tomorrow for the West Bank, Occupied Territories.  Badia prepared a special barbecue dinner for them.  Elias and I did the cooking on the rooftop.


The Volunteers in MIssion group left this morning for the West Bank (Occupied Territories).

As usual when a group leaves, Badia and Jane go through all the rooms, emptying garbage, stripping beds and gathering together the sheets, towels, washcloths, and bathmats.  I usually carry the heavy loads up to the cloths washer on the roof and the washing starts – two loads at a time.  Badia then goes through each room and cleans the bathroom and sweeps and then wet mops the floors — there is a lot of dust here, especially when the wind blows from the east, the Jordan valley.

We walked to the high school to prepare the sixth floor room of the high school for a group coming from the Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, the second group of Presbyterians from Annapolis this year.  Henry and Mousa, the two staff who work in the high school building, had the tables set up outside the meeting room and Henry would soon bring up the Arabic coffee to have it available when our guests arrived.

The group arrived shortly before 10:30.  They met with the Archbishop until close to 12 noon.



Then I walked them up the hill to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, stopping to point out the kindergarten building and church in the village and the gym, about which the Archbishop had just spoken (I mentioned this in an earlier blog).


gym and highschool

Now that I have a key to both the auditorium and the church, I am able to take groups to see both these areas, depending on their time.  Most groups are at the mercy of their tour guide and a full tight schedule.  As one of our acquaintances remarked after a tour in Israel/West Bank, “I got to run where Jesus walked.”  After a short time in the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, the tour guide was pushing to get us over for lunch, so we walked over to the guest house and Badia served a delicious and full spread for lunch, complete with dessert and Arabic coffee to top it all off.

They were soon on their way and Badia and Jane got the dishwasher loaded and started and we could sit down and take a deep breath and relax a bit.


This was another day of unexpected events.  Jane went down to the high school as usual to work with the three blind students, Nur, Ashraf, and Bonsiana.  With the dust in the air she had been quite stopped up.  We thought perhaps she had another cold coming on.  I came to the high school and while we were gathered for the break, we talked with Elias and soon we were off to the doctor in the village.  He took her right in and put her on the inhalator.  This seemed to work quite well until he took her off.  Then she got stopped up again.  He put her back on with oxygen and this time she cleared up.  While there I took some pictures of his defibrillator.  He is trying to get new batteries for it.  It is a Hewlett Packard model, but Phillips bought out the medical part of Hewlett Packard and now he cannot find new batteries except in the US.  They will not ship to Israel.  I am taking pictures to send to our son-in-law, David, a doctor in the Army to have him investigate the possibilities for obtaining new batteries.  The doctor has used the defibrillator at least six times to save lives in the village — there is no nearby emergency facility.  This story will be continued.  The doctor has an espresso/cappucino maker in his office, so after all the treatment for Jane, he make me an espresso and Jane a cappuccino.  We told him we would be back next Friday for some more coffee.

This was also a special day for the high school.  Tonight students who had achieved excellent marks through the first marking period were given certificates of achievement.  Ninth and tenth graders had to have an average across all of their classes of 95% or higher; students in the 11th and 12th grades had to have an average across all classes of 93% or more.  The Archbishop came and participated in the ceremony, including speaking and handing out the certificates.  Also the new Director of the High School, Elias Abu Ghanima spoke.  Then there were two other speakers for the night, a 12 grader whom we knew from Elias AG’s class, Osnat Haj Ali, and a graduate of Mar Elias, Abbas Abbas, who despite his blindness, and in the face of many obstacles and being told many times that he would not succeed in achieving his dreams, went on to finish law school and achieve stature as a lawyer.

The ceremony was held in the large Niwano Peace Auditorium, under the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  There were over 600 in attendance.  Jane and I sat in the balcony from where I was able to take pictures and video.

Along one side of the auditorium were tables loaded with juices and all sorts of sweets, including Jane’s favourite cookies that Badia makes.

The master of ceremony was Ranin, an English teacher in whose class we have participated many times.

There was also music provided by students, two oud players, Bassel Shaheen and Khaled Sabbah, a violinist, Sarri Ghrayeb, and a darbuka (drum) player, Shadi Haj.  The singer in the first video is Yara Meshea’l.  The players in the second video are: Bassel Shaheen, oud, Sarri Ghrayeb, violinist, and Shaid Haj, darbuka.  The singer is Hala Haj.

It was a night of great celebration.  We especially were delighted with the reception two of the blind students Jane has been working with received especially Nur, but also  Ashraf, When Nur was announced all of the students stood and clapped.



The photos that follow are a gallery.  Click on the first one and then you can use your  arrow key to scroll through the images, a few of the over 150 students receiving awards.

After the ceremonies Jane was able to greet Nur’s parents.  We did not see Ashraf’s parents afterward.  Also while I was putting away all of my equipment, one of the girls from Emil’s class came up to the balcony, Yara Safoury, and brought her parents with her and introduced me to them.  They were gracious enough to ask that Jane and I come to their home on a Saturday night and stay with them and then they would take us around Shefa’mer and also to Acre.  We still have to work this out since the original date was for a weekend that we will have guests in the guest house.

All in all it was a great night for the school and its students.


We taught Emil’s class again for the last time.

In the afternoon, we were picked up by Richard and he took us to Nazaareth for some R and R after a very busy schedule since February 4 when we have had guests for all but three of those nights.

Saturday night we just relaxed.  Sister Martha had tow volunteers from Austria, Simone and Roberta.  They were in their fifties and had heard about Sister Martha and the Abuna Firaj Guest House from a person who had volunteered at the guest house a couple of years ago.

We did just sit around and talk after dinner and were able to relax

I did call Habib Karam to see if they would be church at the Basilica on Sunday so we could see them.  He said they would be at the 10:00 am service, so we planned to go to the service in the morning.


Sister Martha drove us to the Basilica for the 10:00 am service.  We sat just behind Habib, Gosayna, Gosayna’s grandmother and their daughter.  The two volunteers joined us.


One of the icons of the different countries in the Basilica, this one is from Brasil, right near where we were sitting, taken for our friend, Thiago de Mello.



We were able to speak with Habib and Gasayna briefly after the service and arranged that on a visit to Nazareth in a couple of weeks we would come over to their home. Gosayna has been very busy and she will have more time then.

The two volunteers left us to walk back to the guest house while we went to look at the tourist stores.  Of course as we passed by our favorite building with the shutters, another photo was taken.


.We planned to come back to Nazareth tomorrow when more stores are open so we did not spend a lot of time looking and were soon on the bus back to the guest house

Week of Feb 11 -17


Today I was up early to go to the high school.  The sun was just rising over the hills behind the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.


The group of 8 students four girls, four boys, four Christians, four Muslims and their chaperon, Emil Haloun, a teacher of English in the high school, were to meet at 6:30 in preparation for their departure today for Canada.  Their flight would take them first to Toronto and then on to Winnipeg.  There they would be welcomed by students from the Mennonite High School, for a 10 day student exchange program.

They gathered first in the teachers’ lounge for a few words from Elias Abu Ghanima the bigh school director (principal),

canada exchange meeting

then moved out into the area in front of the high school to do the critical task, put a colourful ribbon on each piece of baggage.



They finally moved to the van by which they would be transported to the airport.  We did not know if they and their luggage would all fit,


a final hug of Itam by Salha and


they squeezed in and soon were off to Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport.



Jane prepared breakfast for the Turkish workers,  Three are leaving today and the other two will leave tomorrow.

We carried the cake that Sabah had brought for my birthday the night before with us to the high school and then during the break celebrated my birthday again with the faculty


The cake was as delicious (and rich) as it looked and soon gone.

Jane and I went to Nardeen’s 9th grade English class.  I wanted to rerecord the four students who read their thank you letters they wrote to the Pilgrims of Ibilin.  I had recorded them earlier, but their classmates were so noisy in the background it was hard to hear what they said.  I told the class that they were part of an experiment.  If they could be silent while I recorded their classmates, I would make a video that they could then watch in the Smartboard room — where there is a projector.  For whatever reason, the class was quiet and the recording went well.  One student could not find his paper, so I told him we would record it another time after he found it.

When we returned to the guest house, Johaina, the Director of the elementary-middle school,  asked Jane to come into her office.  There she presented her with a beautiful scarf.



We spent the afternoon preparing the guest house rooms for the arrival of 22 people from Germany.  This group had been arranged through Micha Chacour who is developing contacts in Germany for the school.  He asked Jane if she would put flowers in each room and also on the tables where we eat (along with candles on the tables).  She said she would, so he brought the flowers and candles by and we went out to also get some greenery to go with the flowers and candles on the tables.  Jane put flowers in each of the rooms and decorated the tables nicely.  All 11 of the rooms that have bathrooms built in would be in use for this group.

The group was composed of 21 members of the teaching/administrative staff of a catholic school — middle and high– in Offenburg, Germany and one nun also a part of the school.  For most it was their first trip to Israel.  While staying here Micha would be taking them on tours of Tiberias, Acco, Haifa, and the Golan Heights, including the destroyed village of Archbishop Chacour, Barium.

The group arrived around 6:15.  We placed them in their rooms.  They had stopped at the convenience store at the bottom of the hill before coming on to the guest house and so came well stocked with beer and wine.  While they waited for dinner, at 7:00, they sat around and drank some of their beer and just relaxed.  They were on holiday from school for a week and appeared delighted to just be able to sit back with beer and wine and relax.


When groups are here, we are up early to help with the breakfast preparation.  This usually involves: emptying the dishwasher; putting plates on the table; making sure there is enough silverware and glasses for use for breakfast; setting out hardboiled eggs, hummus, lebne, za’atar, olive oil, butter, and jam; cutting pita into quarters and putting it into small bags; after Badia has prepared cheese, salami, and cut up peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes, putting these on the table; putting out orange juice, water and lemonade; putting out cereal, yogurt and milk; and when Badia has made the Arabic coffee, setting it out with the small cups.  While doing all of this we are also usually helping guests find cups for making their own instant coffee or tea.  Every morning when guests are here we go through the same process.  Sometimes, Jane will fix pomegranate seeds, sometimes strawberries and we usually have bananas and oranges available for those who like fruit.


After breakfast and clean-up, today we go to the high school to meet with one of Emil’s English classes for two periods, 4th and 5th.  This one has several students we have come to know quite well — we have done some individual tutoring with some of them in small groups.

Just after sunset the night sky was beautiful over Haifa and a partial moon was out.



Up early again for breakfast preparation.  .After breakfast the group is off to Nazareth.

We have another meeting with Emil’s English class, just one period today.


Another early morning breakfast preparation.  Today Micha took the group to the Galilee and Biram, a long day.


Today the group from Germany departed, on their way to Jerusalem via the Jordan valley, the Greek monastery, and Jericho.


Since we are expecting an other group to arrive on Sunday, we gathered all the bedding and towels and transported them to the clothes washer room on the roof and Jane started the first of 10 loads of wash. All the trash was removed and then Badia started cleaning the rooms.

After starting the wash, Jane went to the high school to see which of the blind students she would have for English today.

During the day I received an email, asking if it were still possible for a group coming to meet with the Archbishop tomorrow to have us prepare a box lunch for them — a group of 35.  I checked with Elias AG and Badia and responded that we would so provide.    Part of what i do is to reach out to groups that are coming to the school to meet with the Archbishop to see what they would like to do at the school in addition to the meeting.  Usually they do want a tour of the campus and a visit to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and now, since I have started asking we have had several groups either stay for lunch of have us provide a box lunch to take with them for a picnic somewhere.  It actually save a lot of time since the tour guide would have to find a place to stop anyway.

There were some interesting cloud formations near sunset today, not an unusual occurrence.





More washing of bedding and towels although most was done.

Today a group of Methodists from the Finger Lakes area of New York State met with the Archbishop.  The meeting was scheduled for 9:30.

We arrived at the high school early to set up the tables for refreshments and books and other materials.  Then we met with Emil’s class at 8:30 for one period, letting them go early in order to receive the group from Finger Lakes at 9:30.  Many of the high school students were at the auditorium attending a lecture by Elias AG concerning cell phones.  From this day on, no cell phones are permitted in the classrooms.

The group arrived late and the Archbishop’s talk lasted almost two hours.

After his talk, he signed the many books the members of the group bought.  There was not enough time on their schedule to visit the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  I did walk them part of the way up the hill to the church,near where their bus was parked, to point out to them, across the way in the village, the kindergarten building in Ibillin (the first building of the school) and the dome of the Melkite Catholic Church behind it.  An old picture taken at the time the kindergarten was build shows that there were no buildings between the church and the kindergarten.  Now the main road of Ibillin is lined with buildings separating the church from the kindergarten.

From this vantage point, I could also point out the gym building, always a featured part of the Archbishop’s talk and his mention of Secretary of State Baker and his wife, Susan, and their involvement in obtaining the building permit for the gym from the Israeli government.

Elias Obaid arrived in the truck with several boxes containing the lunches for the group, manaeesh with lebne sandwiches, plenty of fruit, water, filfel (Arabic for bell peppers), but a word Badia uses for the combination of cut up bell peppers (different colours – living in Israel, my computer always corrects my spelling of color), cucumbers, and tomatoes and always something sweet — cake this time.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset once again.  Our window looks right out to the west toward Haifa and Mt Carmel.  The sunsets often quite spectacular.




Arrival of Methodist Church Volunteers in Mission group of 13 people, including the tour guide/drive, Issa, from Bethlehem.  Janet Lewis, a long time mission worker in the Methodist Church stationed in Bethlehem, accompanied the group along with a group leader from the states.  After getting them into their rooms, they gathered in the library to begin their briefing for the days they would be in the Galilee area.  i told them about their rooms, the heater and how to make sure they had hot water for their showers.

The group was from different states in the midwest, North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, and included one from Ohio.

Tomorrow would start another series of early morning preparations and breakfasts.  Off to bed with three alarms set, one to get up to start the electric water heater, the second, 48 minutes later, to press th button for the hot eater heater again — it times out after 48 minutes, the third after another half hour to get up to shower.  This makes sure we do have hot water.  As the weather gets warmer and the sun rises earlier (there are also solar panels on the hot water tanks), we will not need over an hour to heat the water.

Week of February 4th to the 10th

Beginning this week, we will have a stretch from the 6th of February through the 20th of  February, when people are in the guest house 12 of 15 nights.  All of these night and days will involve Badia preparing at least two meals and for the last group during this time period, she will prepare three meals for two of the days they are here.  As volunteers we have a major responsibility to help with the guest house, so these will be busy days for us.  This would be the first test of the booklet I had prepared for guests to help them use the showers and wall heater/air conditioning unit and other basic information for people staying in the guest house.  For example, the water for showers has to be heated, during the winter, by turning on an electric heater.  There are four water tanks on the roof for the guest house rooms.  Each has solar panels attached to it but also uses an electric heating unit.  During the colder nights we have found it takes about a hour and fifteen minutes to heat the water so there is enough hot water for at least two and more showers.  But that is not all.  The electric heaters are on a timer that goes off after 48 minutes.  Fortunately, the iPad and iPhone have a good alarm system.  We have to set three alarms for each morning: One to start the electric heater, one to get up after 48 minutes and push the button again, and the third to get up to take a shower.  So we work backward from the time we want to be out in the kitchen to begin helping set up for breakfast.  This means, for  example if we need to be in the kitchen by 6:00, the first alarm goes off at 4:12 the next at 5:00 and the last at 5:30 giving us a half hour for a shower etc in order to get into the kitchen by 6.


Today we had planned to go to Nazareth for two reasons.  My good lens, the 24-105mm Canon lens has been acting up and basically is not usable.  I asked our friend in Nazareth, Habib, for the name of a good camera shop and he gave me the name of Abu Castro.  They have a website and I had seen that they carry the lens and had it in stock.  So at the least i would be able to purchase a new lens if necessary, but hopefully they would know what was wrong  – at home, the Canon repair place is about a 40 minute ride.  The other reason for our visit to Nazareth was to go to the International Center for Mary.  I wrote about a visit from persons from this center in the blog for the week in which the new year began.  At the time of their visit to Ibillin, we had expressed an interest in coming to the International Center for Mary, not really for religious purposes, but because I understood that from their open air roof top I could gain a clear picture of the dome of the Melkite Catholic Church in Nazareth.  We had tentatively planned to go to Nazareth last week, but that did not work out, so now Monday was the day for our visit.  However, another possible interruption.  I have designed a tri-fold brochure for the Mar Elias Educational Institutions and Guest House and when I showed this to Micha Chacour, he wondered if it could be translated into German for use with the church in Germany with whom he as developed a working relationship.  I made a pdf copy for him and he sent it to the church people in Germany.  They translated it into German and I put the German into a different InDesign document.  It was interesting in that I had to use 9 point type for the German instead of the 10 point I used for English.  Any way, last week Micha told me that a person was coming from Nazareth who would look at the document and then take the InDesign and pdf documents back with her to have them printed in Nazareth.  This meant we would not be able to get to Nazareth as early as we had planned.  However, Micha told this person, Raja, that we were planning to go to Nazareth and she offered to take us with her when she drove back to Nazareth.  So this morning I put the documents on a flash drive for her and then we left for Nazareth.  As it turns out, this was a better deal for us because she knew exactly where the camera store was located.  She took us to the store and waited for us while we went inside to see about my lens.  Lenses can be repaired in Tel Aviv, so I left my lens with the camera store to be picked up by Canon on Wednesday.  I was told I would receive a call regarding the cost of refurbishing the lens before any work was done.

Raja then drove us back to the circle near the Basilica where we got out of her car and then walked up past the Basilica and to the entrance for the international Center for Mary.  At the time we arrived another couple from Germany was also entering.  When we indicated who we were, we were warmly welcomed — Luc had told the people that we were coming.  We were taken to the cafeteria area and we were greeted by Luc and his wife, Marie-Christine, there.  We talked about what we should do and it was decided that the best thing first was to see the multimedia presentation and then have lunch.  We took the elevator up the multimedia area.  The multimedia show is in four parts and each part is in a different section of this floor:  from creation to Mary’s childhood; from the annunciation to Jesus’ birth; the 30 years in Nazareth; and from Good Friday to Easter.  In all the presentation takes 55 minutes.  It is pretty high tech both in wide screen, side screens, the sense of movements and multiple screens.  Besides the high tech part it is beautifully done with great images and scriptural references.

 Following this we joined Luc and his wife and the sisters serving here for lunch.  After lunch we then made our way tot he roof top.  Here is located a chapel and also the vantage point from which to view the dome of the Melkite Catholic Church.  I was able to take multiple images of the dome and its two towers with crosses at the top and create a high dynamic range image of the dome and the two crosses (you can compare the two images below).



Then I explored the chapel enjoying the icons here and taking many pictures of them.

While here Jane discovered her favorite  building with its shutters in varying stages of repair that she has photographed from many angles and was able to take more pictures of this building from a different angle.

She also found many flowers in bloom in the rooftop garden.

 After this we returned back down to the first floor and expressed our thanks to Luc and Marie-Christine and the other sisters and began our journey home.  First a stop at one of the gift shops that we often frequent for jane to buy some blouses as gifts, a special gift for Nick, and a book of photographs of Nazareth from the mid 1800s.  We then walked down to the main street in Nazareth, heading for the bus stop where we would catch the Egged 343 bus back to Ibillin.  On the way we stopped at a small store that sells spices.  Here we bought some more cardamom seeds to crush and add when we make Arabic coffee and then walked a short distance to the bus stop.  Thankfully there was room on the bench at the bus stop and we were able to sit while waiting of the bus.  After a short wait, #343 came and we were on our way back to Ibillin.  We were back in our room at the guest house shortly after 5.

 Tonight four persons who would be working at the coffee plant in Shefa’mer would arrive from Turkey and would stay in the old guest house.  Micha and Elias Obaid have done a lot of work to prepare the rooms in the old guest house so they can be used again.  Elias AG had asked Elias Obaid to take charge of the arrangements with the manager from the coffee plant for the rooms.  They were to eat breakfast at the guest house, but would be away the rest of the day, so Badia did not have to make dinner for them.


 Today was the first morning for breakfast for the workers from Turkey.  None of them spoke much English.  When we tried to talk with them, their comment was “English tomorrow” — another person was expected tomorrow and he speaks English.  Jane remembered, from many years ago, that the Turkish people like strong tea and like to drink it in a glass.  They also like the small triangles of soft cheese.  We told Badia that she should prepare the mixture of sliced tomatoes, different coloured peppers, and cucumber slices on Monday night and wrap them in plastic wrap and that we would get them out in the morning.   She woild not have to come for breakfast.  This we did, along with  cheese slices and salami.  Also for breakfast, cereal, hummus, lebne, za’atar, olive oil, pita bread, juice, hard boiled eggs, butter and jam.

Emil, the English teacher who is taking a group of 8 high school students to Canada for  a two week student exchange program, arranged for us to meet with the 8 students to talk with them about things they might experience, not that we are experts on Canadian life.  So we gathered in the sixth floor room where outside groups usually meet with either the Archbishop or Elias AG and gave them some information and talked about Winnipeg, ice hockey, large cities, different food, very cold weather (Emil made his choice of when to go based on the cost of flights, not really understanding how cold it can get in Canada); we placed an emphasis on layering and wool socks.

 After this, Jane returned to the guest house and I went to Hanadi’s English class

About 6pm Salha called. She had forgotten to ask us yesterday if we would like to go with her brother, Hasam, to see dapke dancing practice.  She was calling today to to see if we could be ready in a few minutes.  We said yes and her brother, Hasam was soon there to pick us up.  We drove up through Ibillin and turned down along the street where Salha lives.  Past her house and to a new cultural center that is used by the people training young people to dance the dabke.   This was a practice session.  We arrived, got seated and the dancing started.   I was able to video tape some of it.  However, I needed more space.  I was too close for some of the dancing.

The young teenager were very good.

 We enjoyed the dancing.  After the dance, Hasan asked if we would like to come to his house for some tea.  We knew that we would most likely be served food, not just tea.  We agreed and when we arrived were warmly greeted by his wife and four children, two of whom we see on a regular basis at the school, one a ninth grader, Asel, and a middle school student, Amir.  Sure enough dinner was being prepared.  Hasam called Salha and soon Salha and her daughter, Ruba, and son, Itam, came over.  We ate a delicious meal and had tea afterward.   Then Salha drove us home — a full day.


 I helped Hanadi, an English teacher, in two classes today and then Jane and I joined Maisa for one of her English classes.  We have gotten to know Maisa pretty well.  She is the mother of four children, the two youngest are twins — 3 years old.  She drives in from a distance of about 25 miles. We helped in her 12th grade class last year when she was teaching 12 Angry Men.

 In the afternoon we helped make sure the rooms in the guest house were prepared for the arrival of the Pilgrims of Ibillin tour group led by Bob Sawyer and George Shalab and helped Badia get the serving table ready to serve dinner.

 The group arrived after 6.  The original driver was sick so he left and Gemal, the driver for Joan’s group, came alone to be the driver for the rest of the tour.  The group was arriving from Zababdeh in the West Bank.  This would be the last stop of their tour before heading home.  When they arrived, it was pretty obvious that some were not feeling very well.  We made a lot of tea and Badia had made a delicious dinner.

 We provided some details on the rooms and encouraged them to read the information in their rooms about the guest house.


 A couple of the Pilgrims group were not feeling well enough to go with the group to meet with Elias Abu Ghanima, the high school director (principal), at the high school.  We walked to the high school  to meet with Elias timing our arrival for just after the start of school.  We had planned to have a meeting with Elias and then have the group spend some time in classes.  However, the meeting lasted a while longer than planned and it was time for the group to leave on their tour of Tiberias area by the time Elias finished, so they left to spend the rest of the day at the Sea of Galilee.

 When they arrived back that that evening, we had dinner ready.  There were enough of them feeling sick that I called Elias and he called his doctor and soon both Elias and his doctor were at the guest house.  He saw four of the group.  One had pneumonia and the other three had a virus.  The doctor provided prescriptions for them and ordered an inhalator and medicine requiring the use of a syringe to inject the medicine into a tube through which air passed and then into the inhalator for the person to breathe the medicine.   Jane had to use this equipment shortly after our arrival last August so she had enough expertise to act as nurse for the four who needed to sit for the inhalation treatment three times a day for the days that they would be here, the last treatment on Sunday morning before they left to end up late a night at the airport for their flight home.


 This morning after breakfast, the group walked down stairs to the teachers lounge to meet with the Director of the Gifted Program, Enaya.  She described the gifted program to them, answered questions and then most of the group walked with me over to the garden behind the Arrchbishop’s house where Adi, the teacher of the video class, and his students were video taping part of their video project.  Some of the tour group who did not want to be exposed to the strong wind blowing that day stayed behind and visited other gifted classes in the building.

 Following this the Pilgrims group left for a visit to the sites in Nazareth.

 On the way back to Ibillin, Bob called and asked if I would meet them at the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  We had planned a tour of the church after dinner, but Bob thought that since they were returning early enough it would be good to do this before dinner and the bus could drive the group right to the church.

 We toured the auditorium under the church first where there is a large mural on the back wall and then moved upstairs into the church building.  Melkite churches call the area where the people sit, the nave.  There is also an area called the solea, the iconostasis (the wall of icons separating the nave from the sanctuary), and the sanctuary, the place where the abuna (priest) celebrates the Diving Liturgy.

 The church has a wonderful iconostasis, mostly written by Sister Bernadette Crook.  She also wrote the icons for the beatitudes.  There are two icons for each beatitude.  These are on the balcony all around the nave.  Then as you stand at the front of the nave looking toward the back, large icons on the left front, center rear, and right front depict the stories in Luke 4:1-30.  On the front of the balcony on the left is an icon depicting the temptations of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13), and on the centre rear is an icon depicting Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah and then sitting down to say, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21), and on the right an icon depicting Luke 4:22-30, when Jesus spoke about prophets not being accepted in their own hometown and telling the stories of Elijah and Elisha with God’s work among the non Jews, with the result being the attempt of the people of Nazareth to throw him off the precipice of the hill on which Nazareth is built, and Jesus walking back through the crowd to escape.

 Then back to the guest house for dinner, including a delicious soup which the Pilgrims thoroughly enjoyed.

 Jane again helped the four persons with their inhalation treatments.


 Pilgrims today were to spend their time in upper Galilee, including a visit to Biram, the village of Archbishop Chacour’s childhood until his family was forced to leave by the Israeli army.

After their return home and dinner, the Archbishop arrived to meet with them.  He spent over an hour and a half meeting with them and giving them an opportunity to ask questions.


 Today the Pilgrims group left.  After breakfast we made and packed a box lunch for them and they began their last day in Israel by going first to Haifa, then down the coast to Caesarea and finally near Tel Aviv to visit Dalia Landau and the child care center for Arab children.  If you have read the book, The Lemon Tree, than you have read about the home in which the center is located, a Palestinian home confiscated in 1948 from its Palestinian family and given to escapees from the Holocaust.

Once they were out the door, the work on the rooms starts.  All the beds stripped and sheets, pillow cases, towels and bath mats taken up to the roof wash room.

 As she usually does, Badia returned Sunday afternoon to begin preparation for our next set of visitors, 22 people from Germany, most of whom are teachers from a catholic school in Offenburg, Germany.  A little after six, Elias O motioned for me to come with him to go shopping for something.  First he said we had to do security so we drove around to various places on the campus.  Then we drove out of the main gate, down the hill and turned to go to the village.  We drove up the way we sometimes walk to the church and then toward the cemetery and back down again toward the main entrance to Ibillin.  We did not find the store open, so we started back to the guest house.  As we pulled up to park next to the guest house, I noticed another car parked there which is unusual.  When I looked more closely, I could see that it was Elias AG’s car and then I suspected that there would be a surprise when we got back up to the guest house floor.  Sure enough the main area of the guest house was  semi-dark when we got of the elevator.  As I entered the room singing of happy birthday broke out, first in English, then in Arabic.  Elias AG and his family, wife and four children, were there as well as Sabah and her daughter, Isel.  Also Elias’ and Badia’s daughter. Ronza.  So all the preparation that I thought was for tomorrows’s guests was in fact for my birthday.  We had a great meal, barbecue and all.  For desert Sabah brought a large very chocolate cake, but we decided to take that to the teacher’s lounge tomorrow because Badia had planned a different but very special way of celebrating my birthday  –  see picture below.

It was indeed a surprise and a happy birthday celebration!!

Week of January 28 to February 3
This was to be another week of rain, close to four inches before it was all over on Saturday afternoon.  i was also working on taking pictures to be used in the brochure for the high school to attract students for next year, brochure for 2013-2104.
On Monday a group from the United States led by Father Carrado visited the campus.  Archbishop Chacour spoke with them.
Fr Corrado, Abuna
Father Carrodo is from the Oratory Mission, Congregation of St Philip Neri.  According to the Wikipedia article, “The Oratory of Saint Philip Neri is a society of apostolic life of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. They are commonly referred to as Oratorians (Oratorian Fathers).”  (Not to be confused with the French Oratory, the Society of the Oratory of Jesus (Société de l’Oratoire de Jésus), founded by Pierre de Bérulle in 1611 in Paris.)
“The Congregation of the Oratory was founded by St. Philip Neri (1515–1595) in the city of Rome. Today it has spread around the world, with over 70 Oratories and some 500 priests.”
This particular group is from Brooklyn
This was a day of many classes:  We were in Elias’ 12A English class for the first two periods,  working on writing a thesis statement and arguments in support of the thesis statement — the highest paying job should be — why?
After this Jane returned to the guest house and I stayed at the high school to meet with the English classes of Ranine and Hanadi.  I am working with these classes on writing in English.  I have written about this in previous blogs.
With the rain this week also came some striking rainbows over Ibillin.
Today we were back in Elias’ class and asked them to write about an important/significant event in their life beginning with a short sentence stating that event and then using more sentences to describe the event more fully and to give reasons for why they consider the event so important, including its impact on their lives.
Today I was at the high school early and met with Nardeen’s10th grade class at 8:30 and then her 9th grade class at 9:15.  I think I have mentioned earlier that class periods are 45 minutes and then the teachers move from class to class, not the students — it is easier to move a few teachers, relatively speaking, than to move 1,200 students.  However, this means that teachers do not have a room they can consider their own.
Jane was at school early to work with the three blind students, Bonsiana, Ashraf and Nur.  .  Ashraf was the only one that showed up.  Jane finished reading Oliver Twist (not the full version, but a youth version).  She then began, David Copperfield.  Ashraf, from the way he stops her while reading to ask questions, appears to enjoy these stories and understand them.
I worked at catching up on the blog.  (I am writing this as of today, February 13, so you can see that I am not caught up yet.  I do have three weeks of blogs party written with pictures to go with the days and soon will have more posted)
I talked with Lubna, the Archbishop’s secretary to find out more about the major event that was to take place tomorrow in the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  In the process I found   out that Audrey would be returning with the Archbishop late this afternoon.
At around 5:30, my phone began to ring but it stopped before I could answer it.  I went over to the window  (dark already) from which you can look down and see the entrance to the school/guest house and noticed a suitcase standing on the walk.  I took the elevator down and went out of the door just as the Archbishop drove his car around from the back of the school — i guess he had gone down behind the school and turned around.  Audrey got out and Abuna parked his car.  We welcomed them into the guest house.  Audrey informed us that Abuna would be staying in the guest house overnight since his home on the campus was not in good shape due to all the heavy rain and roof leafage.
Soon Elias AG showed up with some bags of carry out food that Nawar had ordered (at some point, i will set up a cast of characters for Mar Elias — a necessary ingredient to understand the operation and at some times the dysfunction of Mar Elias).
Nawar soon arrived and we sat down to a delicious dinner of Chines food.
I asked Abuna about the mass scheduled for tomorrow.  Usually this mass is held in Jerusalem.  With the reduction of the number of Christians in Jerusalem and the difficulty of getting so many people into Jerusalem, the Archbishop invited the consecrated of the church to come to Galilee, to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount to celebrate the mass.  So tomorrow, we were expecting a large crowd.  The mass will be at 11:00 in the morning and at 1:00 pm the abunas are invited to the guest house for lunch together.  The others who come will have the auditorium under the church set up so they can eat a picnic lunch — a lunch each is invited to bring.
In the afternoon, at around 2:00, the high school has parent-teacher conferences schedules.  The campus will be very crowded.
Before going to bed, I asked Abuna if he would like a mushroom, cheese omelet for breakfast.  He was delighted and said that omelettes were one of his favorite breakfasts.
When we got up on Saturday morning we found out that Abuna had returned to Haifa early in the morning.  Some of his medications had not been packed.  Audrey was up early and had already eaten.
Badia and Elias O soon arrived and Badia began her preparations for the lunch.
I walked down to the Church at about 10:30 to set up to take pictures and video of the mass.
Today all persons consecrated to engage in pastoral ministry in the catholic church in Israel and the West Bank (priests, nuns, monks, lay leaders) were invited to Mar Elias to participate in a mass at the Church of the Sermon on the Mount. The mass celebrated the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the story involving Simeon.  Prior to the service, the worshippers gathered outside the church at the place where Archbishop Chacour used to speak to the students before school.  At this place there are two monuments, one to the victims of the Holocaust and one to Assem a student at Mar Elias who was shot by an Israeli Defense Force sniper while participating in a demonstration in his own Palestinian city.  From here those gathered all processed over and into the Church for a celebration of the Diving Liturgy led by Archbishop Chacour.
Following the mass, the abunas (and more) came to the guest house for a wonderful lunch prepared by Badia.  We served about 50 people.
Together with Audrey we walked up to the village church and participated in the worship service.  This time, for the first time, and after talking with Abuna Michel, we participated in the communion service, as did Audrey.
After the service, Audrey asked us if we had ever seen the memorial in the village to Mariam Bawardi. Since we had not we walked with her along the main road, west, past the center where the Christmas tree is placed during the season, and up a narrow road toward the Greek Orthodox church.  Instead of going into the church (left) we kept right and walked over to a structure in the process of being rebuilt.  It was the home of Mariam Bawardi (she lived in the 1800s).  Also in this area is an archaeological dig having structures that go back to the Roman times.
Near this is the Greek Orthodox church.  We walked over to the church.  The service was also over and only a couple of people were still there.  We asked if we might go into the church and look around.  We were welcomed and soon the architect who was working on the interior design of the sanctuary, including the placement of new icons on the walls and ceilings, came into the church and showed us around telling us about the different features of the interior.  The icons were being written by a person from Greece who was living in Ibillin and working on the icons in a large area of the place he was living.  They were being written on canvass which was then attached to the walls and or ceiling.  After our thorough inspection of the church, we walked back down the road to make our way back to the center of the village and then on to the guest house.  While walking, Audrey saw an old cross over a door way and walked over to look at it more closely.  The door opened and we were greeting and welcomed in by Madj Daoud.  It turns out that he is the brother of the architect who showed us around the Greek Orthodox church.  The back area of the home was very nice.  A large structure held grape vines and we were told many grapes grew on these vines.  There was a large pool with many large gold fish.  Majd then took us into a building where there still existed an old olive press and all the equipment for pressing and processing olive oil.  Next we were taken into a older building that was restored to the way homes looked in the 1800s.  Finally we were taken into the home of the Daoud family.  At one time, before 1948, the family owned many thousands of dunhams of land.  Much of their land was confiscated by the State of Israel following 1948.
Madj showed us some old photographs, one was of the village of Ibillin in the 1920s.  I took a picture of the comparable area so you can see the difference.
I have created a gallery of photos from this extraordinary and unexpected experience –a not unusual happening.  You would think we would get used to such happenings, but we continue to be delightfully surprised as different things come our way.  The images are ordered based on how we ventured, first the Mariam Bawardi site and archeological dig, then to the Greek Orthodox Church and then to the home of the Daouds.
We walked back to the guest house.
In the afternoon, while we were doing our wash we saw some wildflowers in the olive groves and also enjoyed the slant of the suns rays through the nearby trees, olive and something Jane says she used to call “smoke bush.”

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.