I like to take pictures of the sunsets, as my wife will attest.  It is interesting to follow the movement of the sun as it sets over Mt. Carmel, moving from the southwest to the west.  When we have been here in the summer months, June and July, the sun sets over the Mediterranean Ocean.

Below are sunsets starting on February 2nd when we arrive and continuing until yesterday, March 18.  The sky was full of dark clouds tonight.  If there is a sunset tomorrow night, I will take one more sunset before we leave for home.

February 2nd.  Note the tall building in the center, the sun is setting just to the left of the building.  Note also the thicker building to its right, not the lower one, but the taller one about three fourths of the way across the photo.

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This sunset is on February 10th.  The sun will set to the right of the tall tower.

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This sunset is on February 19th.  It has now moved to the right of the thick building noted on the first image.

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This is taken on March 3rd.  You can see both the tall building and the shorter thick building on the left side of the image.  The sun has moved considerably to the right.  Note the next tower (actually two towers as you will see in the next image) further to the right, that is part of Haifa University.

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This image is taken on March 7th.  The sun is setting closer to the twin towers of Haifa University.

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Taken on March 18th.  Now the sun will set to the right of the twin towers of Haifa University.  The city of Haifa is where Mt Carmel goes down to the Mediterranean.

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We are scheduled to return home on Saturday, March 21st.  There is nothing going on around here so we have nothing to do, except yesterday, the Archbishop took us to Bir’am, the village in the north of Israel where he was born and lived until 1948 when all the village families were forcible removed by Zionist soldiers and later, Christmas of 1951, after the villagers had won the right to return to their homes through the Israeli court, they arrived on the mountainside overlooking their village only to see the Zionist army there proceeding to destroy their homes (you can read about this in the book, Blood Brothers).  One structure that still remains is the Melkite Catholic Church.  When the Archbishop, now retired, was actually serving as the Archbishop, he restored 240 dunams of land that belonged to the Melkite Catholic Church in Jish to the Palestinian farmers in the area.  Jish is the neighbouring village of Bir’am, and the one to which the Chacour family fled after their home was destroyed in 1951.  We stopped on our way to Bir’am to visit one of the farmers


who bought 20 of the Dunams (about 5 acres).  The apple and cherry trees were in full blossom.


In Biram, we walked up

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to the one structure that is still intact, the Melkite Catholic Church.  


Soon after we arrived, it began to rain, so we did not have much time to walk around there.  We made one more stop on our way out before heading back home, the cemetery were his parents and many relatives are buried, the only way currently that members and their descendants can return to the village.

The Archbishop did comment on our ride back that the agreement to form a government in Israel that involved the commitment of the 15 newly elected member of the Knesset who are Arabs, included, as part of the agreement, that the members and descendants of the villages of Bir’am and Iqrit, shall have the right to return.  He is not optimistic about this.

Over the past few days more pictures of birds.  One in particular, the Palestinian Sunbird, was an unexpected gift this early in the season.   It flies like a hummingbird and you can see from its beak that it also takes nectar.

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And then more of the Common Myna, this time what looks like a conversation between two of them.

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And finally birdies, the Kestrel Hawk was flying around, still not real sharp images but to give you an idea of its markings and colouring.

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Life with no one around.  You can’t really imagine, not having been here when the students and workers are here, how quiet this place can be without them.  As I have said before, one the our favourites times of the day is about 7:30 in the morning of school days when the younger elementary school children arrive to the playground behind the elementary school.  The windows of our room look out over the playground and even though we are six stories above the playground, we can hear the children as they are in constant motion and shouting to one another as they play various games.  Obviously there is none of this.  Also, further out back where the teachers part, the workers had gone through along the edges of the parking area and after a very strong windstorm, and cut down several tall cyprus trees.  These trees were bending severely in the wind and the teachers were concerned that some trees might fall over onto their cars  This resulted in the constant noise of a hand power saw as the workers cut up the tree trunks.

We are essentially biding our time until early Saturday morning.

Since the Coronavirus became a factor in the life of the world, it has been a constant subject of conversation among the teachers at the school, and of course, on the news that we hear in Hebrew and Arabic and translated for us by Samar.  Samar whose home is in East Jerusalem, lives here for most of the time and helps out in the guest house.

As a result of the Coronavirus, our stay at the Mar Elias Schools will end in a week.  On March 21 we will fly home to New Jersey.  We had originally planned to fly home on May 1st after the ninety days permitted on a tourist visa.  We have talked with the medical people of the Continuing Care Community where we have a two bedroom apartment.  We will be met upon arrival at the residence, and given masks and gloves and proceed to our apartment up the stairs that open into the hallway near our room.  There we will be on voluntary quarantine for 14 days.  Fortunately we are in a place that will provide meals for us, and we have two families and many friends nearby.

We have continued to work with students as they prepare for the oral English state test.  Most of them have now been in the computer room where they have viewed and practiced on a simulation of the exam.  In this room, a simulation of the exam is available.  Each student has ear phones and a mic, each student has to enter an assigned number into the simulation program and then the program begins on the computer in front of them.


In the first part of the exam, Part A, each student is to select one of the two alternatives presented to the student


The next two screens present the screens a student will see that provides them with two alternatives.  The student select one of the alternatives, and then when ready. presses the record button and begins to respond to the questions that have been asked, and are written across the screen.  The answer has to be at least a minute long, but not longer than two minutes.

One set of alternatives.


another set of alternatives.


A minute is quite long.  We use our recorders on our iPhones to give them an idea of how long it is.  The students usually give quick answers without a lot of detail and find they are finished in about 30 to 40 seconds.  A student can stop the recording if he/she does not like how it is going.  If stopped, the recording has to be started over from the beginning.  If more than one stop and restart, points are deducted from the score. This will be quite a different experience for the students this year. It is quite different from carrying on a conversation with another person.

On Thursday around dinner time, we heard that the schools will be closed at least until the end of the Spring break, April 17th.  We were not sure, but the following morning, Friday, we heard that the gates were closed and, in fact the school was closed.  On school days, for the elementary school, Monday — Thursday and Saturday, we hear the gate to the parking lot opening at 7:00 am and soon thereafter teachers arrive, and then students start arriving and playing on the blacktop playground under our window.  Even though we are up six flights from the playground, the children playing a full of enthusiasm and constantly shouting.   On Fridays when the elementary school is closed, there is a program in the elementary school for gifted students.  However this starts later and the gate to the parking lot behind the elementary school is not opened at 7 am like it is on days when the elementary school has students.  So we couldn’t tell by the fact of the gate not being opened that the school was closed, but by breakfast time we learned that none of the gates had been opened and school was, in fact, closed.

As a result of this our daily schedule for the coming days will change considerably.  We are helping Badeaa to get all of the blankets and bedspreads washed and dried.  The weather has not been too cooperative for hanging things outside to dry, but thankfully we have a great new dryer and it has been working overtime.

Of course going up onto the roof where the washer and dryer are always opens the possibility of seeing something different.  One time when I went up to the roof, there not far from me was the Common Myna bird.  It has a conspicuous yellow bill and eye patch.

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Then just yesterday, Jane spotted a large flock of birds out of our bedroom window.  When I looked closely, it was a flock of storks on their migratory path from Africa to Europe.  When we were on a trip to Israel/Palestine in 2008 we went up to the Golan Heights.  On our way back from there, we saw large numbers of storks both flying around and also landing on the ground in search for food.  Israel is a wonderful place for birding, especially Hula Valley where we went on a field trip one time with the Friday gifted program.  We thing we have identified these storks as Western White Storks.  Even though the images are not really sharp, they do provide sufficient information, we think for this identification:

White stretching all along the underside from the bill to the tail; the curved white plumage on the underside of the wings; and the long yellow bill.

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While blurry, this image show the white plumage from the bill all along to the tail.  It also shows the white plumage under the wings more clearly than in the image above although you can see that on the left wing.

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There were several of flocks like this, many, many storks, probably on their way to Hula Valley.  Sorry for the poor image quality, but I could not get onto the roof quickly enough to do a better job.

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We are now into our sixth week here.  We have been working steadily with the twelfth grade students as they prepare for the oral part of their English State test, called the Bagrut exam.  This week is the last week to work with them as the test for all the 12th graders begins next week.  All of the 12th graders are scheduled to take the test on either Monday, March 16th or Wednesday, March 18th, unless . . . .  the Ministry of Education postpones or cancels the Bagrut exam due to concerns about the Coronavirus.  One unplanned outcome of the way we have been working with students to help them prepare for their exams, is that we have come to know a lot more about a lot of the students.  One of the questions that may be posed to them for the first part of the exam is for them to talk about themselves and their families.  We often provide this as one of the alternatives they can select for the first part of the exam.  For all three parts of the exam, a student has to record him/herself talking for at least a minute.  Students are finding that a minute is much longer than they think.  We encourage them to include details when they talk, for example, about their family, in order to make their recording long enough.  We have been using the recorders on our smart phones to record them as they talk to give them an idea of long a minute is.  We also let them hear themselves so they can see the pattern of their use of ahs and uhhs, which we then try to encourage them to practice at home and try to eliminate those pause patterns.  I asked some of the students how they pause in Arabic and it turns out with the same ahhs and uhhs.  A side note — we go to the local smart phone place in the village of I’billin.  The son of the owner was one of the students we worked with in the past for the oral English Bagrut exam — Jane worked with him.  We were there today to add more time to our Israel phone sim cards and he was the one who waited on us.  He repeated to Jane how much she had helped him prepare for his exam. One answer he gave to the person interviewing him (then the exam was an actual interview with a person!), when that person asked him what he would be in the future was that he would be a phone doctor — an term Jane had given him when she was working with him.  He told her today that he had received a perfect score on the English Bagrut exam.

A student I worked with on Monday, when I gave him several choices for part A and he selected technology talked about how he had learned to use eBay to sell things.  He took a year long class and then set up a business.  He buys from China, has “store” in the USA, and then advertises his products and sells on e-bay.  Amazing, I think.  He is not untypical of the kind of students we find here at Mar Elias.

Part of what we are dealing with now, as are all of you, is the impact of the Coronavirus on life here.  It is hitting the West Bank Palestinians especially hard since a major source of income for many are the tourists.  The guest house here also has had all of its scheduled visitor stays in March, April, and early May canceled, three alone from American groups in March, and one in May.  Yesterday, upon finding out that 12 students had just recently returned from a visit to Bethlehem, the Director of the school had to call them into his office and tell them that they had to stay home for 14 days.

We are in the process now of determining how we have to respond in terms of the length of our stay here.  We have found out through our son’s efforts, that we will have to stay in our apartment at our continuing care center (a place where very vulnerable people live) for 14 days without participating in the meals and gatherings of the center.  Fortunately they are well prepared to provide us meals in our apartment during that time and with two sons nearby we will be able to get other things we need.

Onto the moon.  Last night was the night of the Worm Moon, a Supermoon. Called the Worm Moon (and other names) because March is when the worms come to the surface and begin to soften the ground. Called a Super Moon because the full moon coincides with its closest approach to the earth.  It may appear 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than usual.  See what you think.  The roof of the elementary school provides an excellent place for taking pictures since there is a 360 degree view.  I was set up with my tripod, my 400 mm zoom lens, ready for the moon rise.  Jane actually spotted it coming up in a different place from where I expected it.  The cross included in the images is the cross on the top of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, a Melkite Catholic Church on Campus — Mar Elias is a Melkite Catholic Private School, but inclusive of Christians, Muslims, and Druze.  The first four are taken from the same location and then I moved my tripod for the fifth and sixth images.

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Today, as we were on the roof working with laundry, Jane spotted the Hyrax.  We have seen them every time we have been here but until today we had not seen them.

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I will let you look up Rock Hyrax to find out about them, not what you would expect, especially since you will find out that they are related to elephants and manatees.

More birds

Image below: Yellow-vented Bulbul.  Note white eye ring and yellow undertail coverts, so my Israel bird book suggests.

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Common Kestrel Hawk.  We have seen these hawks each time we have been here.  One year was special when we were able to see the nest they built and the young after hatching, and then the parents teaching them Kestrel tricks.  We have seen them often this time, but this time I happened to have my camera ready but not set at the right exposure.  Thanks to Lightroom, I was able to bring out some of the detail in the body feathers.  Next time!

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As I have mentioned earlier, one thing that is quite noticeable with the view we have of Mt Carmel, to the west, and the setting of the sun, is the observation of how quickly the setting sun moves from the southwest to the west.  The images of sunsets in this blog show this movement.  I will keep taking sunsets while we are here and compare the location of the sunset when we first arrived, February 2nd, to the sunset on the day before we leave, right now, April 30th.

There are eight images below.  The buildings in the images serve as the reference points to see how the location of the setting sun changes over time.   In the first image (taken on February 2nd), you will see the sun setting almost behind the tall building on Mt Carmel.  That tall building is not in all of the images, but there is another tall building, actually you can see two buildings positioned together, to the right that will be in most of the images.  In the third image, those building are on the left of the image.  The seventh image gives you a wider angle that includes the initial tall building, the other two buildings, and the two towers of Haifa University, toward the right side of the image.  The two towers of Haifa University are more clearly seen in the last image (taken on March 7th).  Soon the sun will be setting over the towers of Haifa University.

  1.  Sun setting to the left of the tall building

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2) Sun setting to the right of the tall building

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3) Sun setting to the right of the twin buildings.

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4) Sun setting further to the right of the twin buildings

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5) You can see the tall building on the very left edge, the twin buildings and the sun setting even further to the right of the twin buildings.

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6)  Same buildings, sun setting further to the right (west) of the twin buildings.

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7.  A much wider view of Mt Carmel.  Haifa is where the land slopes into the Mediterranean on the right.  The twin towers near Haifa are part of the University of Haifa.  The sun is now setting closer to those twin towers.

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8)  The twin towers of Haifa University, sun setting even closer to these towers.  It will soon set right over them.

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Briefly, then in more detail —  Saturday: in the morning at the high school with two different classes and individual students; in the evening dinner with an I’billin family; Sunday: getting ready for the arrival of a group from Germany, led by a familiar person to us, Bernard and his helper, Rita; Arrival of 14 German tourists, getting them set up and then helping to serve dinner (we have a wonderful cook, Badia, at the guest house, so we have to be careful not to gain a lot of weight) every day until Friday  (see  below about sudden departure of the German group), waking early to help set up for breakfast and serve breakfast – all meals are buffet style; every day through Thursday, help set up for and serve dinner for the German guests; Monday: a holiday for citizens of Israel to vote in the national election; invitation to an I’billin family for lunch — four high school seniors are cousins and members of the families living in the same large house; Tuesday – Thursday, back to the high school every day to meet with students to help in their preparation for the English oral exam; Friday noon, we learn that the German tourists have to leave — the school is not permitted to have guests in the guest house during the concern over the coronavirus.  They had planned to stay until Monday when they would fly home to Germany, fortunately not on Lufthansa — all Lufthansa flights between German and Israel have been cancelled.

In addition to the above, I have an album of sunset pictures and three more bird pictures – different birds, not so spectacular as the White Breasted Kingfisher.

Most of the senior high school classes meet on Monday through Thursday, but two classes meet on Saturday morning.  The daily class schedule is as follows:

period 1: 8:30 to 9:15

period 2: 9:15 to 10:00

period 3: 10:00 to 10:45

break       10:45 to 11:15, we spend in the teachers’ lounge, talking with teachers, drinking Arabic coffee

period 4: 11:20 to 12:05

period 5: 12:05 to 12:50

break       12:50 to 1:05

period 6:  1:05 to 1:50

period 7    1:50 to 2:30

There are six twelfth grade English classes that meet on Monday, 3rd period, Tuesday 4th period, Wednesday, 4th and 5th periods, and Thursday 5th period.  In addition, there are two classes that meet Tuesday at 1st period, Wednesday at 2nd period, Thursday at 4th period, and Saturday at 4th period.  So, immediately you should notice two things, there is no time between classes and the same class does not meet at the same time each day that it meets.  The high school building has four floors of classes, however, senior classes are generally on the same floor so it does not take much time to go between classes, except lab classes are on another floor.

Jane and I sit in separate offices and meet, usually with individual students for about 15 minutes to go over their preparation for the oral part of the English exam.  I have described this earlier.  Lately we have been meeting with two to four students at a time — the exams actually start on March 16th and the second date for the exam is March 18th, so on these two dates over 300 students have to be scheduled to sit in a room where there are 20 computers, each student at a computer with head set and microphone and each student has 30 minutes in front of the computer to finish a three part oral exam.

On the campus, see the map in the first blog, there are kiosks at which students can buy drinks and food.  One of the kiosks is run by Aiman Haj.  He and his wife, Rana, invited us, Jane, Audrey, Samar, and me, to dinner at their home in I’billin on Saturday night.  Aiman came to pick us up about 7 and we drove a short distance to his home.  We enjoyed our dinner very much, a combinations of different salads, barbecued chicken and beef, and a cold salad of corn mixed with mayonnaise (quite delicious, even if simple) and a pasta salad, and, of course, rice.  We enjoyed talking with the two daughters, Mayes (fourth grade) and Natalie (eighth grade) even with their limited English and our even more limited Arabic.  As usual, we finished the evening with Arabic coffee and were back in our guest house room a little after nine.

On Sunday, we could sleep in a little.  Badea arrived around noon to begin her preparations for the dinner Sunday night for the German tourists who were scheduled to have dinner at 7:00.  Badea is an excellent cook who thoroughly plans and documents her meals.


One of many of our favorite dishes, potatoes with mushrooms and a cream sauce.


The German group arrived on schedule and were quickly assigned to rooms.  Bernard, their leader has been doing this for many years.  They come each time with plenty of beer, wine, schnapps, etc.

Monday we are up early to help set up for and serve breakfast.  There is no school today because of the holiday for the national election.  However, we have been invited to the home of the Feroni families.  Three cousins, two twelfth graders and one who had just graduated last year came to the guest house on Friday to invite us to their home for lunch/dinner whenever we could schedule.  We talked about different times and then figured that since Monday was a holiday, it would work to go to their home for lunch.  We were picked up at noon by Sally and driven to their home.  It is in a part of I’billin we had not been in before.  When we arrived to the house we were greeted by about 10 dogs, all friendly.  We entered the house and saw a lot of younger children in a room doing home work.  There are five families living in the house, the families of five brothers, and probably about 30 children (not sure of the count).  We met only one of the fathers and two of the wives.  As we entered we saw many young children in a room doing school work.  We soon found out from one of the brothers/fathers that he has taken on home-schooling the children of the families — not in place of school but in addition to their attendance at the Mar Elias Schools.  We were ushered into a small kitchen and seated at the kitchen table.  Our expectation coming for lunch was that we would sit around a table with the families and have lunch.  Instead, the only father we met, set about preparing chicken shawarma for us and for him and the three of us ate.  The high school girls were also sitting around the table with us but not eating.  After we finished, we continued to sit around the table and talk.  After a while, we were asked if we ever made bread.  I, of course, indicated that Jane had done so, but not for quite a while.  Of course she had never made pita bread.  With this, the father took out flour, yeast and a bowl and started mixing it with water and needing the dough.  He soon had rolled the dough into a round tube like shape and began cutting it into small sections which were then flattened and laid out onto special cloths used to cover the table.  He made 28 pitas, covered them with another cloth, brought a portable heater nearby and let the pita rise for a short while.  After a short while, each pita bread was warmed on the top of a special cooker, had holes poked in it with a special roller with spikes on it, and then a mix of za’atar and olive oil was spread on it.  It was then placed inside the cooker and in a short while we had manaeesh.  Manaeesh is folded and then eaten.  Everyone shared in eating the manaeesh.

images below:  putting the za’atar and olive oil mix on the pita; making balls of dough to be  flattened into small pitas; enjoying manaeesh; sitting around the table eating and then talking.


After this, the four cousins who are twelfth graders and who soon will have to take the English oral bagrut exam sat around the table and we talked with them about what to expect, gave them many opportunities to practice using their english and in conversation with us.  We asked them to talk about themselves and their families, one of the possible topics they will asked to talk about.  We also talked with them about the research project they had completed and asked them to give us a short summary of the project.  All of this to get them to practice using their english skills.  Of course after coffee, we were then taken back to the guest house — a very memorable experience.

The polls didn’t close until 10:00 pm, so there was no real results for the election, but predictions that Netanyahu’s party would gather the most seats in the Knesset, but still combined with the other groups supporting him, not enough to form a government.  One unexpected outcome was that the Palestinians won 16 seats in the Knesset, the first time ever.  However, neither of the leaders, Netanyahu or Gantz are willing to work the the Palestinian Knesset members.

Tuesday through Thursday we were back to the high school meeting with individual students to help in their preparation for the upcoming exam.

Also Tuesday through Thursday, morning and evenings we were helping with breakfasts and dinners for the German group.

Thursday was also wash day.  With two clothes washers now and a new dryer, we were able to get our clothes done more quickly than usual.  It has been too windy to hang clothes out on the line to dry, so the new dryer has been a godsend (thanks to Pilgrims of Ibillin).

I often go up onto the roof to take pictures.  We often have spectacular sunsets.  Right now the sun is setting over Mt Carmel, slowly moving toward Haifa and eventually, in the summer, to set over the Mediterranean.  One of the times I was up on the roof for this purpose I saw some different birds and took their pictures see below:

Great Tit

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Reed Bunting

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Eurasian Blackbird

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Some Sunsets!!  The bottom four are taken as the sun sets (not slowly) over Mt Carmel.

On Sunday night (2/23), we communicated through the software Hangouts, with the six members of this year’s Bound Brook Presbyterian Church communicant’s class.  We had set this up with one of its leaders, Bill Dettelback, before coming to the Mar Elias Schools.  Since there is a time difference of 7 hours and the class usually meets after church on Sunday, it worked well for us, around 7 pm. We were able to share with them about the Palestinian village of I’billin, and the Mar Elias schools located in I’billin, especially the high school, and our work with the high school seniors in preparation for their oral English exam.

When we first came to the Mar Elias Schools as volunteers in November of 2011, one of the first persons we met in the guesthouse was Audrey Porkson, from England.  She had been a long time volunteer at the schools, in fact this summer will be the 36thyear she has been coming to Mar Elias. She came first as a volunteer to help with English classes. She is the one who introduced Sr Bernadette Crook, a world known iconographer with the British Association of Iconogaphers, to Mar Elias.  Sr Bernadette was then persuaded by Elias Chacour to take on the task of designing and creating an iconostasis for the Church of the Sermon on the Mount built on the Mar Elias Campus.

Design of the Iconostasis


Completed Center Part of the Iconostasis


Audrey returned to Mar Elias on February 23 in the middle of the night and we first saw her Monday morning.  We have enjoyed catching up with her all week.  It was with Audrey that we made one of most important discoveries.  We usually  walk over to the village on Sunday morning to attend worship in the Melkite Catholic Church, the church that Elias Chacour came to in 1965 as the priest, Abuna.  On one Sunday after attending the worship service, we decided we would walk over to where the Greek Orthodox Church was located to see it.  We found that their services started later and they were still in the worship service.  We turned around and started back.  Our way takes us on the main road through the center of I’billin.  As we were walking along this road, we saw an interesting sign over a doorway that led into the backyard of a very large Ottoman style home.

Daoud home

As we walked over to look more closely at the sign, the door opened and we were greeted by Madj Daoud.  He invited us to come into his backyard.  We talked for a while.  He introduced us to his mother, and she insisted on making us Arabic coffee.  We were also introduced to his brother, Ass’ad.  Ass’ad is an architect but with special interests in restorative architecture.  Ass’ad and his family have become special friends of ours and we have spent much time with him. We also try to have visitors who come to see the Mar Elias school go to his home to visit with him.  He has preserved the family’s olive press and associated machinery.


In the furthest part of the property, in the back, he has also preserved the structure of the home in which St Mariam Bawardi was born in the mid 1880s, (1846).


Big day on Friday. Friday was the day the new stove/range was installed. In addition, since the old one still works, even if not fully, it was put in another location in the guest house where it can also be connected to the propane and be used in circumstances when Mar Elias hosts large numbers of students, such as the large group of German music students (80-100) who are scheduled to come in May.  Of course all of this is now up in the air with the worries about the corona virus and traveling.

We usually set two alarms for the morning, the first one at 7:00 to start the heater so we can have warm water for our showers, and the second at 7:30.  The second alarm gives enough time for the water to heat up.  Today, after taking a shower and going out of our room into the large area of the guest house where guest have meals, we found Micha, the person in charge of the buildings, already at the guest house.  He had two workers with him, soon to be joined by a third.  They were busy rearranging and moving mattresses out of an area so that a freezer could be moved into this place, and the old stove could be moved into the area where the freezer had been.  In addition they were dragging the old stove out of the kitchen, though the area where guests eat meals and into the place where the freezer had been.  One of the reasons for the purchase of a new stove/range was demonstrated as they were moving the old stove.  The oven door that would not stay shut on its own and, in fact, would often abruptly fall open, did so while they were dragging it to its new home and the glass in the door shattered in small shards.  Below left, area into which freezer (below top) would be moved, see below right — freezer moved into cleaned our area.


Below, left, freezer before moved.  Below right, freezer moved and old stove put into its place.


After about two hours, the new stove/range was installed, the old stove/range moved to where it could still be used when large numbers of guests come, the freezer was moved, and the area to which the freezer was moved had a lot of unnecessary stuff moved out.


On Sunday, we welcomed a group of visitors from Germany led by Father Bernard.  He brings many groups from Germany to Israel/Palestine. We were here in 2018 when he came with a group in February, in fact one of the members of his group and I celebrated our birthday together, on February 11th.  Badia used the new stove for the first time for preparing the Sunday night meal.









After wrestling with the colds (basically coughs) we brought with us for the first two weeks, and thank to Dr Nadar’s treatment, we were able to begin regular meetings with students to help them prepare for the oral part of their English Bagrut exam – one of many state tests they have to pass in order to graduate.

The format of the exam has changed in a basic way this year:  no longer will students sit with a person with whom they will interact for the oral exam; instead they will sit in front of a computer monitor with headphones and a mic.


The will be greeted by Alphie, a character on the screen, that will ask them questions.  They have to record their responses.


The oral Bagrut has three parts: the first part is considered an interview.  Students will be given a choice between two topics and the questions associated with those topics will be shown on the screen.


Once a student has made his/her choice and pressed the record button, the questions disappear.  The students have to record a least a minute’s worth of response.  They cannot press the pause button and then continue.  If they pause, they have to start over with a new recording.  If they stop and start more than once, they lose points.

The second part (Part B) focuses on a research project a student has completed.


These have been turned in to their teachers and graded. During the time a student is in the oral exam, each student will be asked questions about his/her project. Questions such as: what is the subject of your project? Why did you choose this topic; what research did you do for this project, and how? What did you find out about your topic? Additional questions can be asked about whether or not each student worked with others or worked alone. If a student worked with others, the student may be asked about teamwork etc.  For this part of the exam, a student is to give an answer that is at least a minute long.  It can be more, but not much, but it cannot be less.  We encourage each student to write a summary paragraph about his/her project and memorize it.  When it comes to providing an answer, they only have to recite what they have memorized.  We practice with them asking them to use their smart phone, or ours, and when ready to provide an answer, push the record button.  When they stop we check to make sure they have spoken for at least a minute.

The third part of the oral exam is to watch a minute long video in which the character or characters face a moral dilemma.  There is only acting, not sound.  At the end of the video, again the students have to press the record button and talk about the video:  what was the moral dilemma; how was it resolved; do you agree with the resolution; if so, why; if not, why not, and how would you have resolved it differently.

The students will have a computer simulation set up for them to practice, so at least the operation of the computer and the recording of answers should not be a factor in how well they do.

We meet with students during the time of 12 grade classes, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.  Since the classes are only 45 minutes long and it takes a while to get started, we each could only meet with two students during a class period.  Since the 12thgrade classes usually meet at the same time on the different days, we are still getting the process of selecting students organized.

On Thursday night we prepared for the arrival of a group from Italy.  This is a group that the local doctor (whom we went to for treatment of our colds) brings every year to Israel.  They usually stay two nights in the guesthouse.  Badea had planned dinner for them for about 7:30 or 8:00; they finally arrived around 9 pm and then sat in the meeting room in the guest house for over an hour listening to the story of a particular nun brought here for the purpose of sharing her story.  Finally, Badea put things out and left for home. We didn’t serve them until about 10:30.

Breakfast was to be at 6:45 the next morning, so we were up at 5:15 – short note, in order to have hot water for a shower, you have to turn on the hot water heater, after which you have to wait at least thirty minutes and then you can take a shower with hot water.  During the warmer days, there are also solar panels on the roof to heat the water.   The group left by 7:30 for a day in the Galilee.

While they were away for the day, two of the students we met when we were first here, 2011-12, Jody Kabbia and Yara Safoury, came by to pick us up and take us out to lunch. They took us to Tamara, the next Palestinian village to the north of I”billin, for lunch.

IMG_6850lunchOf course we started with Meze, small dishes like our appetizers, only we start with about twelve different appetizers, all very delicious.  Then we have the main meal.  Jody and Yara had steak, we chose the restaurant’s special dish.  We enjoyed it very much.

Then they drove us back to their city, Shefarmer, for Kanafeh.


Finally very full, we came back to the guesthouse and were ready to help with dinner for the Italians.

The Italian group was out and about all over the Galilee during the day and returned around 5:30, just in time miss a heavy rain. Dinner was planned for 7:00, so we were able to provide dinner at that time on Friday.  During the dinner we overheard the group members talking together about the one-day airline strike in Italy and that their return to Italy would be delayed by two days.  They were able to make plans to stay in Bethlehem for Sunday night and then we heard them say that they would most likely be spending most of the night on Monday into Tuesday because they had a five am flight on Tuesday morning.

There was one family among the group, husband, wife, son – about 16, and daughter – about 12. We had many conversations with them and ended up sharing contact information.  The son will be coming with a group from his school to the Los Angeles area this summer and the parents are looking at possibilities for him to spend at least a year in college in the US.  We said we could help make suggestions, so we will see what happens with this when we return.

The group ate breakfast at 6:30 on Saturday morning, and the priest organized them and got them out of the guesthouse by 7:30, with the exception of one couple who made arrangements to get home earlier.  They stayed until noon and then were picked up by taxi to go to the airport.

On Saturday, a group from a Presbyterian Church in Burlington, NC, came to meet with the Archbishop and then have lunch in the guest house.  The pastor and leader of this group, Ron Shive, is a person we knew through our involvement with the Presbyterian Church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, so we were delighted to re-connected with him.  Following lunch I took them up to the roof so they could look over toward Mt Carmel and Haifa and see the village of I’billin. Then before they left I took them over to see the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and its wonderful iconostasis.

After this group left, we could begin the usual process after a group that has been staying in the rooms guest house overnight leaves:  strip all sheets off the beds, gather all the towels, and take all of this to the roof where the washing machines and dryer are located.  There is also space to hang clothes on the line, but right now the weather has not been very cooperative – strong winds, cold, and rain. The new dryer Pilgrims of I’billin purchased has been a godsend.

While on the roof doing the wash, we often take time to take in the scenery.  Looking Southwest we see Mt Carmel and Haifa; to the West we see the Mediterranean; looking northwest on a clear day we can see Akko, looking east we look over the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and up to the hills/mountains of the Galilee.

As Jane was looking over the hillside that is on the south side of the elementary school, she called to me, telling me to come quickly.  There is a beautiful bird.  I came and looked and quickly went downstairs to get my camera. Fortunately the bird was going back and forth, sitting on the light on top of a pole and then flying up to the side of the hill and pecking at the hillside.  (A large part of the hillside had fallen down when we were here in 2012-2013 and covered a good part of the area between the elementary school and the middle school.  This left a barren hillside of soft rock).  I took some pictures and then came back to get my longer lens. The pictures that resulted are below.  The bird is a White-breasted Kingfisher.  It is a resident of Israel.  I thought it kept going to the hillside and pecking at the soft stone in order to get some of this to help build a nest.  When I looked up the bird in our book about Birds of Israel, it indicates that these birds make their nests in a hole in a bank.

Whitechested Kingfisher (1 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (2 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (7 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (3 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (8 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (6 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (9 of 9)Whitechested Kingfisher (4 of 9)

Finally, on Sunday, we walked over the Melkite Catholic Church,


the church where the Archbishop started as the priest in 1965 and from which he had his vision of forming high quality schools for the Palestinian children, and acted on that vision.  The services are in Arabic and they follow the Byzantine Rites for worship services (The Melkites, Byzantine Rite Catholics, trace their history to the early Christians of Antioch, formerly part of Syria and now in Turkey, of the 1st century AD, where Christianity was introduced by Saint Peter.)  Following the worship service we walked over to the home of Ass’ad Daoud.  He was not at home, but his mother was and she invited us into the home. She told us the Ass’ad was on his way.  In a short time, Ass’ad entered and sat with.  We talked for quite a while getting caught up on the past two years.  I have written about Ass’ad in previous posts, see             A basic new project of his is to restore an old flour mill.  The machinery was in Nazareth and was going to be discarded.  He asked about having the machinery and was told he had 10 days to take it or it would be discarded.  He made arrangements  – considerable efforts – and also measured the machinery and built a place to put it – see photos below


His mother made her usual very good Arabic coffee and provided us with delicious jaffa oranges. After we finished, Ass’ad took us to see his new project, the flour mill,  and we looked over the back yard area that he has developed into a center for the village to celebrate during Christmas time, and also is the place where the original structure of the house in which St Mariam Bawardi

was born in the mid 1800s is located.  Ass’ad drove us back to the guesthouse in the middle of the afternoon.









One of the aspects of volunteering at the Mar Elias Schools and staying in the guest house, is that there are often visitors who come to stay for a few nights, some for two nights others, soon to come, for a week or more.  Just last night we received a group who had just arrived from Italy.  Dr. Nader, the local general practitioner, educated in Italy, sponsors this group on an annual basis.  Immediately upon arrival to the guest house, before checking into their rooms, visitors stand around near the door to the kitchen, not because they want to see what’s cooking, but because the information necessary to get on the internet is posted by the door.  So, the first task is to make sure they understand how to get on the internet and, in fact, to make sure they are on the internet.  Then they are ready to find out to which room they are assigned by Dr. Nader, and locate their room and move their luggage into their room.  This group was delayed in their flight considerably, went to mass in Nazareth, and arrived at the guest house around 9:30.  

I have shown you many sunsets, basically because or window looks west toward Mt Carmel, Haifa and the Mediterranean.  But the sun also rises here.  However, one the changes that has taken place since we first started coming here is the building of homes on the hillside.  Given the current location of the sunrise, it is blocked by these new homes.

sunrise_2_21_20 (1 of 3)sunrise_2_21_20 (2 of 3)sunrise_2_21_20 (3 of 3)

Only Jane!!

We drink filtered water while at the guest house. This morning, Wednesday 19th, while we are sitting in the kitchen where we eat breakfast, Jane asks Badea, our cook, when the water filter was last changed. Badea says there is a date on the filter. The filter lasts for two years. When Badea checks, she says that the date for changing the filter is passed. Jane said she noticed that something was wrong with the taste of the water.  I would never have noticed. 

Sunset again tonight had some strong colours and contrasts.