The Summer of 2015 was an exceptional summer — two groups of students and their advisors came to visit in the US.  Instead of our having to go to Ibillin and be at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions to see and enjoy the students and advisors, they came to us.

Blog Writer’s Prerogative

Because of the months Jane and I have spent as volunteers at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel, we know Emil, the English teacher who plans trips for students to Canada and now the US, very well.  In addition, we met Hassan and Abdalla, the two Mar Elias High School graduates who accompanied Emil in the first group, the first time we were at the school from November 2011 thru January 2012 when they were in 10th grade and began meeting with them to help them with their English skills.  We also know George Azzam and Haitham Khaleel, Einas Abu Hjol, and Maiar Abu Ghanima.  George and Einas were in the 9th grade English class from which I selected three students to videotape reading their comments about Mar Elias High School and thanking the Pilgrims of Ibillin for the support Pilgrims gives to the school.

In the second group we knew Doried Abu Abied, a student from the Negev who lived in an apartment in Ibillin.  We had him come up for dinner while we were at Ibilin the last time, late June 2014 through the middle of September 2014.  During this time also, we met with students who were part of the International Book Club, organized at Mar Elias by Hassan and Abdalla, complete with their own website (see https://ibcibillin.wordpress.com).   I was also reminded by Fatema that I had been in her English class while we were volunteers at Mar Elias.  I had asked several of the English classes to do some writing for me as an exercise in writing English.  The trip for the first group was in the works for quite a while.  When the schedule was finalized with Chicago being the place for the last few days for this group to be in the US, Jane and I worked out our schedule so we could join them.

As it happened, Emil emailed us earlier this year about the second group that would be attending the Model UN program and indicated it would be in Stony Point, NY.  Since we are only about an hour and a half drive from Stony Point and we knew that the students would be basically staying at the conference center the whole time, we indicated that we could arrange home stays for the students in our area and some excursions to different places so they would have some broader experience of the US than just the conference center.  We decided on four nights and four days, August 9th through August 13th, when they would leave for home on a 10:30 pm flight from JFK.  The families of the students agreed to help pay for these extra days, the biggest expense of which was to rent a 15 passenger van for 5 days.  Amal Barakeh, the adult advisor for this group, is a good friend of ours from our stays at Mar Elias so we looked forward to hosting her in our home. The members of our church, the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook, were very gracious hosts, four families took in the 8 students and one graduate advisor.  From all of the comments of the host families, the time spent with the students was quite enjoyable.

First Group:  a trip sponsored by the Pilgrims of Ibillin, consisted of 13 students, one adult advisor and two recent graduates of the high school,  Hassan Hidar and Abdalla Sakran, as assistants to Emil Haloun, Mar Elias High School English Teacher and organizer, on the Israel side, and advisor for the trip.  The group pictured below (at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, flew to Detroit on July 2nd, spent time in Grosse Point with the people of the Grosse Point Memorial Presbyterian Church for five days, moved to Ann Arbor for dinner with the Pilgrims of Ibillin Ann Arbor Chapter and overnight, on to a ferry crossing of Lake Michigan and to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to be with pastor John Hobbins and the Oshkosh members of the International Book Club from July 7th to 10th, then to Madison, Wisconsin, home of Joan Deming, Executive Director of the Pilgrims of Ibillin and the one who organized the US part of the trip, July 10th and 11th; and finally to Chicago, actually Evanston, just north of Chicago from July 12th July 14th — leave for home on the evening of the 14th.  It was at Evanston on July 12th that we joined this group, staying in the dorms with them at the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary near the campus of Northwestern University.  You can read more about the  first part of their journey by going to http://www.pilgrimsofibillin.org/2015/07/30/mar-elias-peace-tour-a-great-success/ and then also looking at the blog the students wrote, http://mareliaspeacetour.org/our-travel-entries/MarEliasPeace1conv

First Row: Halla, Maiar, Yara, Rasmia, Samer, Yousef
Second Row: Joan (Exec. Director, Pilgrims of Ibillin — organizer on the US side), Tamer, Luna, Einas, Rgad, George, Haitham, Abdalla, Hassan, Amer, Emil (teacher of English, Mar Elias High School, and organizer on the Isreali side)

As I mentioned we joined this group by driving from New Jersey to Evanston, stopping overnight in Indiana.  We arrived at the seminary before the group did and were settled into our room by the time they arrived.

We did not stay long at the seminary.  We were soon walking to the First United Methodist Church in Evanston where a dinner had been planned for the group that would be shared with some of the youth and families of the church. After the dinner,  two of the Mar Elias students spoke, a group picture was taken, and we went on a tour of the church with the son of one of the church pastors, who was also an accomplished musician.

The following morning after breakfast,

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we walked about a mile to the stop for the Chicago Transit called the L, short for elevated.  Some of the trains are above ground (elevated) as they go around the center of downtown Chicago.

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Along the way we passed the married student dorm building of McCormick Theological Seminary where Jane and lived for three years while I attended the seminary (now part of DePaul University).

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After making some transfers to different trains and going almost all of the way around the loop in Chicago, we detrained near the Chicago Cultural Center and walked through it to go to Millennium Park.

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Major attractions of the Millennium Park include the Bean (a highly reflective object in the shape of a bean), Crown Fountain, flowing waters that form images of human faces (Over 1,000 Chicagoans were filmed for the LED videos displayed in the fountain, and roughly 960 are in rotation.), and caste iron and resin statutes, one seen below.

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We stopped for lunch and then on to Macy’s Department Store where the students were able to do some shopping.

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Our final stop in downtown Chicago before returning to the “L” was at the famous statute of Picasso.

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We then walked back to the “L” and boarded it for our journey back to Evanston.

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The ride back to Evanston took an hour.  The children of a Scandanavian family visiting the USA were busy eating an apple.

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That was not the end of the day.  In the early evening we walked over the the Second Baptist Church where our students met with the youth from this church (we were told that a First Baptist Church in a community would always be a white church, a Second Baptist Church, an African American Church).  With the leading of Rev Taureen Webb, the students had a chance to hear from the African American youth about life in America and share their experiences with them about Palestinian life in Israel.

The day was still not finished as we then made our way to visit the Muslim Chaplain for students at Northwestern University, Tahera Ahmed, where we also had dinner.

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Finally our day was finished and we made our way back to the dorms.

The following morning the students brought all of their luggage to the student lounge where we eat breakfast.  This would be their last day in the states.  They boarded a plane later in the afternoon to head to Amman and back home.  Before this we had a scheduled entrance for the Museum of Science and Industry on the South side of Chicago.  After breakfast, with the students’ help, Joan’s husband, Don, packed all the luggage in the back of their Odyssey.  Joan and the students left to walk to the L to go to the South side of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry.  Jane and I packed our belongings in the car and drove to the south side of Chicago where the Museum of Science and Industry is located.  Don also drove there and we all met at the entrance and enjoyed the various exhibits at the museum.

At the end of the visit to the Museum, we said goodbye to the students and left for New Jersey.

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The students walked to the L to go to O’Hare Airport.  Don drove to O’Hare with the luggage. A successful and wonderful trip for both the students and those with whom they met in the USA.

The second group of students and advisors attended the Model UN program held this year at the Presbyterian Church’s Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point, New York.  They flew to JFK on July 26th and were met at the airport by Michael Harrington, the director of the program, and two buses.

We drove up to Stony Point on Monday July 27th to meet the students, some of whom we already knew, and the advisor, Amal Barakeh, who is our friend from our days of volunteering at Mar Elias High School.  Pictured below are the students and Amal.

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We ate lunch with them and then returned home to make sure all was ready to pick them up on Sunday August 9th and keep them in the Bound Brook, NJ area until August 13th when they were scheduled to fly from JFK home.

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Sunday, August 9th.  We picked up the 15 passenger rental van after church (around 11:30am) and drove to Stony Point

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where the students were waiting with all of their luggage.  After good byes with Michael and Nick, the two persons responsible for the Model UN program,

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Nick and Michael are the two standing on the left

we loaded all the luggage in the van.  It was really a tight fit making a very uncomfortable 2 hour ride back to Bound Brook ( I realized that I would have to try to work out another arrangement for Thursday when we would take them to JFK).

We arrived back at the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook just about the time I had indicated to the families that had agreed to host the students, 3:00 pm.

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Jane and I hosted Amal, a PhD chemistry teacher at the Mar Elias High School; Ilse Pease hosted Rema (a graduate of Mar Elias and a student advisor for the trip), Fatima, and Nour; Andy and Adriana Biedermann hosted Hajar and Lama; Laura and Andrew Still hosted Doried and Rani, and Barbara and Chris Sargent hosted Jaber and Osayed.  The hosts loaded the students and all the luggage in their respective cars and carted them away to return them to the church close to 6 pm.  We had dinner at 6 pm and then a program featuring Amal and the students at 7 pm.

One of our church members, Dave DePiero, helped greatly by organizing the food and arrived early with me, Joan Bloomer, Elaine Tetreault, Cathy and Doug Boleyn and to set up the fellowship hall and kitchen for the dinner.  An unexpected event took place that afternoon.  A family whose parent had been a member of the church but not active for a few years, called in the week before the students were to come and asked the pastor, Nancy Birdsong, if the family could hold a memorial service for their mother, complete with a reception to follow.  The family indicated they would provide for the reception.  A caterer brought enough food for 100 people — only fifty attended.  We ended up with an overabundance of deliciously prepared food of all kinds, complete with drink.  We had set up the dinner to be prepared by members of the church bringing pot luck — many members were able to save their dishes for dinner the next night.

A crowd of close to 60 gathered in our fellowship hall and dinner was enjoyed by all.

Following dinner, we moved into the sanctuary where first Amal and then some of the students spoke to the people gathered to hear from them.

After a very heartfelt and honest presentation by Amal and a few of the students concerning Mar Elias High School, life as Palestinians in Israel and their experiences at the Model UN, the students asked if they could recite a poem, Shades of Anger, written by Rafeef Ziadah, a Canadian-Palestinian spoken word artist and activist. I was familiar with the poem having watched it on YouTube, and agreed.  Here is the poem as recited by the author.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2vFJE93LTI

After time for questions and comments from the church members, the students were taken home for some sleep and an early start for the next morning — our trip into New York City.

Monday, August 10, 2015  — New York City

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A word of explanation:  When I heard that One World Trade Center had finally opened and that tickets could be purchased (timed entry) to go to the top of the center for a panoramic view of the city, I purchased tickets for our group for 11:30, figuring that would give us enough time to drive to Staten Island, on a work day, take the ferry into New York, and walk up to One World Trade Center.  In preparation for the visit of the Mar Elias group and our trip to New York City on Monday, August 10th, I asked a friend, Steve Yacik, with whom we had made other trips to NYC via the Staten Island Ferry, if he would accompany us and help lead us around the city.     He agreed.  Our plan was to drive to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, take the ferry to Manhattan, walk to One World Trade Center, and go to the top of the center.  Initially, after One World Trade Center, we planned to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Brooklyn side of the East River, have lunch under the bridge (and ice cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory) and then walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge and take the subway to Times Square.  After being there for a while, take the subway back to Chinatown for dinner, back to the ferry terminal and return to Staten Island and drive home.   Fortunately, Steve suggested that we do a trial run.  So on Sunday, July 5th, Steve and his wife, Valerie, and Jane and I drove to Staten Island — noting the time for the drive, took the ferry into Manhattan.  We walked up to One World Trade Center via The Bull, Wall Street, and the Federal Building, passed the beautiful Trinity Church (Episcopal), and on over the the World Trade Center area where the 9/11 memorial is, the pools constructed where the trade center buildings used to be and the new One World Trade Center is located. (pictures taken on this trip)

Fortunately we did the trial run.  We found out where the entrance to One World Trade Center was, when we had to be there for our ticketed time of 11:30, we determined that it would be best to take the subway to the Brooklyn side and walk back from the Brooklyn side, rather than walk both ways.  We found a place to eat near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed some great ice cream.  We did not proceed up to Times Square that day, planning to do that with the students.  On another day, a Monday — thus a work day — I left Bound Brook at the time we now had scheduled to leave for the Staten Island Ferry when the students were here, 8:00 am, and drove to the Staten Island Ferry, just to make sure, absent traffic problems, we could make it to the ferry in time to catch the 9:30 ferry that would bring us to Manhattan in time to walk at a leisurely pace to One World Trade Center on August 10th.  All seemed to work well.

The actual day.  As it turned out Steve and Valerie’s two daughters, Alina and Danika, joined us for our day long adventure.  I had actually purchased more tickets than we needed so there were enough for all 16 of us to go to the top of One World Trade Center.  Their daughters are college age, Alina just graduated from college, and Danika enters her senior year this fall, so they were good company for our students.

The Yaciks, Jane and I, and all of the Mar Elias crew drove in the van; Alina and Danika drove separately.  We had no traffic problems getting to the ferry but then faced the problem of parking the car and van.  The only lot we found was not open to visitors.  We let the group off, Steve drove the girls car and we drove out of the ferry area in search of parking on the street.  After traveling about four blocks we turned up one block from the road that goes along the bay, turned left again and found a place for Steve to park the car.  Steve joined me and we continued along the street, made a left turn down a steep hill and, WOW, there was a large enough parking space for the 15 passenger van.  We had to hustle to make it in time for the 9:30 ferry, making it with about three minutes to spare.  We directed the students to move to the left side of the ferry along the open areas so they would be able to see the Statute of Liberty as we sailed past it.

Upon disembarking from the ferry, we made our way to the Bull, then Wall Street and the Federal Building and finally over past the Trinity Church and to the plaza where the 9/11 memorial, the remembrances of the towers, and One World Trade Center is located.

We were in line by 11:10 and were soon moving into One World Trade Center, of course through the security check, and then a long line slowly moving underneath as if we were  in the rock foundation to reach elevators that would take us to floor 102.

We finally made it to the top.  The panoramic view was accessed by going down two floors.  Here we took our time walking all around seeing the city spreading out before us in all directions.

Following our stay at the top of One World Trade Center, we walked to the subway station, after many tries with different tickets, we boarded the #5 train and rode to Brooklyn.  We walked to the area underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, meeting Michael and Nick and four others along the way.  There we ate lunch, enjoyed some delicious ice cream from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, and then began our long walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge.

When we reached the other side, and the students stopped to buy some photos from people along the bridge, it was close to 6 pm.  Fortunately, Michael Harrington, the Director of the Model UN program had made special arrangements for the group to visit the UN building.  He went with them.  They were taken to the Port Authority, and then walked over to the UN building from there, going through Times Square — the painted ladies were not in Times Square until a week later.  We decided that we would take the subway back to the ferry, go back to Staten Island and then drive home.  At the church we ordered Pizza and we ate dinner in the Cave, our space for our youth group.  It was also a picture op when Ilse came to pick up the Heidar/Haidars.  The host families came about 8:30 to take the students home.

August 11, 2015 — Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom

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We had considerable rain over night and rain was in the initial prediction for Tuesday.  Downey Park does not open until 10:00 am so there was not a rush this morning.  As we drove West toward Allentown, PA, it began to clear.  By the time we arrived at the park, the sun was shining.  The effect of the overnight rain and predicted rain meant that there was almost no one at the park when we arrived.  It never did get crowed all day, so the students did not have any lines for the rides.  Each student also had a meal ticket that meant that as they were hungry they could get something to eat.  They decided to take the more difficult rides first before eating and so off they went.  Some fared worse than others and there were some queasy stomaches, but some coke helped and they were soon back at the rides.

August 13, 2015 — Barnegat Light (Atlantic Ocean)

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Wednesday morning we took the group to Target. came back via Shop Rite where each person picked out a sandwich of some kind, sub or wrap, and ate an early lunch at the church.  Before we left for the beach, Tom Rodgers, our organist/choir director was in the church building.  I asked him if we come and show them the organ.  He agreed and gave us a small introduction to the organ playing various kinds of music.

Then we all climbed into the van and headed off to the home of Dave and Martha Costain at Barnegat Light.  Upon arrival and exchange of greetings, all changed into swimming suits and we headed back down to 24th street beach.

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We set up close to the life guard stand and all were soon in the ocean.

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It was hard to get the students, and Amal, out of the ocean.  We finally returned to the Costains, slowly showed and changed, and then sat around and ate a delicious BBQ dinner.  After a desert of Costco’s Chocolate Mousse Cake, we loaded back into the van and headed home, a two hour drive via the Garden State Parkway.

Thursday morning, August 13, 2015.  Today was the group’s last day in the US.  The plan was that the students would bring all of their luggage to the church.  Then we would do some shopping, first to Best Buy and then the Bridgewater Commons — a Mall.  Purchases of electronics were  made at Best Buy and then we moved a short distance to the mall.  We set 1:30 for them to return to the California Pizza restaurant where we would eat lunch and sent them off on their own.  Jane took Amal to Lord and Taylors where Amal bought her husband a new suit.  She had to get measurements from home, done the night before, and translate the cms into ins.  We found out later that the suit fit quite well.

The students were fairly prompt to come to the restaurant and we ate lunch.

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After lunch we still had some more time.  We planned to leave the church for JFK in order to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of the scheduled flight — 10:30.  I had figured that 2:30 hours was plenty of time even if we ran into some traffic, always a reality unless you go to JFK in the middle of the night.  We set 3:00 pm as the time to meet at the Mall entrance and let them go off shopping again.  I drove Doried a short distance to another shopping center where we found (Google) a store that had some lip balm he wanted to buy for his sister — EOS lip balm.  We were successful and soon back at the mall.  It took us until 3:40 to round up all of the students and finally we left for the church.  At the church, more packing was necessary and it was time for some more pictures before leaving.

We finally left the church, most of the luggage in the back of Steve and Valerie’s van, and the Mar Elias group, Jane and I in the 15 passenger van.  We were in for a long slow drive to JFK.  There were at least two accidents on the Belt Parkway.  We arrived right at 7:30, the time by which I had planned to arrive, thinking that we would be much earlier.  Steve and Valerie pulled up soon after with all of the luggage.  Goodbyes were said with an understanding that we would see them in January in Ibillin.

We followed their trail home, Amman, Tell Aviv and finally, all but Doried, to Ibillin and then other homes.

In Amman, Amal was greeting by her husband who joined them on the flight to Tel Aviv.

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