It is hard to believe that on Friday of this week, we will have been here for three weeks.  Our time has been filled with our presence in many English classes, from 9th graders to 12th graders.  In the 12 grade classes we have been helping as the students prepare for the oral part of the English Bagrut exam.  The Bagrut exams are standard exams prepared by and the administration of which is overseen by the state of Israel.  The English Bagrut exam has three parts, reading and understanding, writing, and speaking.  The students have taken the first two parts and the oral part will take place toward the end of April.

The oral part itself has two parts:  the students have to select a topic on which to complete research and write up their findings.  During the oral exam, the examiner can ask the student questions about the project, usually questions like, “what was your project? what research did you do? what did you find?”  The second part includes questions about the student, his/her family/ village/interests, etc.  When we participate in the 12th grade classes, the class is usually broken up into two groups and, if possible, one group goes into a different room and one group stays in the room.  We then proceed to question the students about their projects, asking them to respond with short sentences.  They are supposed to be able to briefly tell the inspector what their project was, what was the basic question they sought an answer to, how they did their research, and what they found.  In addition to the project, in our smaller groups — not that small really — we go around to individual students and begin asking them questions such as: what is your name? How old are you? where do you live? How many brothers/sisters do you have? Are you the oldest/youngest?  Tell me about your village, what you like about it, what you don’t like about it.  Etc.  We will continue to meet with 12 grade classes until the Spring break that begins March 28.  Students do not come back until April 10th, and, we understand most of the seniors will not meet in classes again — more on this later as we find out more about this.

Birthday Celebration

On February 11, 2018, I celebrated my 80th birthday.  Actually the celebration began on February 10 as Elias and Badia Obeid presented me with the birthday cake pictured below.2_12_18-6

It so happens that we had a group of visitors from Germany at the time.  We sat around the dinner table eating dinner and having a conversation.  When Elias brought the cake in and after the people around the table had sung “happy birthday” to me, the visitor next to me said his 70th birthday is tomorrow, February 11th.  Strange coincidence indeed!!

On Monday, we received word that a car was coming for us to bring us to the high school.  This was so we could be there in the teachers’ lounge for the 10:45 to 11:15 break period. As it turns out, Elias AG (Abu Ghanima) had arranged for birthday cakes and another birthday celebration.


Ass’ad Daoud

One of the families that we like to take visitors to meet in the village of Ibillin, is the family of Ass’ad Doud.  We met Ass’ad quite by accident early in our stay as volunteers.  We had attended the Melkite Catholic Church worship service on a Sunday morning with Audrey Porksen, a long time visitor and helper at Mar Elias from England.  After the service, we walked through the center of the village and to the Greek Orthodox Church to see it.  The worship service lasts longer there so we could not go inside.  As we were returning to the center of the village in order to walk down the hill on our return to the guest house, we were attracted by a cross carved into concrete that formed the doorway to a court yard in back of a large house.  As we approached it and were looking at it, a person appeared in the doorway and invited us into the courtyard.  We later learned his name is Majd Daoud.  We were invited to sit down and he brought us some refreshments.  We were introduced to his brother, Ass’ad.  We found out that he is an architect, but an architect also trained in the preservation and restoration of old buildings.  We also were shown the equipment, kept in very good condition, that had been used to press olives for the village and surrounding farmers up until the early 1990s.

Recently, we had a group staying in the guest house whose visit to the guest house was arranged by Rev. John Howard, the Methodist Liaison for the Methodist Church in Britain, who lives in Jerusalem.  As I usually do when we are here, I find out about visitors from Nasreen, the secretary who keeps the record for signups for the guest house, and then contact the leader by email to encourage them to go over to the Daoud home.

On the visit of the Methodist group from Britain, there was great excitement among them as Ass’ad showed them the olive press equipment that features a diesel engine manufactured in and imported from Britain, from a city with which one of the members of the group was very familiar,

Early in our conversations with Ass’ad, we also found out that the Daoud property contained the home in which Mariam Bawardi was born in the late 1840s and lived for the first few years of her life.  Ass’ad had uncovered the foundation of her home and, knowing the shape of the homes in the village in the 1840s, had reconstructed its internal shape and partially rebuilt the roof.   This became even more significant when Pope Francis canonized her on May 17, 2015.  Since we first met Ass’ad, he has further uncovered the courtyard in the back of his property and built a ramp for easy access to and from the Greek Orthodox Church.  This area is now a center for many different religious celebrations.  Before he could do any excavation, Jewish archeologists had to do some excavations just to see what might be under the property.  In fact, they found evidence of a Jewish mikvah, in Judaism, a bath used for ritual immersion to achieve purity in the time of Jesus.  In addition they found evidence of building from the Byzantine Empire and from the crusader times.

It also turns out that Ass’ad was working with Johnny Mansour, a history teacher at the Mar Elias High School, to identify, clean up, and “plaque” a grave of Agha Aqil, a strongman of northern Palestine in the 19th century, under the Ottoman Empire.  He died in 1870 and is buried in Ibillin.  There is a Wikipedia article about him,  It is well worth reading, especially since it is testament to the fact that the land was inhabited, not empty, as often cited by Zionist literature.  Johnny Mansour has done much research on Agha Aqil and is having a plaque made that will identify him and provide some basic information about him and will be place on his grave site.  Elias Obeid drove us to the Muslim cemetery where we found Ass’ad and Johnny along with three others working on a grave site to clean plants away from it, scrape dirt away from openings between stones (so no new plants could grow on the grave), and prepare the grave so cement could be added into the openings, again to prevent new growth of plants and weeds.


Forgiveness Education classes

Two of the  teachers introduced their classes to the story they will be considering in their class on forgiveness, Joseph’s Story.  See and go to the bottom of the page that shows that there is now a curriculum that uses a story about bullying as entry into a discussion with students about forgiveness.  Jane and I worked with the Dr Enright, Joan Deming and some of the English Teachers and picked this story as one that we thought would work well with the ninth graders.  Veronica is the teacher who has taken and developed the program for continuous use in the high school; we are just seeing it again now two years after we first helped to introduce this curriculum using this story.


MEEI Campus Map -- FINALtext.jpg

Using the map above, the window of our room on the top floor (5th) of the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School looks toward the West, toward Haifa and Mt Carmel.  When we go up to the roof where we wash and dry our clothes, we can look South, up the hill.  The hill is covered with olive trees, some very old.  In addition, from time to time, we can see a shepherd with his sheep and goats, however a modern day shepherd complete with his cell phone.


If we look down from our window early in the morning we can see the younger elementary students lining up before entering the school at 8:00 in the morning.  They arrive and begin their vigorous and loud play beginning shortly after 7:00 am..


Looking west is always interesting, cloud formations, sunsets, and rainy days.


Day Off

On Friday, February 16th, we were picked up at 8:30 in the morning by Sabah, a high school math teacher.  She drove us to the Ibillin intersection (a location near Ibillin where there is a large gas station and many different roads intersect).  Here we moved to the car of our friend, Amal, a chemistry teacher at the high school and the teacher who came in the summer of 2015 with 9 students from the high school to participate in the Model UN program at Stony Point, NY, and then to Bound Brook for a few days, and were also joined by Eman, a high school counselor, five of us all together.  Our day was to be spent, first visiting Amal’s parents and other family members in Jaljuliya and then go with two of Amal’s sisters to the old city of Jaffa and also to the port of Tel Aviv.

From the book, Palestine Remembered the information provided below is about the city of Jaljuliya up to 1945,  when its occupants were forced out of their homes by terrorist Zionist forces, and as shown in the table, most of their land usurped, with no compensation to this day.


Amal first drove us around Jaljuliya, pointing first to this home and then another, identifying each home with a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin.  We then arrived at her parents home.  Her mother and father are similar in age to Jane and me, and they appear in very good health.  We sat briefly in one room and then were ushered into another room set up for breakfast.


Hummus, Tabbouleh, Falafel, Baba Ghanoush, a spinach dish, slices of bread with a za’atar spread on top and underneath folded turkey and topped with a tomato, pita bread (the pita bread at in the markets at home is not to be compared with the pita bread here), plenty of olives, and a large piece of bread spread with za’atar and spinach mix.  After a FULL breakfast, we moved back into the room in which we originally sat and more treats were brought out, and of course, Arabic coffee. Two kinds of breads with special fillings, strawberries, chocolates, ice cream and a tray of fruit and slices of fennel.  We felt that we could not eat any more that day.


On to Jaffa.  We drove into the old city of Jaffa and parked and then began to walk.

From the top of the walk, we could see the port of Tel-Aviv

We walked back down along the port of Jaffa . . .

Intriguing sights along the ways:

And we ended up walking along the port of Tel Aviv

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and then stayed there for dinner

Saturday night, February 17th

While at the high school during the day, Sabah asked us if we were free to go to a concert that night.  Her daughter, Aseel, whom we knew from previous stays at the school, suggested to her that we might like the concert.  She was singing as part of the chorus.  We said yes, so at 7 pm we were picked up by Sabah and her husband, Hannah.  We drove to a concert hall in Haifa.  The music was being presented by Karawan, directed by Nabeeh Awwad, whom we knew quite well from our previous stays and from some concerts I helped coordinate between Nabeeh and a large music group from Sweden.  It was a most delightful concert. We couldn’t understand the words, but the music was most enjoyable and as part of the concert, small humorous skits were thrown in between the songs, most of the skits drawing on and  making fun of their own culture.  Until I made the video, I did not notice how much involved the young kid sitting in front of us was, he was conducting along with Nabeeh.