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   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 and then also looking at the blog the students wrote,

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,



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.



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).


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.




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.


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



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


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


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.



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.

ASPadults (2 of 23)

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.


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


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,


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.


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.

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


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


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)


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.

MarEliassand (6 of 7)

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

MarEliassand (2 of 7) MarEliassand (3 of 7) MarEliassand (1 of 7)

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.


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.


There were many different kinds of events that transpired over these two weeks and Jane and I took many photographs and some video that are part of this lengthy blog.

Sunday July 27

We planned dinner with the Archbishop and the two seminarians, Miguel and Daniel, who were to arrive today from Domus Galilaeae  They had not come by 7:30, so we ate with the Archbishop.  Soon after he left, the two seminarians arrived.  We were able to provide them with dinner from the leftovers — there was plenty.  They will stay for about two weeks.  They are on vacation but did not want to just sit around.  One of them, Daniel, belongs to the neocatechumenal way community (see that meets on a regular basis in the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, so he knew of Mar Elias Schools and the Archbishop’s home.  They will spend their time here working in and around the yard of the Archbishop’s house.   Domus Galilaeae is on the north west side of the Sea of Galilee, set up on a hillside overlooking the Sea.

As it turns out, the two stayed until Sunday August 10th, so I will cover two weeks in this blog.

Monday July 28

Since Miguel and Daniel were due to start work at 7:30, we were up in time to set up for breakfast at 7:00.  Their day usually consisted of working from 7:30 or 8:00 to 12noon, back to the guest house at 12 noon to clean up and eat lunch prepared by Badia (with enough left over for dinner) at 12:30.  Rest until 4:00 pm and then back for another two hours of work before returning to the guest house, again to clean up and then eat dinner.
In the morning I walked down to the high school and took some pictures of the entrance as it has been redesigned.  The first image is of the stairway going up to the classrooms and offices on the second through fifth floors — another floor, the sixth has a large auditorium and many carrels for tutoring students.  The second image has the name Mar Elia High School and features the torch — a special symbol used by the Mar Elias Educational Institutions representing light and learning.

The next two images are close-ups of the images in the first photo.

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Then I walked over to see how Miguel and Daniel were managing working in the yard.   I found Abuna with his 10 gallon hat on pointing out which branches he wanted trimmed off the large cyprus trees and helping pull and stack the branches once cut.


On the way back to the guest house I went into the elementary school teachers’ lounge to see the cubby holes Walid the school carpenter had made for each teacher.  As usual beautiful work.

At lunch, we began to learn more about the Neocatechumial Way as we talked with with Miguel and Daniel.  They are both from Spain.  Miguel has been in Israel for five years, Daniel for 3 and a half years.  They both speak Arabic quite well (not our evaluation, but students who have come to see us and have met them, comment on how well they speak Arabic), as well as Spanish, Italian and some English.  Over the period of the two weeks we had a great time with them and the English language.

Tuesday July 29

same schedule with Daniel and Miguel.  They have been sawing lower limbs off trees that rim the yard of Abuna’s house

Wednesday July 30
In preparation for our two day visit to Nazareth, Jane did the wash.  She came down from the roof very upset because she could not get the small clothes washer to turn to a position where she could open it to take the clothes out.  It took some phone conversations and then one of the workers, Mousa, to come and rock and bounce the center cylinder that holds the clothes to get it to turn to where it could be opened.  As it turns out, Jane had probably not fastened it tightly enough and it opened slightly when it was spinning and stuck in a position where it could not be opened.  Great relief to have this solved.

Today after working in the morning, Miguel and Daniel told us that they would not be working in the afternoon, but would be going with the Archbishop to see a place called Rosh HaNikra, up along the coast next to the Lebanon border.  As it turned out we were invited also.  It is noted for the tunnels (grottoes) in the white chalk cliff side carved by the constant action of the waves.  One of the caves was greatly enlarged for the railroad the British built during WW II to enable trains to come from Cairo, go through Israel and along the coast of what is now Lebanon and connect to Istanbul.  The traffic going to Rosh HaNikra in the late afternoon was terrible.  It took us two hours to arrive and about 35 minutes to return home. Part of the problem is the construction at one of the major junctions that narrows the road to one lane each way.  The state of Israel is building a train line from Akko to Karmiel, a distance of about 30 kilometers.  Once complete, the train line will provide transportation connecting Karmiel to Akko, Haifa, and Tel Aviv (airport).
Upon arrival we drove right up to the gate through which you can reach Lebanon.  The gate is closed and is not used at all anymore.  We found a parking place and then walked into the tunnel in which there is a small theater (the tunnel was built for the railroad and there were still the remains of railroad track — very wide scale).  There we watched a movie telling us about Rosh NaNikra and how, over a long period of time, the constant action of the waves and wind created the grottoes.  The movie also told us about the building and use of the railroad.



After the movie, we walked back over to the entrance for the cable car that would take us down to the grottoes.  The cable car holds about 8people, so we along with three others boarded the cable car and soon began the steep descent into the area of the grottoes.


Once there we walked along the path created to enable visitors to see many different caves and colors of the water, all the while slowly walking around and uphill to return to the place where we could take the cable car to go back to the top.

Then we walked over to an air-conditioned restaurant and had something to drink before getting back into Abuna’s car and heading back to Ibillin.  As I already mentioned, the drive home took very little time compared to the time it took us to get to Rosh HaNikra.

Thursday July 31

Today was the day we had scheduled to go to Nazareth with Heather and her friend, Joanna.  Since Heather and Joanna were not able to come, we decided we would go to Nazareth anyway.  We had met John Anderson at the PCUSA General Assembly, a pastor of St. Johns Presbyterian Church in San Francisco.  He told us that he would be staying in Beit Sahour for the month of July.  I had been in email contact with him and he wrote about coming to Nazareth toward the end of July, first of August.  We arranged for him to also stay at the Abuna Faraj Pilgrim House.  He planned to drive there on July 31st.  We arrived in the mid afternoon, took a nap, and were up when John arrived close to six.  While waiting for John to arrive, I had called Jonathan Cook, a journalist who writes an excellent blog about life for Palestinians in Israel and about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.  I had been in contact early to try to arrange a meeting with him so I could give him a copy of Zionism Unsettled for his reading and comments.  He indicated that I should call the next morning and we could arrange a time to meet. Sr. Martha had prepared a dinner for us and a couple of other guests.  After dinner, Sr. Martha drove her car with Jane and another guest to downtown Nazareth so we could attend the Service of Adoration at the Basilica and John and I followed in his rental car.  We found parking near the Basilica (fortunately, his rental Fiat is very small) and walked to the Basilica to meet Jane, Sr. Martha and guest  Compared with the last time we were here, the place was empty.  We had front row seats again.  Soon the music started and time for meditation also.  The readings, two scripture lessons and prayer are usually read in three languages.  Tonight only the reading from Romans 8 was read in all three languages, including English.  Our friend, Gosayna, usually does the English readings.  The Romans 8 passage verses 31 to 39 were quite appropriate given the atrocities in Gaza.

At the end of the service we met with Gosayna.  We had tentatively planned to go over to her new home after the service, but she informed us that her husband, Habib, who had just returned from two weeks in Melbourne, Australia — an extra long flight because of engine problems — was already asleep so we would have to arrange another time.  We had managed to connect Habib with our friends in Melbourne, Brian and Renate, and Habib was able to make a presentation at a dinner meeting at their church.

We returned to the Pilgrim House.

Friday August 1
I called Jonathan around 9:30 and arranged for a meeting with him at his home around 10:30.  John, Jane and I got into his tiny Fiat, and we drove up near the Selesian Monastery where Jonathan said he would meet us.  When we got there I called again and soon he appeared walking up the street.  We all got into John’s car and drove to Jonathan’s home.  His youngest daughter, was sitting on the doorstep waiting to greet us.  Jonathan led us inside where we met his wife Sally.  We talked for about an hour and a half, covering many topics including how he happened to come to Israel, what he found that kept him here, in addition to his wife, and how he keeps writing and writing about life here in Israel from a perspective the Western media does not have.  In addition to his blog,, Jonathan is the author of three books: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State (Pluto, 2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto, 2008) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed, 2008); and three essays of media criticism: Publish It Not: How Israel controls the way the international ‘liberal’ media portray its illegal and vicious occupation of Palestine and why the media allow them to get away with it; Rules of Production; and It’s All About Money.  The media criticism are published in ColdType, another informative source of information (about ColdType— to reprint examples of excellent writing from around the world in a format that emphasises how a neat and unobtrusive design can enhance, without subsuming, the power of The Word.  That’s the mission, but the point is much simpler: Great writing should be available to as many people as possible – and preferably free of charge. Hence our new pdf format and internet distribution. I hope you find our postings in pdf format interesting, informative and amusing. If you do (or if you don’t), contact me at  TONY SUTTON, Editor)

Jonathan was currently working on the defense of a Palestinian member of the Knesset, MK Hanin Zoabi, also of Zahalka’s Balad party, who has faced severe public backlash for her statements last week that the kidnappers (of the three Jewish hitchhikers) were “not terrorists” but rather “people who do not see any way of changing their situation and they have to resort to these measures until Israel sobers up.”  He is working on the media defense since in any of these situations, the narrative developed and printed in media is critical, especially western media.  Usually Israel controls what gets printed in the western media — they work very hard on this.

Jonathan’s wife, Sally, had just returned from two weeks in Chicago where she participated in an interfaith meeting of teen-agers.  The efforts of this group are geared to provide opportunity for youth of different faiths groups, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, to meet in a neutral place and begin to form relationships that can build toward understanding and peace.

I was able to give Jonathan a .pdf copy of Zionism Unsettled, thanks to IPMN’s communication guru, Noushin Farmke.  We have to figure out how to get him the DVD material as well.

After our meeting with Jonathan and his wife, we drove down to park near the center of Nazareth and walked over to the main area for tourists, the shops and the souk, more traditional Palestinian places to shop.  Of the souk there is an entrance to the Synagogue Church and the Melkite Catholic Church.  The Synagogue Church is thought to be the synagogue where Jesus spoke the words in Luke chapter four, reading from Isaiah and then indicating that these words are fulfilled in the hearing of those sitting in the synagogue that day.



We walked past the International Center for Mary but it was closed until 2:30, so we waked back to the tourist shops and ate lunch at our favorite falafel/sharwma sandwich place.  After eating lunch we walked back to the International Center for Mary and just as we were arriving at the door, Norika, one of the members of the community (whom we enjoy very much) was walking up the street toward the center.  (a special story about Norika that she shared with us with great joy.  She is from Japan.  I asked her if she had been home recently.  She said no, but then told us about the time earlier this year when she flew to Rome to celebrate her parents’ 60 wedding anniversary.  This was their choice for a place to celebrate.  While there the family was in the square where the Pope greets people and her parents and the family were in the front row.  The Pope gave a special blessing to her parents, and when Norika told the Pope who she was (from the International Center for Mary) he gave her his blessing as well and asked her to pray for him.  With great delight she showed us the picture she had of her parents with the Pope).  She let us in, a little early.  You can find out more about the center at  We were given a popsicle and sat awhile while they prepared the multimedia presentation in English for us and then took the next hour watching segments of the presentation in different rooms.  It is quite beautifully done, even if different in theological understanding than protestant theology.

While there we also walked up to the top floor, actually the roof, on which there is a chapel.  Of course we took many pictures from this vantage point, especially for Jane as she added to her collection of old windows for future use in her printmaking classes at Raritan Valley College.

Image of the Basilica of Annunciation

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Images looking in the other direction: just beyond the round dome is the Melkite Catholic Church and the other image is of the White Mosque.


Images from the roof of old windows near the International Center for Mary (much to Jane’s delight)




We waked back to the car and were soon back at the Abuna Faraj Guest House for one more night before heading back to Ibillin.

Saturday August 2

Today our original plan had been to go with Johayna Hussein and Gosayna or Habib to visit at least one of the five Bedouin villages we had visited with Habib and Johayna in January of 2013 (reported on in our blog).  Johayna has finished her work with these villages and has written a report on her efforts for Al Tufula.  We wanted to catch up with her as well.  However, because of the ending of Ramadan, Gosayna was not able to get in touch with her to finalize our plans, so we were back with Plan B for the day.  Since John had a rental car our new plan was for him to drive us back to Ibilin so he could see Mar Elias.  We scheduled him for lunch with the seminarians and I called Elias to let Badia our cook know that there would be five for lunch, not two as was originally planned.  We also decided to take John to Sephoris (spelled many different ways). This is the site of an ancient Roman, Jewish, Christian and Muslim village near Nazareth but in a location of very fertile soil.  Archeological digs have cleared away many building dating back to the Roman era and many amazing mosaics.  It was only a short ride before we were parking and then beginning our tour.  ( See map image)


We first walked past the Byzantine House (15) on the map) where some mosaics had been uncovered.  The house looked like it had two rooms, but that the center divider had collapsed.  There were also mosaics uncovered here.



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Roman Theater (15 on map).











Then we proceeded up the hill to the tomb overlook (13),


and then to where considerable excavation had taken place revealing ancient dwellings (12).











Then we walked up to the fortress on top of the highest hill (11).  From the top of the fortress you could look around 360 degrees and see for many miles in each direction.  Also from here you can get a good idea of the fact that Nazareth is on a mountain top.  For some reason, reading in the New Testament never gives you a sense of the geography of the Galilee — is is very mountainous.


A bit of geography: starting from the Jezreel valley, that is, the valley south of the mountains in which Nazareth is located, and which runs west to east, as you move north in Galilee, there is a series of valleys running from west to east, each one narrower than the one to its south — the Jezreel Valley is the widest of the valleys in the north of Israel.  To the south of the valley of Jezreel, you climb into the mountains that have a north south orientation separating the coastal plain and the Jordan Valley.  In these mountains you pas through Janin, Tubas, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron.  Finally when you continue south from Hebron you enter the Negev — end of geography for a while.

After the climb onto the top of the fortress, we next visited the Dionysius House (10).  This is a much larger dwelling than those excavated on the other side of the fortress.  In this house were discovered many mosaics, the most significant of which is the one of a woman, now called the “Mona Lisa of Zippori.”


From this house we continued walking down a hill to where we could overlook an area in which a great deal of excavation has taken place, numbers 8, 7 and 6 on the map.  In the Nile House (6) are many more mosaics.

Followng this Jane and I walked further along the path toward an exit and John returned to get the car and come and pick up up.  It was time to leave in order to get to Ibillin in time for lunch.

We were soon in Ibillin — we now know the way — and sat down to lunch with Miguel and Daniel.  John and the seminarians had a good conversation as he learned more about the Neocatechumenal Way.  After lunch I took John on a tour of the campus, into the Niwano Peace Auditorium to view the Reconciliation Mural


and then to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount to see the icons.

John left after this on his way back to Nazareth with a stop in the souk before returning to the Abuna Faraj Pilgrim House. In the morning he drove back to Jerusalem where he stayed overnight before leaving the next day from Israel.

Sunday August 3

We decided not to go to church today and to try and catch up on some writing.  The seminarians were going to church in Shefa’amer today and then to a meeting of Daniel’s community.  We did not expect them back until after dinner.  As the day progressed, I received a call from Micha in the morning telling me that a local neocatechumenal way group from Sakhnin had asked to use the church and the auditorium during the afternoon.  He asked if I would open the doors for them and turn on some air-conditioning in the auditorium.  So I did.

While there, I took some more pictures of the mural of reconciliation on the back wall of the auditorium.



They did not arrive until after 1:00 pm and I soon received another call from Micha asking if it would be ok for them to come to the guest house where it is air conditioned.  About 2:30 the group showed up at the guest house, young famiies with children and their leader, Robert, whom we had met when we were here before.  They brought their lunch with them and soon had the tables rearranged for lunch.  Jane and I were invited to join them and we did and enjoyed sitting with them, talking and eating their delicious food.  They had brought the one essential item for these groups to have, a babysitter.  There were about 6 kids that required the attention of the babysitter so they did not just wander around.  This enables the parents to participate fully in the meeting, called a convivence (life together), a time in which each of the participants shares about how God is working in his or her life. As our seminarians also described to us it is a time when disagreements between members of the community can be brought before the community for help with a resolution.

After the lunch, the adults withdrew from the main hall where lunch was eaten into the library and spent time together until just a little after six.  At this time, the group cleaned up, gathered their things together and were soon out of the building and on their way to Sakhnin.

Monday, August 4th

Tonight at about 7:00 pm we went with Salha to her parent’s house for a night of celebration for the upcoming wedding night, August 6th. Salha first took us to see where the newlyweds would live — a house very near her parents’ home, in fact her brothers and uncles all live nearby as is common here.  It is a beautiful home with two stories plus access to the roof with a view of the Mediterranean.  Also a door off the second floor that goes out in to a garden area.
On this night, everyone gathers first at the groom’s house, the men sitting in one place and the women in another.  There were chairs set up for over 150 men on a place that it seems had been leveled just for this purpose.  I sat with the men.  Immediately upon sitting down, I was offered a small portion of very strong coffee, as is the custom.  Whenever you are offered coffee from this kind of container,  know that it will be strong and sweet.

IMG_4455                                              Following this I was offered warm cinnamon tea.  It was very good.  IMG_4453










More sitting and, for me listening to the other men talk, the constant greeting of ahl0 salha (hello and welcome).  As the men arrived they would make the rounds greeting each other.  The Iman who participated in the wedding contract service was sitting in a position right near where newcomers entered, as was the groom’s father.


From time to time, teenagers would make the round offering water, juice, fruit, cigarettes, more strong coffee and then a plate for dinner, not an overabundance but full and delicious.  Finally at about 10 pm (22:00) people started driving and walking to the home of the parents of the bride (not knowing better, I walked).  When we arrived, the groom and bride were lifted above the crowd, the music was on and they were being danced about. The photographer that we knew from school events was present with helpers, lights were set up and he was busy taking photographs and his helpers busy taking video.  I had my camera with me and found a balcony overlooking the setting and was able to take some decent photos.


The night was not over until midnight.  We came home happy to be able to stretch out in bed and would not wake up until after the seminarians had eaten breakfast and gone off to work.

Tuesday August 5th

A day of recuperation

Wednesday, August 6th

—Elias O made an appointment for me to have my haircut at 9 this morning.  We arrived a little early and since the barber had not arrived yet, drove around a little.  When we came back he was sitting in his car waiting for us.  He remembered me from before.  He does give very good haircuts and does one thing that I have not experienced in the US.  When he finishes cutting hair, he takes out a brush with stiff bristles and a hair dryer.  He goes over all of my hair lifting it with the brush and blowing any stray pieces of hair that have been cut and are still lying on my head.  This means that when I get back to the guest house, I do not need to take a shower and wash my hair to get all the loose hair off my head.

Following the haircut, Elias took me to the home of his best man (wedding).  He is a teacher of geography in the local elementary school and his wife teaches history.  He is also a student of Ibillin history and has many pictures from its history (for future meetings).  He is also the scout leader in the Orthodox church, so I asked for his email, since some people are coming from Italy at the end of December and want a contact with the scouts in Ibillin.  His daughter, in  11th grade, works with knots and gave me a braided bracelet for Jane.  She showed me the book that the scouts use, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework: Over 200 Tying Techniques with Step-by-Step Photographs.
We will make plans to go to a scout meeting soon.

Tonight is the big wedding night for Salem and Maison.  Salha picked us up at 6:30 and we drove to her parents home.  After parking we walked the short distance to the elementary school where the wedding party was to take place.  In the large area where you enter many  tables were set up and people were busy eating.

We found a place to sit and began to eat our dinner.  There was plenty to eat.  When people finished, their places were cleaned up and reset and more people were able to sit — we understood from talking with Salha much earlier that they planned for 2,000 people to come.  The party would take place on the large school playground that had a large cover over it, shade from the sun, but also protection when it rains — not often.  As you approach the entrance to this area you were greeted by a large sign with the groom’s (and Salha’s) father’s picture on it welcoming everyone to the event.


You walk through an arch of balloons and greet the groom’s father, the bride’s father, the groom and then the best man.






Then the men go and sit around the playground area and the women stay in an area where there are chairs but before getting to the playground area.

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I chose to go to the far side where there was a small ledge I could use to stand on to take pictures.  All around the playground area was placed a wood walkway.

On this walkway, once the party started, the men would be constantly moving around counter clockwise dancing the debke.  Inside the platform area, the groom, best man, the groom’s father, bride’s father an other notables would walk around dancing and greeting the men in attendance.

and some of the younger men linked arms together and danced more vigorously

Jane spent this time with the women and the women just sat the whole time until right at the end when not too many people were left and then they came up and joined in the dancing for a short time before the party ended.

The bride and groom were leaving tonight for their honeymoon, the first night at Tiberias and then off to Anatalya for the honeymoon.

Again it was good to get back to the guest house.  This time a little earlier, about 11 pm

Thursday August 7th

Today our event was our trip to the fields where Elias and Badia and family members have fields for growing olives and other vegetables.  After starting on the paved roads out of Ibllin heading west, we are soon on a dirt road with some ruts but not too bad.  We soon stop near a large orchard of olive trees.  As we walk through the trees, Elas points out where his three trees are.  He tells us that the trees are all painted with a number  indicating to which member of the family the tree belongs.  Of the three that belong to Elias, only one seemed full of olives, the other two had olives but not many.

We then drove further west, going under a major north south highway.  On the other side of this highway are large high tension lines.  All of the property on which the highway and the high tension lines are built was at one time owned by Palestinians.  The state simply took the property for its use.  After driving a little longer we stopped and opened a large gate and walked across another field, this time, Badia’s family’s property.  Here were planted new olive trees, these about five years old.  On the high fence along side the trees, grapes grew in abundance, green and red.  We picked close to 10 pounds of grapes.




Then on to Badia’s sisters’ fields.  However, one detour on the way.  Elias took us to the place, large barn. where the owners of the meat market in town raise sheep, goats, and beff cattle.  We were greeting by three large dogs, one reminded us of Rex.  inside we saw many sheep and goats, the cattle were in the field.  The farmers raise their own feed on land around the barn.


At Badia’s sister’s farm there is a small hut and it was locked up tight.  Off in the distance we could see someone.  It was Badia’s sister, Leni.  We started walking toward her and she toward us.  On the way we began to pick some of the ripe tomatoes.


She also had eggplant and cucumbers.  We returned to the hut that she opened and soon was making coffee.  We sat and drank coffee and then packed up the vegetables, including leaves of a plant they use in making soup.

We dropped off Badia’s sister and then brought all of the fruit and vegetable into Elias’ and Badia’s home.  She repackaged some of the items and soon we were on our way back to the guest house with a portion of the grapes and vegetables, little did we low that the fresh tomatoes would come in handy on Sunday afternoon.

Friday August 8th

Today we had a special guest for lunch, Bishara Ebeid.  He is the nephew of Elias and Badia, the son of Elilas’s brother who lives in the bottom floor of the house where Elias and Badia live.  He just returned from Rome where he was awarded his PhD degree.  It is the first study of Arabic Christology, based on the writings of Sa’id ibn Batriq (Eutychius or Sa’id ibn Batriq or Bitriq (10 September 877 – 12 May 940[1]) was the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria. He is known for being one of the first Christian Egyptian writers to use the Arabic language. His writings include his chronicle Nazm al-Jauhar (Arabic, “Row of Jewels”), otherwise known by its Latin title, Eutychii Annales. ) and the coptic Sawirus ibn al Muqaffi (see appendix B on this url  and the Nestorian Elim of Nisibi (this one I cannot find) .
He speaks and reads 13 languages including some of the ancient languages.  Included in his thesis is his work to make available the three manuscripts used in his thesis.

In our conversations he mentioned the other tragedy occurring in Iraq in addition to the loss of life of Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and  Shia Muslims, with the capure of Mosul and the destruction of Christian churches there, some of the most important early Christian manuscripts which resided in monasteries there have been burned.  He mentioned that Aleppo has a significant number of ancient manuscripts also and that these are threatened as well. He is working on and is well toward completing his second PhD thesis this year.   Despite all of this he is still in his 20s

The seminarians enjoyed conversing with Bishara and often spoke with him in Italian. .Later that day one of the students we got to know from our last time here, George Azzam, came over.  He went with Emil on a student exchange program to Italy.  We spoke with him about his experience.  There were groups there from Israel, Jews and Palestinians; from the West Bank, from Egypt; from Poland; Italy; Macedonia; Turkey.  There were eight from each group and they were split up one from each group to make eight groups.  Emphasis was on experiencing doing things together, not just sitting around and talking.  George indicated that relations will continue through Skype and that he plans to get together with some fof the Jewish students from the kibbutz in the north of Israel.  After we talked for awhile and Miguel and Daniel joined us, I called Ass’ad to see if we could come over so we could show Miguel and Daniel the archeological sites and the Greek Orthodox church in which there were new icons.  Miguel is a painter of icons.  Majdi, Ass’ad’s brother was soon waiting for us in the playground area near the entrance to the guest house to give us a ride.  Miguel and George said they would walk.  Soon after we arrived Miguel and George also arrived, a friend of George’s had picked them up and given them a ride also.  We sat for a while in the back yard under the grape arbor and by the above ground fish pond.  Ass’ad’s oldest brother was there as well.  He is an attorney and still has clients in Ibillin.  He was meeting with a client.  His wife and daughter joined us sitting under the grape arbor.  They live in Ramle.  She is a Hebrew teacher, the daughter is five.  We soon got up and walked around on a recently cleared walk to the back of the yard.  We saw Ass’ad’s handiwork when we got close to the archeological dig area — he is building a walkway over the dig and up to a platform overlooking the dig.  The platform also connects to the street and right across the street is the Greek Orthodox church.  When this is finished it will make it easier to go over to the church from the back yard.  Ass’ad had spent the day welding the railing on the walkway.


Also the moon was almost full, taken through the arch of the Mariam Bawardi home on the Daoud property



Ass’ad explained the archeological dig and the history it uncovers going back to the time of the Roman empire. The layers also expose Byzantine, Arab, and Ottoman periods of history..  We then walked over to the Greek Orthodox church and spent time viewing and discussing the icons and how they were made.  we came back to the house.  Ass’ad’s mother had gone to a wedding party so she was not there.  After some move talk and some juice we were taken home by Ass’ad in his brother car.  Then Miguel and Daniel ate their dinner.

Saturday August 9th

We had tried to plan a time for a last meal together with the seminarians and Abuna.  As it finally worked out, Abuna planned a picnic for today.  This was the last full day for Miguel and Daniel and the Archbishop wanted to do something special for them for all the work they had done in his garden — they really did an amazing amount of work.  We walked over to his house about 9:30.  In addition to the four of us and the Archbishop, there would be five others and the driver of a mini van. These people were in charge of the barbecue and picnic.  The place for our picnic was the Mt. Meron National Park.  Mt Meron is highest peak in Israel (1208 meters, 3,963 feet), Mt Hermon is higher but it is partly in Lebanon and Syria.  We drove up a familiar route to us, one that takes us from west to east through Sakhnin, Arrabe, and Deir Hanna.  However this time before getting into Sakhnin, we turned north to go up to Karmiel, a Jewish city created on land confiscated from Sakhnin.  We then drove on this road passed Karmiel and turned north to go up to Jish.  On the road that passes Karmiel, we were reminded of our bus ride from Hafai to Acre and then across from west to east and north again to Kiryat Shmona.  All along the north side of the road are Palestinian villages.  Karmiel was deliberately placed between these villages and Saknin to keep this area of the Galilee from being even more populated by Palestinians — to Judaize the Galilee as the government proclaimed.
Once again driving along this way I am impressed with the rugged mountainous terrain, often mountain sides with rocks protruding everywhere.

We drove first to Jish and then west a bit further to a large orchard area. The land belongs to the Melkite Church and the Archbishop leased the land for growing fruit trees.  There were stacks of picked peaches, nectarines and plums.  We were able to taste a few.

We then drove on and soon entered the National Park of Mt Meiron.  We still had a way to go before arriving at a picnic area, an Oak Tree grove.  Up on top of Mt Meironwere the Israeli lookout facilities.  We unloaded the picnic baskets and a lounge chair for the Archbishop and he was soon stretched out relaxing in the shade of the Oak Trees, a jacket almost a necessity.



The fire was started and soon meat was being barbecued, both cubes of beef and round shaped patties of ground meat.  A new experience for me were the pieces of okra that were sprinkled with lemon juice and salt and also put on a skewer and roasted over the coals.  Okra is not one of my favorite foods, especially in its slimy form.  However, the roasted okra were quite good.


After our meal came sweets and coffee.  During the meal another family arrived at the picnic center.  The older woman, a young grandmother, came over and greeted her uncle, the Archbishop.  Her son and his wife were graduates of the Mar Ellias college at the time it was in existence and affiliated with Indiana U.  The state of Israel decided that such affiliations were no longer permitted and also informed the Archbishop that the college would not be certified, necessary for funding from the state.  Another store another time.l

We packed up around three and were soon headed home to arrive around 4 pm.

Sunday August 10th

Today Miguel and Daniel were scheduled to return to Domus Galilaeae.  The next day Miguel would be flying to Egypt to help in translation, Italian to Arabic and toward the end of the week, Daniel would join him.  Daniel was to go to Spain first.
We thought they would go early in the morning, but their ride was not coming until 5 in the afternoon.  There was not much remaining to eat, so Daniel and Miguel checked things out and began the process of making pasta including a tomato sauce from scratch.  The one basic ingredient missing was fresh basil,, but we managed.  They did a good job and we sat down together for our last meal.



About 430 they took their luggage over to Abuna’s house where they would sit and wait for their ride and say their goodbyes to him.  Jane and I went out for a walk at about 6.  The walk takes us toward Abuna’s house and as we approached we could see Miguel and Daniel still sitting there.  We joined them and talked some more.  Soon we saw a mini van come up the hill into the broad paved area and approach the entrance to Abuna’s house.  It was the ride Miguel and Daniel were looking for.  I went around to talk to the driver.  He said they had been wondering around Ibillin for at least a half hour.  He was from Panama, not a priest in training, but had been here almost a year helping out.  He was scheduled to return in a month and would be married soon after arriving home.  I gave him directions to get out of Ibillin and back to Domus Galilaeae and they left.

Jane and I returned to the Guest house.  it would seem strange after two weeks to not have any one else with us in the guest house.

This was the night of the full moon, its closest approach to the earth, so of course photographs were in order.




We have been in Israel already more than three weeks — hard to believe — now four weeks.  The groups have left and now we have about two weeks before our next group comes.  Also our daughter and her friend, Joanne will be coming at the end of July — note, with the problems in Gaza, Heather’s friend has canceled, but Heather still plans to come.  Latest update — Delta has cancelled flights to Tel Aviv until at least July 31st, so Heather will not be coming.  With events happening to her close friend next door — Cancer  — it is best that she is at home to help out there.  Also the group planning to come in late july has canceled.

With some time to write, I will try to bring the blog up to date for our time here, June 21st to Sept 17th.  this first blog will cover the time from before our arrival until the end of June.

Preparation for our return to Mar Elias:  As we did prior to our coming to spend a school year, we traveled south to visit our two families there.  At the end of May we headed south by car to visit our families in Georgia and Florida.  First to Georgia briefly for two nights and a day and then on to Florida to be there in time for Paulina’s performance in Once Upon a Mattress; her graduation from high school; and Justin’s graduation from eighth grade.

On June 4, we drove back to Heather’s to celebrate Isaac’s 16th birthday (a little late) and, we thought, his driving test so he could obtain his driver’s license.  However, the week before his scheduled driving test, he sat in on a required driving class at school and was testing on the content of the classroom material.  Not having the test results certified before his scheduled driving test meant that he had to reschedule his driving test.  We left before he took the driving test, but are glad to report that he did pass his test and is now on the road!!  He also started working once a week on Friday nights at a restaurant as one of the persons hosting diners.

On Monday June 9th we drove home from Georgia, our usual uneventful 12 hour drive, all but about 15 miles of which is on Interstate highways.

Prior to starting our long road trip we purchased the audio book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  It is the story of “the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.”  It took us all the way to Florida, back to Georgia, and part of the way home from Georgia to finish listening to the this moving and disturbing story.  We recommend it highly!!

On June 12th we drove to Detroit for the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly where many issues of concern to us would be discussed and overtures voted on — Ted was an overture advocate for three overtures, one calling for the church to divest its funds from three US companies doing business with Israel, businesses that help support and profit from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the building and protection of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, also illegal. Jane helped with the IPMN booth in the exhibition center where we had many, many visitors and discussions about the issues of concern.  Before we left, the committee responsible for discussing and voting on the overtures concerning Israel Palestine had voted to approve the overture to divest but set it in the context of continued positive investment in both Israel and Palestine, encouraging interfaith dialogue, and trips to see first hand the situation on the ground.  Another overture the committee voted to approve is one which requires the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to review our long standing policy of supporting a two state solution and report back its recommendations to the next General Assembly in 2016.  We found out later that the General Assembly did approve, by a narrow margin, the overture to divest from these companies.

We drove home on June 18th, and packed for our return to Mar Elias on the 19th and 20th.  On Friday June 20th, Eric drove us to the airport and late in the night we left Newark airport for Ben Gurion Airport to arrive late in the afternoon on June 21st.

June 21st.   We moved through customs without a single question and were met at the airport by Micha Chacour, nephew of the Archbishop.  We carried with us a statute of St. Francis, 37 inches tall.  It is made of resin so is not heavy, but is sturdy.  (picture)  We had to buy a long army duffle bag, 50 inches long, to carry it.  I trimmed the styrofoam in which the statute was packed for shipping to us so it would fit into the duffle bag.  After trimming the styrofoam packaging some and using some bubble wrap on one end, we had a secure package, marked all over “fragile”, to carry with us to Israel and to take to the Mar Elias Educational Institutions.  One problem upon our arrival — the duffle bag with the statute did not make it on board our flight.  Upon filling out the forms for the luggage, the attendant told me that oversize luggage does not have priority.  It would be on the next flight and would be delivered to us in Ibillin, most likely on Monday.  It did arrive safely and in perfect condition on Monday.

St Francis

On our way to Ibillin, we stopped at Micha’s home in Haifa just long enough for another guest, Dr Olivier Jolliet, Professor in Impact & Risk Modeling (iMod), University of Michigan, School of Public Health.  He participated as in invited speaker in a program at Tel Aviv University that focuses on the environmental impact of production processes, from start to finish.  Joan Deming referred him to me and Micha and he had been in contact with us both about coming to Mar Elias to talk with someone about the high school’s green energy status among the high schools in Israel.  He rented one of the very small cars and Micha worked it out that if he came by his home in Haifa he could just follow us to Ibillin and the school.  He greeted us as soon as Micha parked his car so without any further action we left for Ibillin.

When we arrived at the guest house, Nancy Sutton, one of the two volunteers serving at the school since the beginning of April, greeted us as did Badia, the cook for the guest house.  The other volunteer, Larry, was in Austria visting with some persons who had been at the school in April working to install a labyrinth.

Sunday, June 22nd.  Oliviet left for the day to the Sea of Galilee and Nancy left to go to Shefa’mer and the Episcopal church there with a friend.  We called Elias Obaid, Badia’s husband and he picked us up in time for us to attend worship service at the St George Melkite Church.  Follwing worship we walked around the center of the village of Ibillin and visited the markets.  We were warmly greeted by merchants in two of the markets, the butcher shop, and the fruit store where we bought some fruit.  Then we walked over to the home of Elias and Badia, situated between the Mosque and the Greek Orthodox Church.

Here we sat and talked about families and Ibillin — the biggest change is the creation of a open air market (souk) near the school — open on Thursdays.  In the picture below, it is the cleared area in the center.


After some treats and coffee, Elias drove us back to the guest house. We spent time with Nancy going over the records she had kept of book sales and guest house receipts and comments about her stay as a volunteer for three months.  I will work on pulling together the records over the year of the receipts for the school from persons staying in the guest house or coming for lunch or a meal at the guest house.

And that night we were greeted by a beautiful sunset, something we often witness and documented from our previous stay at Mar Elias.  We felt we were back.



Over the next three days visitors came to the campus to meet with Abuna Chacour, now Archbishop Emeritus.

Monday, June 23rd,  we had a group from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, a multi denominational academy with grades rom preschool through 12th grade .  Micha took them on a tour of the campus, a visit to the Niwano Peace Auditorium, the large auditorium under the Church of the Sermon in the Mount and into the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.

Micha and Leaders, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy  -- Niwano Peace Auditorium

Micha and Leaders, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy — Niwano Peace Auditorium

Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy at the steps leading up to the Church of the Sermon of the Mount

Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy at the steps leading up to the Church of the Sermon of the Mount

This group met with Emil  since the Archbishop was in Lebanon at a meeting of the Melkite synod for the purpose of electing a new Archbishop for the Archbishopric of Haifa Akko, Nazareth and all of the Galilee.  We did hear that a new Archbishop had been elected and will be coming to Haifa on August 4th.


Christian Academy Meeting with Emil


Also today Oliviet had arranged to meet with with Irimia (Jermiah) the environmental science teacher who does so much with the students in order for the school to be awarded the State of Israel’s Green Energy School Award.  Oliviet asked Iremia to come for lunch at the guest house so he could find out more about this program.  Fawaz came along to help with interpretation.  Irimia provided Oliviet with the power point presentations on the program (in Arabic — but with Google translate and the pictures, understandable).

Fawaz, Irimia, and Oliviet

Fawaz, Irimia, and Oliviet

Tuesday, June 24th, two groups came to Mar Elias, one from the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. and a second group led by 3 Rabbis, with their families and friends, 37 in all. The National Presbyterian Group met with the Archbishop beginning at 9:00.  The Rabbis and their group arrived later and Micha took them to the rear of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount where the middle school students played music on the Steel Drums for them.  The visiting group is connected with Harvey Price, a professor of music at the University of Delaware and th person largely responsible for the steel drums being at the school (more about this later when I write of the visit of Harvey Price and his wife, Linda).  After the short concert on the steel drums this group moved to the meeting room near Abuna’s office for a short meeting with him.  Following that meeting I walked with them up to the guest house where we had a lunch prepared for them.  The lunch was a big hit with them, some of the mothers asking for Badia;s pilaf recipe — their kids had eaten and eaten.

lunch in the guest house

lunch in the guest house

Tuesday night we were taken by our friend Salha to her parents home where many of the family were busing helping Salha’s mother make the food that would be served to close to 2,000 guests at the wedding party of Salha’s youngest brother on August 6th.  Jane pitched in and helped prepare some of the food.

Salha, Jane, and Salha's Mother

Salha, Jane, and Salha’s Mother (standing)

Two Grandmothers

We also gave Salha’s parents a picture of the Dome of the Rock that I had taken on our trip in 2006 and a friend of mine printed on canvas.

Wednesday, June 25th,  Kristin Brown, Methodist mission worker stationed in Bethlehem, came with a group of seminary students from Ireland and a Presbyterian Minister and his wife from Pittsburgh.Chad and Johanna Collins.  He is pastor of the Valley View Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.  They met with the Archbishop in the morning.

Kristen Brown, Seminarians from Ireland and Chad and Johanna Collins.

Kristen Brown, Seminarians from Ireland and Chad and Johanna Collins.

That afternoon we visited with Ass’ad Daoud and his mother Ablia.  We brought a book for her, especially, but for the family as well: Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage. Ablia immediately remarked that a picture of her mother and her mother’s family is in this book.  She could not find it immediately but would show it to us when we next visited with the group from the Pennington Church.  Ass’ad has done a lot of work in the area behind his home, the area east of the home which is the birthplace of Mariam Bawardi. .

Thursday June, 26th, we relaxed.  That evening Salha picked us up and took us to her parents’ home.  On this special night, Salha’s youngest brother and his finance signed their wedding contract, but not before some formalities.  First, upon arrival I sat with the men outside the home while Jane sat with the women inside the home.  As the men sat around (I sat with Salha’s brother, Howsam, who speaks some English) we drank some strong coffee — a very little bit — and ate some sweets.  At a particular time we all got into cars and drove to the parents’ home of the bride to be.  Jane and I rode with Howsam. After walking up the stairs to the top floor of the home, once again, I sat with the men and Jane sat in another room with the women. Again we drank strong coffee and ate some sweets.  After a while, the Imam stood and began to speak.  When finished, the contract of marriage was taken to the bride to be and she signed it.  Then, in the room with the man, a person not of the immediate family of the bride signed the document, then the father, and finally the groom.  Upon signing the document, he reached across the table and shook hands with his finance’s father.  This done, we next drove back to the groom’s parents’ home.   Here the men sat down to a full dinner, complete with mezzo, and the main course.  Some men ate and left shortly and then when there was room, the women came to sit and eat their dinner.

Salha.said yes When asked about bringing my camera and taking pictures of this special event, Salha said yes, so I did.  The album follows.


Tonight Emil and the 8 students going with him to Italy came to the guest house.  They will leave Israel on Sunday July 20th for a week in Italy.  They will meet with Jewish and Italian high school students while there.  One of the group, George Azzam, we know from the year we spent here.  He is an artist as well as a web page designer.  He will be entering 11th next year.  Emil wanted this opportunity to gather this group together to have them begin their interaction before getting to Italy.  They came with much food to share with us and then after eating spent time in the library going over some details regarding their travel.  When they left, they asked about coming up to the guest house before they leave to meet together again as a group and, as we found out, practice the Depke, a dance that they will perform for the other high schools students while in Italy.


Today, we moved into room 12 where we will stay for the remainder of our time here.  Nancy packed up her things ready to leave for home on Monday, June 30th, and moved to room 9.  Early in our stay for the school year, late August 2012 to July 5 of 2013,  I asked to have an ethernet cable in the room .  The Wifi connection works well throughout the guest house, but is sometimes weak in the rooms at either end.  An ethernet cable provide a strong signal all of the time.

Around ten in the morning the Archbishop arrived at the guest house with the Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic church in Jordan.  He showed his fellow archbishop around and I took them to the roof as well.  We do have quite an expansive view from the roof, especially on clear days when we can see all along Mt Carmel and Haifa to our south and west and to the Mediterranean and up to Acre on our west and northwest.


Jane’s back was not feeling well so we did not go to the church.  It was also the beginning of Ramadan and it was very hot.


Early in the morning, Nancy and Larry left for Haifa.  Early also women came to help Badia prepare salads for a lunch for the elementary school teachers, grades 1-8.  Over 60  teachers came for lunch, the last time they would all be together until they come to prepare for school to open in September.

This is the day that the bodies of the three Jewish teenagers who had been reported kidnapped on June 12th were found. It was later revealed that the Prime Minister and his intelligence people knew that the three had been murdered shortly after the kidnapping. The kidnapping and search to find the teenagers alive was used as a pretext by the Israeli government to create havoc upon the Palestinians of the Occupied West Bank,   This is reviewed in Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog:

On June 25th, 189 eighth graders graduated from the Mariam Bawardi Elementary/Middle School.  The eighth graders were in five classes and the graduation certificates were awarded as students came up and across the stage by class.  The theme of the graduation was depicted with six hats of different colours.  The hats represent Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Caps (the development of his ideas of Lateral Thinking).

The white hat focuses on data, facts, and information known or needed.

white hat

The red hat focuses on feelings, hunches, gut instinct, and intuition.

red hat

The black hat focuses on difficulties and potential problems, like why something may not work.

black hat

The yellow hat focuses on values and benefits, like why something probably may work.

yellow hat

The green hat focuses on creativity: possibilities, alternatives, solutions, new ideas.

green hat

The blue hat focuses on managing the thinking process: focus, next steps, action plans.

blue hat

Hats of these colours were in full view of the audience in many different locations in the Niwano Peace Auditorium (Note:  The auditorium has the name Niwano Peace Auditorium because it was built from the funds that were part of the Niwano Peace Prize, an award given to Abuna Elias Chacour in 2001 by the Niwano Peace organization, a Buddhist organisation. in recognition of Abuna Elias Chacour’s interfaith efforts for peace.)  If you watch closely during the singing, you will see the photographer moving two of the manikins, each holding a hat of a different color so people sitting in the audience could see the stage more clearly — he is part of the family)

The graduation began around 6:30 and lasted until a little after 8:30 pm. It was full of good speeches and music and ended with each graduating student being introduced, the student’s picture shown on a screen off to the side of the stage, and walking across the stage to receive her/his certificate from the Archbishop or one of the administrators also present on the stage.  Each student stopped to pose with the Archbishop for a photo.

Students were in caps (not of different colours, however) and gowns and lined up outside the Niwano Peace Auditorium


where people can enter from the back of where people sit and then to music of the gathered musicians and singers on the stage processed down the steps, under the Mural of Reconciliation: Where Mercy and Forgiveness Meet.



Following the procession, one of the teachers, Sylvia, introduced and welcomed an Abiuna to provide the opening prayer, and then a speech from Victor, the Vice-Director of the Middle School.

Then the music started.  The singers and players are from the Mariam Bawardi Elementary/Middle School under the direction of Samar.  We know her also as the daughter of Nabeeh Awad, with whom we have had considerable contact over the year.  He is the director of the Karawan Music Center in Ibillin and a talented violinist.  They sang five pieces and then four of students played the violin.

After this there were more speeches,  First by Johaina, the Director of the Mariam Bawardi Elementary/Middle School,


then a speech by one of the teen-age boys,

and then a speech given in English by two teen-age girls, one of whom is the daughter of Elias Abu Ghanima, the Director of Mar Elias High School, and a teacher of English.  Considering that English is their third language, their speaking is quite good.  Their thoughts, even more impressive.

More music

and then the Archbishop came up on the stage to speak.  Of course everyone knew that his was the last speech since he would stay on the stage for the awarding of the degrees/certificates.

















On June 15th at 10:00 am, we were in the Niwano Peace Auditorium for the graduation of the 5 year-olds from kindergarten.  We did not know what to expect, but base on previous graduations, we expected some talking, some words of congratulation and perhaps even to see 5 year-olds walk across the stage.  What we experienced was entirely different and what a delightful experiences.

From the beginning when the children came clapping and dancing as a parade into their seats in the auditorium, the program continued with emphasis on the children.  We did not have to listen to adults talking, but instead were treated to the enthusiasm and excitement of the children, admittedly coached by their teachers.  As you will see from the different costumes, there were three five-year old classes.

Are you ready?  Here goes:

After the initial entrance via a parade, some of the children should great composure as they spoke through the microphone.

Then the dancing began:

More dancing:

And the grand finale

April 15-21

Monday (note — please check back,  I have more videos and images to add to this blog)

Today was a very full day.  We had a group staying overnight in the guest house as detailed for Sunday of the last blog, Mike Yoshi, the pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Albany, California along with the guide Ata Manasra, Janet Lewis, Methodist staff in Bethlehem, and five high school students and one other adult.  In the morning, we also welcomed a group of 18 from Holland lead by Margaretha’s father (she was among the five seminary students who visited us early in April).  And we planned a full day for 50 music students from Sweden.

One thing we had to do in preparation for the number of persons we would be feeding at the same time, was a rearrangement of the tables and chairs in the guest house dining area .  After much thinking, Badia made a suggestion for rearranging the tables that made it possible to fit up to 70 people in the area where our previous arrangement was crowded with only 50 people.  We did need to obtain four more tables and 20 more chairs, which we were able to do and get things set up on Sunday to be ready for Monday.

On March 6, I received this email from Hania Kassicieh-Persekian, Swedish Christian Study Centre,

Program Coordinator:

First group

We will receive a Swedish group of 30 Students SVF bible, it is a Bible class  at SVF for a folk high school in Jonkoping in Sweden, the students come from different places in Sweden, some of them will continue to work as youth leaders in their churches and some will be pastors some of them will go back to work or studies together with the music class. They read the book “ One land – two people” by Soren Wibeck.

Would it be possible to come to Ibelline and meet with students in their age and have a tour in the village and maybe meet the Palestinian Family and have lunch in your guest House.

The proposed date is Friday April 19 at around 11:00.

Second group

The Second group is SVF Music of 50 musicians It is a Music program at SVF, a “folk high school ” in Jönköping, but the students come from the whole country. Some of them will continue their music studies, to work as musicians in churches, music teachers, and some do it just for fun. Together with the Bible class they also read the book “One land – two peoples” by Sören Wibeck. They also have some lectures and study groups.

We talked about them during the past few weeks if we can organize for them a concert either in the church or in the school and together with the choir at Mar Elias College would be perfect with a workshop

The suggested day is Monday April 15- they are staying at Stella Maris, I suggest to start at around 9:00 with a briefing and tour in the school  then lunch at around 12 and then the workshop and rehearsal.

Emails were sent back and forth with Hania and I talked considerably with Nabeeh Awad, Director of the Karawan Music Center in Ibillin and at the time, the teacher of music at the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School  The guest house is on the top floor of the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School.  He was filing in for his daughter while she was on maternity leave.   From all of these conversations, the following schedule was worked out for Monday:

For the group of 50 coming to Ibillin and Mar Elias schools on April 15, I have written out a more detailed schedule for the day.  After talking with Nabeeh, the following is proposed.  Some adjustments can be made if necessary.

9:00 or 9:30 Group arrives at Mar Elias Educational Institutions

9:00 to 10:30 meeting with Elias Abu Ghanima, Director of the Mar Elias High School, sixth floor of the high school.

Following this meeting

10:30 or 11:00, a tour of the campus including a visit to the Niwano Peace Auditorium to see and hear about the Mural of Reconciliation; and a visit to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, just above the Niwano Peace Auditorium, to see and hear about the Iconostasis and the Beatitude Icons

Following this, about 12 noon, walk over to the Mariam Bawardi Elementary school.  Meet with Nabeeh and school choirs from grades 4 through 6 of the elementary school on the 4th floor for a half hour – to 12:30 or 12:45.    The choirs will present a short program of their music.

12:45 – 14:30, Lunch on the fifth floor and a time for relaxation. (This changed so that the Swedish students went over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount a little after 2:00 so the director could have them sing in the church and hear the sound.)

14::30 to 15:30 in the Niwano Peace Auditorium,  Sharing of music, instruments, and musicians from Mar Elias and Sweden.  This will be a workshop where Nabeeh and his students will teach some of their instruments, and if the Swedish students bring instruments unique to Sweden, they can show the ibillin students these instruments and teach them how to play them.

After the workshop in the auditorium, we moved up into the church where the Swedish students performed for us

(15:30 to 16:30 Refreshments and conversations  still in the auditorium — fortunately we did not need this, so I did not have to organise this)

Bus transport to the village of Ibillin – just a short distance away.

16:45 to 18:00 in the Karawan Music Center in Ibillin,.  Singing, playing instruments etc.  Nabeeh has 50 students who will be present, together a gathering of 100 or more..  After the music we will have time for the students to talk with each other and then about 18:30 come back to the guest house for dinner.

18:30 to 19;30 dinner at the guest house.

19:30 leave Mar Elias for Stella Maris

As we have so often experienced, plans do not work out as expected.  We have come to expect Plan B and sometimes, C and D.  In this case Elias had an emergency and asked Emil to speak for him and then I received a call from Hania that the music students would be late because of a command performance in Haifa for the Swedish Ambassador.  We decided to go ahead with the group from Holland and Mike Yoshi’s group and if the Swedish students arrived before Emil was finished talking with the first group, I would take the Swedish group on a tour of the Niwano Peace Auditorium and the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  That did in fact happen, so I did take them on a tour while Emil finished up with the first group.  I brought them back to the 6th floor and Emil was soon finished so we exchanged groups.  Mike Yoshi’s group went down to the first floor of the high school and split into two groups, one with Rana and the other with Ranya, both English teachers.  I took the other group on a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and then they were on their way for other places in the Galilee.

After Emil finished his talk with the Swedish students, I walked them back up to the guest house. There we went to the fourth floor where chairs were set up for Nabeeh’s choir and musicians to sing and play for the Swedish students.  As you will see, Nabeeh plays the violin to lead the choir and he had two students play the Darbuka (drums).

Following this, I took the Swedish students up one flight to the guest house area and then also up to the roof top for them to see the view of Haifa and over to Akka.  They enjoyed being the sun very much.

Lunch was next and, as Badia exclaimed, the students eat, eat, eat.  They did eat a lot but Badia was pleased at how much they liked her food.

A little after 2 we headed over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  The Director of the Choir wanted to hear what his choir would sound like in the church.

Then we all moved down to the auditorium. In the auditorium, Nabeeh had his darbuka drummers on the stage along with his choir. He began by having the Swedish singers stand up and use their hands against their sides to follow his demonstration of the rhythms used in playing the Darbuka.  Then he invited several of the Swedish singers to the stage and gave each one a Darbuka.  As they sat in their chairs, he began to instruct them on the use of the Darbuka.  Slowly and uncomplicatedly at first using one hand and then with varying degrees of difficulty, pauses and different rhythms and both hands.  They learned quickly and soon he had his choir on the stage and had the newly instructed Swedish musicians accompany the choir in a song.  It was fascinating to watch and Nabeeh showed his skills at instructing, but of course he did have musicians who picked up the use of the Darbuka quickly.

During all of this time, parents and others from the elementary school were also in attendance.  Then we moved up to the church and the Swedish music director took over.  He moved his singers so they surrounded the nave (sanctuary in protestant churches) and started them singing.  Then he brought them together in the front for more singing.  The quality of the sound was amazing.  The director later commented that the acoustics were difficult for singing especially for a larger group that stretched across the front of the room.

After this, the students returned to the guest house after getting some more dressy clothes off of the bus and here they changed for the concert they would provide later in the afternoon at the Karawan Music Center in Ibillin.

After getting changed and resting a bit, we boarded their bus and drove over to the center of Ibillin, no small task in the large bus, especially the turn at the top of the hill to get to the center of Ibillin and the Karawan Music Center.  Everyone got off and waked up the steps into the center.  Chairs were already set up and the director organised his choir around the front of the center.  The group was so large that they streched across the front and along the right side of the center..  He had his choir practice some of their songs and then they sat down.

Then Nabeeh got his choir and musicians up in front and they presented a couple of songs.

Then it was the Swedish choirs’  turn.  They performed several songs all beautifully done.

Following the concert and some refreshments, the students got back onto the bus and returned to the guest house for dinner.   Nabeeh drove me back.  Jane had set up everything for the dinner and Badia had prepared another delicious meal.  The students ate theri fill –  as Badia exclaimed about how much they could eat, but 50 college age students are able to eat quite a bit.  Badia continues to amaze us in he ability to know how much to prepare and her meals are always well received.  Following dinner, most of the students took the stairs to the roof top and enjoyed the view of Haifa all lit up in the distance.  Soon it was time for them to pack up all of their belongings and leave for Mt Carmel  where they would stay that night.

WHAT A DAY!!  It was good to just crawl into bed and relax.


April 16th was independence day (Israel) and school was closed.  We still had the Mike Yoshi and Ata Manasra group in the guest house and helped with breakfast and dinner.


Today, after breakfast, we said goodbye to Mike Yoshi, Ata Manasra and their group and then began the usual process of stripping beds, gathering sheets, towels, bath mats, etc and taking them to the roof where Jane begins the wash.


This morning we were given a ride into Haifa by the high school secretary’s husband.  He works in an industrial area of Haifa and has given us a ride another time.  This time after checking into his office, he drove us over to the Archbishop’s office.  We were to meet up with friends of ours, Polly and David Johnson, who were leading a tour of Israel/Palestine and were scheduled to meet with the Archbishop today.  The Archbishop was in good form with his usual storytelling ability.

After this meeting, Polly and Dave took their group back onto their bus and left for a tour of Nazareth.  Jane and I had decided we would stay in Haifa and take the bus across town to the main bus station on the southwest side of Haifa.  Jane had seen some items in the mall connected to the bus station that she wanted to look at as a possible gift for one of our grandkids.  We found the same store upon arrival at the bus station/mall but none of the items that she had seen before were still in the store.  After a cup of coffee and something to eat, we caught the cross town bus to the other main bus station (on the northeast side) and there waited over an hour and a half to catch the bus that would take us to Ibillin.  Upon arrival in Ibillin, I called Elias and he picked us up and we went for falafels that we brought back to their house.  They were delicious and we just sat and relaxed talking with Elias and Badia.  Elias drove us back to the guest house about 4:30.

Soon we began our walk back over to the village.  Tonight, the Archbishop was to participate in a Vespers service at the Melkite Church.  We wanted to arrive early so I could set up my camera in the back of the church to take pictures and video of the service.  This was a treat.  We have both read Blood Brothers in which he tells of his work while the pastor of the church.  Now we will see him participating in a service in the church to which he was assigned in 1965, however, now as the Archbishop.





The Archbishop with the Abuna of the St George Melkite Church in Ibillin, Abuna Michael


Back to the guest house after the service and preparation for another long day tomorrow.


Today the other Swedish group about which I had emailed back and forth with Hania came around 11:30.  I had scheduled for them to meet with Enaya, the director of the Gifted Students program, and visit in the classrooms afterward.  They did meet with Enaya and then walked around to visit in the classrooms.  The area where the most was happening today, was in the art room where the students were busy making their mosaics.  They select a particular image, draw it and glue it to a board and then select the tiles and colors they want to use. They learn how to cut and glue the pieces to make a mosaic.  (Since I am writing this later in the year, I can say that over 65 mosaics were made by the students and were on display in the Niwano Peace auditorium on June 14th, the last day of the Gifted Student Program.)


Following this the group came up the guest house area and ate lunch.

I had also made arrangements for them to visit the Daoud family in Ibillin, so after lunch we boarded their bus and drove into Ibillin to the Daoud family home.  Fortunately, the area near the house had a palking space big enough for the bus.  This was the largest group so far to go to the Daoud family home.  A’ssad; sat with the group in back yard area and talked about Ibilin, the family history, and some about  the events of 1948 when the Zionist forces came and took over their home.  Everything of value was taken from their house.  They did leave after about 6 months and the family returned into the house.

After this, he took the group into the olive press and showed and explained the process of extracting oil from olives.  Then we visited the home of Mariam Bawardi, accessible through a gate in the back of the yard.  A’ssad explains how families lived with their animals.  The animals are in the lowest part of the house.  The family lives on a raised portion.  This house is three arches big, other homes at that time were as large as six arches.  In addition to the Mariam Bawardi house, there is an archeological dig right next to it.  Here A’ssad explains that the levels go down and back in history to the Roman period.  There is evidence of a bath, which the Jewish archeologist claim is a Jewish bath.  However, A’ssad indicates that such baths had to have a source of fresh water, but there is no evidence that such was the case.  Other levels are from the Byzantine and Crusader times.





We next move over to the Greek Orthodox Church.  A’ssad is the architect in charge of major renovations to the church building, inside and out.  Included in this renovation are many icons which will cover the ceiling and walls of the old part of the church.  These are being painted by an iconographer from Greece.  He is working in other churches in the area as well, but maintains a residence in Ibillin.  This is a major expense all being borne by the local congregation.  The Greek Orthodox church received no assistance from the mother church.


After this we return to the home where A’ssad’s mother makes Arabic coffee and provides biscuits.  She told us later that this was the first time she made coffee for so many people.  She is a delight to have come and join us and talk with the people.  She usually does not come out until she makes coffee.but then she sits down and joins in the conversation.


Then back at the guest house to await the arrival of two groups.

I had received an email from Lubna, the Archbishop’s secretary, Lubna,  telling me about a local group that was interested in using the guest house for a weekend retreat, and asking me if I would contact Margaret from Domus Galilaeae, a center for the Roman Catholic Church where seminary students complete their formation before being ordained.  It  is located on Mt Beatitude further up the mountain from  the Church of the Beatitudes.  It has been built since 1999.  It is also related to the Neo Catechuminal Way movement in the Roman Catholic Church.  After several back and forth emails, arrangements were made to receive this group for the weekend retreat.  They would stay at the guest house and then go over to the rooms behind the Church of the Sermon on the Mount for their day long meetings, breaking for lunch and dinner at the guest house.  Some of the people coming had small children and they were bringing a baby sitter with them.  I sent the bed arrangements for the rooms to Margaret and she did the work of allocating the people to the rooms (a lesson well learned).

In addition to this group, I had been contacted by Rafat Shomali, a tour guide in the West Bank, and the son-in-law of the parents in whose home we stay while in Beit Sahour.  He is also one of the people for whom Jane and I agreed to take shipments of olive wood items and sell them, an arrangement we made on our first trip to Israel/Palestine in 2006.  Rafat had a group of people from England for whom he had been the tour guide while they were in the West Bank.  He is not certified as a tour guide in Israel, so he could not come with them.  We arranged a one night stay in the rooms behind the Church of the Sermon on the Mount (rooms in which our group had stayed while on our visit to Mar Elias in 2006).

MIcha had his people working to make sure all the rooms were in good shape since they had not been used in a while.  Now we were ready to receive this group as well.

This meant Badia had to prepare dinner for about 35 people on Friday night, after preparing lunch for 30 people.

Both groups arrived and got settled in their rooms.  Dinner was served. and the groups were off doing their own things.  We helped Badia clean up.


We woke up to a heavy rainstorm and Jane woke up with a very bad headache so was pretty much out of commission.  I helped Badia get breakfast ready and with the clean up afterward.  The local group left for the room behind the church.  I walked down to the high school to take some pictures of the students all dressed up for country day, an event where students dress in the clothes of different countries they have studied and prepare and serve food from those countries.

After this I walked back up to meet the group from the UK and take them on a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount. After the tour, I had planned for them to go to the high school to have a short meeting with Elias AG.  It was raining pretty hard and we had no umbrellas, so we decided against the meeting since the walk to the high school would have resulted in them being drenched.  Their schedule called for them to get to the Jordanian border in time to get across on Saturday, so they left Mar Elias shortly after 10:00 am.

In the morning after the group from England left, Elias O and I got Jane into his car and we took her to the doctor.  He quickly put her on the machine to breath oxygen.  When he asked if she felt any better, she said no, and that in circumstances like this in the states, she usually ends up needing a shot to help alleviate the pain, he did give her a shot and then some medicine to help her sleep.

We returned to the guest house and Jane stayed out of sight for the afternoon.  Many in the group from Domus Galilaeae inquired about her.  I opened a bottle of coke and she drank that and then one of the guests (a coach who had been with his football team all afternoon) brought ice cream back with him.  The ice cream was also a big hit for Jane.


Sunday Jane was feeling better and together we were up to help Badia prepare for breakfast.  After breakfast the group went back over to the church.  They had originally talked about going over to the church in Ibillin for morning worship, but a priest came with them, so they set up and worshipped in the church.  They were back for lunch, returned to the back of the church for the afternoon and then late in the afternoon returned to the guest house to get all of their stuff organized to leave..  They did leave around 5.  Jane and I started the process of gathering the sheets, towels etc from the rooms and emptying the garbage from the rooms. I carried the wash upstairs and Jane started two loads.  We would hang up the wash tomorrow.

April 3 through April 14

(Note:  This blog will pick up from when we returned from Jordan on Wednesday and through the week that followed, to April 14 when we welcomed a  small tour group from the US who would stay with us for three nights.  I am still working on our Amman trip because of the number of pictures from Petra, Jerash and Amman.)


Today after our return from Amman via a night in Nazareth, we were set up by 9:00 in Elias AG’s office for a meeting with a group of Swedish tourists, one of whom had been to Mar Elias before.  I had worked out a special day for them.  After meeting with Elias for about an hour, we got in their mini van and drove over to the village of Ibillin.  Here we went to the home of the Daoud family.  They have a wonderful backyard, shaded for the most part by grape vines growing overhead.  They also have a large above ground fish pond with some very large koi swimming around in it.  Jane loves to sit beside it and watch the fish, dreaming of her pond back home.  There are three sons in the family, the middle one, A’ssad, is an architect.  He is in the process of renovating the Greek Orthodox church nearby.  He also is interested in conservation architecture.  His family owns the property on which sits the home where Mariam Bawardi, a Carmelite Nun, was born in 1846.  She was beatified by Pope John Paull III in 1983.  She is special for both churches in Ibillin, Greek Orthodox and Melkite Catholic.   The family has done a lot of work to restore the home to the way it was when she lived in it.

Original Foundation Wall of Home


A’ssad Holding Picture, Explaining the Features of the Home


Tree Branches Used to Make the Roof


A Three Arch Home, Small Even Then


Also in a large building behind the house, there is all the equipment for rendering olive oil.  It was used until the early 1990s when newer equipment began to be used in a different place.  However, all the villagers and persons from other villages would come to this place to have the olive processed for oil.  A’ssad gives the visitors a tour of the olive press and the other equipment in this building.  The Swedish visitors are especially interested in the machine used to separate the oil from the water since it is of Swedish make.

Olives put into the crusher


Crushed Olives put into webbed basket


Pressed to get oil and water from the crushed olives


A’ssad pointing to the place the oil and water is pumped before going into the separator


What A’ssad was pointing to


Underneath is the separator, oil and water are separated  (Made in Sweden)


A’ssad pointing to the motor that, by belts, drives all of the machinery


A’ssad then takes the group over to show them the Greek Orthodox church and the work being done there to renovate the sanctuary, keeping as much of the old parts as possible while at the same time adding all new icons.  The person painting the icons is from Greece and has taken up residence in Ibillin while he paints the icons — paints on canvas and then attaches them to the ceiling and walls.

Looking from the front of the church toward the rear.  The icons are being placed on the original part of the church.  Beyond the icons is the part added to the church building to handle the larger number of persons who are members of the Greek Orthodox church in Ibillin.


After this we return to the Daoud home and sit around the cool shade while A’ssa’s mother makes coffee for the group and also brings out cookies.  She came from Jordan and before that her family came from Syria.  She speaks English quite well, even though she does not think so.  After a very good time, we gather the group up, board the bus and head back tot he guest house for lunch.  Badia, as usual, has prepared a delicious lunch.  After lunch, the Swedish group leaves and we help Badia clean up and then relax.


On Thursday late in the morning Elias Obaid took me over to the village to A’ssad’s to give him a donation the Swedish group left for him.  The leader had given me the donation as part of the payment for the lunch. I usually arrange in advance for groups to make some kind of a contribution to help pay for the refreshments the Daoud family provides, but more importantly to help the family with the cost of restoring the home of Mariam Bawardi.  Of course, we sit and talk for about two hours.  In the mean time Micha has brought an Italian hiker to the guest house, a woman on the 14 day hike that many Italians make.  Jane got her set in a room and showed her where she could wash and hang her clothes.  Since its was very windy, Jane also showed her where to hang her clothes out of the more direct line of the wind.


I was up early up to get breakfast for the hiker and then she left on her way to Nazareth .

When Badia arrived, she informed us that there would be 11 people straying over one night and eating breakfast but not dinner.  There was a gathering of the Student Communist Party in Ibillin and the local members had contacted Micha to see if there was a place a few of the people could stay for one night.

I had received call the day before from a young student from  Holland, Margaretha, who had told me that she and four others were in Israel on holiday from a seminary in Vienna, Austria. She asked if they might come to the school to see the school.  I agreed.  In the morning, I got a call saying they were here.  I took them on a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  They enjoyed singing in the church.  Then I brought them back to the guest house for some coffee and cookies.  I was also able to make arrangements with A’ssad to meet with them and brought them over to his home.  I later heard from them via emails that the meeting with him was very special.

emails about their experience.

“Christ is Risen!

Thank you so much for the tour and coffee/conversation last Friday!  It was a joy to be there and see everything and to hear about your experience.  Also, thank you SO much for arranging a tour of the Greek Orthodox church for us!  It was really beautiful – and afterward they, of course, invited us for Arabic coffee!  🙂  It was us, our host and 4 or 5 other members of their church council.  It turned out to be an unexpected gift of the trip. The discussion was ecumenically fruitful, shall we say.  The conversation went on through translation (and I believe our host didn’t translate everything), but basically it seemed that one of the members had issues with the Catholic Church and though he was quite passionate in his questions at the beginning, through our discussion he seemed genuinely touched.  We were touched as well.  It’s hard to explain, but it was a really great example of just how important it is for ecumenism just to simply meet and talk with those of other churches to know them as fellow brothers in Christ.  So thank you again for facilitating that and thank you for your work in helping the Palestinian Christians.  It is such an important work!”


“Thank you for your kind e-mail and the kind reception at Ibilin. We had a great time as well. It is very generous of you to dedicate so much time to the school.

You might have heard, but we also had a great reception at the Syrian-Orthodox church. As you can imagine they have a hard time accepting that the Catholics have such a big school running in the village, while their bishop does not seem to have any interest in giving them funds for an orthodox school. They were very happy to have some Catholics visiting them to whom they could voice their frustrations. Besides this more serious topic, we had a lot of fun with one of the members of the church council. They even opened a bottle of wine for us! We left as good friends. The icons in their church are absolutely gorgeous by the way. And they show great generosity to our Lord because the icons are quite expensive and all the money comes from the parish.

We wish you many blessings for your remaining time in Ibilin and will keep you in our prayers!

Margaretha and Yacob”

The group attending the Young Communist Meetings arrived late and there were more than the 11.  Only 11 would stay overnight, but for now there were close to 20.  They brought in food and soft drinks, pulled the tables around so they could all sit around in the same area and enjoyed eating and talking about the day’s events.  We went to bed before they were finished


We were up early to help Badia with breakfast for the overnight group.  We were able to sit around the tables and talk with them.  We enjoyed our conversations with them.  (Note:  throughout the experience of the Palestinians who stayed in Israel after 1948, about the only voice they had politically was through participation in the Communist Party in Israel.  Their participation had little to to with Communism rather than with the willingness of the Jewish members of the Communist Party to welcome them as participants.)


Back to the St George Melkite Catholic Church for worship services

Today was a Skype evening for us, morning for those with whom we Skyped, first with Ann (7 hours difference) and then with my sister Carter (10 hours difference).  Actually Carter had her husband’s sister, Jeannine, visiting and Jane and I had not talked with her since a trip we made down the coast of California many, many years ago.  So we spent most of our time Skyping with her.


This morning we visited in the classroom of Shadia Khoury, a teacher of English in the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School.  It is her responsibility to begin the process of teaching English to the students at the school.  They start with Arabic (their native language) in first grade, begin learning Hebrew in second grade, and then English in the third grade.  By the time the students graduate from high school they are familiar and many fluent in all three languages.  We sat in the small chairs in the back of the class and watched with amazement with how well Shadia kept the class moving along and relatively quiet despite having close to 40 energetic third graders, up and walking around from time to time.

This afternoon, we welcomed three more Italian hikers, all men.  They had hiked from Akko on a very hot day. We got them into their rooms and then Jane showed them where to wash and hang their clothes.  While sitting in the kitchen talking as well as we could.


we called Emil, one of the English teachers, who also speaks Italian, and he talked for a while with one of the hikers to make sure they were will situated and to ask if they had any questions.  They were doing fine, but were appreciative of Emil’s concern.

Later in the afternoon, four of Emil’s students who needed some help in English came to the guest house for us to work with them.  They were concerned about an upcoming part of their English Bagrut exam in which they have an oral exam.  The oral exam has two parts, one is answering some questions of personal information, name, where they live, brothers, sisters, etc.  The other part involves questions about a project they have worked on and for which they have written a paper.  Two of the girls had written on the Arab Spring, especially Egypt and the other two had written about the benefits and dangers of Facebook.  We learned as well as they.  We would ask a question of them, they would talk with each other in Arabic and then one of them would answer in halting English.  We found we had to get them to feel at ease first talking about themselves, not translating from Arabic, but speaking in English.  Then we came to their projects, we set out some basic questions we thought they should try to answer — not read from their papers.  We found that they could understand and work on these questions and try to develop answers in English, not Arabic which they would then translate.

We enjoyed the four of them very much and agreed that we would continue the meetings tomorrow.Four of

I took the hikers over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and they very grateful to be in this place.


Later in the evening we Skyped with Kathleen Proud who had applied to be a volunteer at Mar Elias for the coming Fall.  As it turns out she will be coming as a volunteer in August and stay for three months  — the limit on the amount of time for a tourist visa.


We were up early in the morning to make sure our Italian friends would have breakfast before leaving on their hike to Nazareth.  We had called Sister Martha at the Abuna Firaj Pilgrim House in Nazareth to see if she had room for Tuesday night.  She did, so the hikers said they would try to find the guest house.  I gave them her phone number.



We have done this with other hikers, but we imagine that when they reach Nazareth they find someplace in the center, rather than hike further to reach Sr Martha’s place.  As it turned out, these hikers made it to the top of the steps to the Selesian Monastery and then called Sr Martha.  She drove over to pick them up and she reported that they had a great stay with her.

Today, I recharged my phone.  I find that it works best to buy an unlimited amount of phone calls for a monthly fee, so about the 8th of the month I have to buy another month’s time.

In the afternoon, the four girl students arrived for more tutoring.  We concentrated on them being able to talk about their projects.  Our main task was to get them to stop trying to read from their projects and just develop some simple answers to some basic questions about their project, like, what the project is about, what were the questions you were trying to answer, what are some of the things you found, etc.  We worked again for about two hours and said we would meet again tomorrow in the early afternoon.


Today we meet again with our four students for about two more hours.  By the end of the time, they were doing pretty well.  With our schedule being full over the next few days, we agreed that we would call them when we had more time available.  School was also back in session for them so they would not have as much time during the day as had been the case.

We were able to make a connection with our oldest son, Ken, to FaceTime on his birthday.  We were able to have a long conversation and get caught up on much that had been going on.  We were delighted with the time spent with him.


Today a group from Alabama, Calera First United Methodist Church, was scheduled to meet with Elias AG, Because of an emergency, Elias asked Emil to make the presentation.  After the meeting we came back to the guest house where Badia had prepared another of her excellent meals.


Badia and Elias here early.  Elias is working on some of the guest house rooms, scraping, plastering, and painting;

Badia is busy preparing ahead for a large number of meals, Sunday night for a group arriving to stay in the guest house, Monday for a large group (50) for lunch and then about 60 for dinner.


We participated in Shadia’s class again this morning.  Each of the classes we have attended take up new words, by having them listen to their pronunciation, by Shadia giving examples of how they are used, by the students practicing writing the initial letters of the new words in caps and lower case, and by taking turns saying the new words out loud.

Badia working in the kitchen to get things ready for Monday — over 100 meals that she has to prepare, including breakfast for the group staying in the guest house and two meals for 50 music students from Sweden.  I also started over to the church to check the bathrooms behind the auditorium since we will be using it for the Swedish group on Monday.  I met Micha on his way into the elementary school and with him was Nabeeh, the director of the Karawan Music Center in Ibillin, a fortuitous meeting.  I was able to talk with him about Monday.  The plans with the Swedish Music students had been worked out with him and with Hania, a staff person at the Swedish Christian Student Center in Jerusalem (via email).

I went back to Veronica’s class, an English teacher with whose 10 grade class I have been working, taking with me a contact sheet with the pictures of members in the class whose pictures I had taken just before leaving for Amman.  I wanted their email addresses so could send the pictures to them.  Veronica was absent, but there was a substitute and she was nice enough to let me take the time to have the students write email addresses under the pictures on the contact sheets I brought with me.

That night, Elias AG and his wife, Salwa,  took us to the Melkite Catholic High School in Shefa’mer to attend a wonderful music talent show, The highlight of the show was a teen age girl who sang True Colors.  She sang it very well, but what made it very special is that she is recovering from leukaemia.  It so happens that her father was a chaperon for a group of teen-agers that stayed in the guest house.  Jane had talked with him at some length about his daughter’s situation and had even asked our daughter, Heather, our church, and our daughter-in-law to keep this teen age girl in their prayers.  The fact of her performance was probably the most moving part of her performance.  When she got up on the stage and we realised who she was if was very difficult to keep the tears from flowing.  Here she is singing her song.

When she was finished singing, everyone stood up to applause her.

The concert had many accomplished musicians.  One performance of note was a student whose performance consisted of sound effects.  We found out later that he was alway in trouble in school and that the school principal decided that he could perform, taking the teenager by surprise.


In the morning, worship at the Melkite Catholic Church.

In the late afternoon, the group led by Mike Yoshi and tour guide Ata Manasra arrived.  This was of great interest to Jane and me.  When we began our communication via email in January of 2013, I recognised the name Ata,  I emailed him and asked if Ata was a common name or if, by chance, he was the Ata who had been the tour guide for a group of Presbyterians in 2009,mostly from Chicago, but quite a few (6) from New Jersey.  I indicated that I remembered that he met us at the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan into the West Bank and then had been our tour guide both in the West Bank an in Israel.  He responded that he was that Ata.  So Jane and I were quite excited to welcome this group.  Mike Yoshi is a United Methodist Church minister from the bay area, Albany, and he brought a group of high school students, including one with a Palestinian background.  We were delighted to see him and both of us recognzed each other right away.  I even had some of the picture from our 2009 trip on my computer as part of a power point presentation we had made upon our return to the states way back then.

We had rearranged the agenda for Mike’s group so they could go to classes on Monday instead of Tuesday  They would be part of the big gathering at 9:00 to meet with Elias AG and then go into classrooms to meet with students.  They would then go over to Nazareth in the afternoon.

We went to bed wondering what the day would be like tomorrow- a lot has been planned.