A group from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, arrived on Wednesday night to spend four nights at the guest house.  I had been in communication with Karla Schmidt since our first stay at Mar Eliaa about this trip, canceled once and then rescheduled for this time in May, 2013.  One of the items on their itinerary was to attend the worship service at the St. George Melkite Catholic Church in Ibillin where Elias Chacour began his ministry of peacemaking and reconciliation.  This was the first group that planned such an experience and Jane and I looked forward to taking them on the morning of May 26th.  The worship service usually starts at 10:00 am, actually at about 9:55 am, with one exception so far, Easter, when the service began outside the church with a knocking on the door three times before we processed into the church from the entrance at the back of the church.  Jane and I usually arrive about 10 — 15 minutes early and when we are sitting in the church at the beginning of the service it is almost empty.  Once the bell rings announcing the beginning of the service additional members begin arriving and continue to arrive almost until 10:30.  By that time the church is packed, especially on Sundays like Palm Sunday and Easter.

We had a leisurely breakfast and then all got into the van and Hanna drove us over to the village and the church.  He let us out at the gate so we could walk up to the church building and he went to part, intending to return to attend the service as well.  As soon as we entered the grounds on which the church is built we knew that something different was going to happen today.  We saw young boys and girls dressed in white, the girls with a crown of white flowers and white mesh vail streaming down behind.  We thought, first communion.  As we approached the side entrance to the church, the one we usually use, we saw it was closed and blocked so no one could enter that way.  Just outside the door on a stand was a large canvass with an image of a tree, Jesus in the center and the pictures of the children celebrating their first communion, 44 in all, as the fruit on the tree.

First Communion Celebrants

We went around to the back entrance and as we walked into the church we could see that it was already packed.  We moved forward into the church, further to the front than were we usually sit.  Some of the group found seats on the left side.  We were beckoned by an older member of the church, one who has given us rides back to the guest house, to seats on the right side just behind where the chairs were set up for the children celebrating their first communion.  We got settled into the seats.  The doors to the sanctuary were opened (the sanctuary in the Melkite Church is the area behind the iconostasis), and there we saw Archbishop Chacour standing in the entrance to the sanctuary as the service began.  The children filed in two by two and each one presented a gift, bread or grapes, and then took their places on the  left and right (just in front of us).

Imagine it were your first communion, how special that the Archbishop of your church was there to serve you your first communion, not just any Archbishop, as special as that would be, but the Archbishop who had once been the priest of this church and was specially known as a peacemaker and a person working for reconciliation and justice.  I am sure that most of these children will not fully be aware of this until some later date in their lives — but for us adults who had a sense of the significance of the Archbishop, it was a very significant occasion!!

The service moved through its regular process with the prayers, the procession with the gospel out of the sanctuary through a side door in the iconostasis and back into the sanctuary through the central doors, the royal doors, the reading of the scripture by the one of the other priests and the Gospel by one of the other priests with everyone standing,


the sermon given, this time, by the Archbishop,


another procession this time with the bread and wine out from the sanctuary through the same side door in the iconostasis and back into the sanctuary through the royal doors (center doors) of the iconostasis,

an offering taken during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy by the Archbishop in the sanctuary assisted by the parish priest and another priest, and then the serving of communion to the people, this time however, first to the new communicants.  Each one approached the Archbishop separately and was given the bread dipped in wine by the Archbishop.

Then the others in the church came forward, in this church, traditionally men first and then women and children.  Because of the size of the congregation, the parish priest had taken another plate of bread and a cup of wine and started at the back of the church to serve communion to the people as he slowly moved toward the front of the church, until all were served.

It was quite a morning and we were delighted to be in the worship service today!!

Our day did not finish with the worship service, an interesting afternoon was to follow.

University of Haifa on Mt. Carmel and a visit with Emil in Osifiya.

When we look out the window of our room in the guest house we are looking directly west toward Mr Carmel and Haifa.  On Mt Carmel, to the east of Haifa there is a ver y tall tower.  This tower is the landmark of Haifa University.



Today, after a meaningful worship service in which over 40 children celebrated their first communion and the group from the U of Wisconsin left and we finished the clean up, got our wash and the bedding and towels from the rooms to the laundry room on the roof,  we were relaxing in our room when the phone rang. It was Salha telling us that she was going to take her daughter, Ruba, to the library at Haifa University, and asking if we would like to go with them?  We said yes and soon we were in the car with Salha, Ruba, and  a nephew of Salha and on our way to the university

Rather than go to the main part of the city of Haifa and up along the ridge of Mt Carmel east to the university, we headed for the eastern edge of Haifa and an alternative road that uses many hairpin curves to wind it’s way to the top.  At the top of this winding road we made a right turn and after a short distance we arrived at the university.  Salha pulled over to park while still some distance from the library telling us that parking was always difficult.  We walked along the road for a short distance and then up some steps to a walkway that parallels the road, up some more steps (considerable number) and arrived at an entrance to the library, we thought.  After going inside and arriving at locked double doors, Salha said that this was the way she used to get into the library, but now we would have to go around to another entrance.  So after walking around to a different entrance, we entered the library through the security check, Jane with her purse and I with a camera bag (not my big one).  The library is spacious and with large windows, so during the daytime is very light.  It had many computers for student use and they were being used.  Ruba met with a reference librarian to find her materials for a paper she had to write for one of her classes.  We walked over to a place to sit and wait for Ruba to finish her work.

While I was reading a book review in the New York Review of Books, Jane was walking around and met one of the English teachers from Mar Elias, Adham.  He is working on his master’s degree in English.  We talked for awhile, said goodbye, and then went to find Salha.  With Salha we decided to walk over to the tower and go to the top for the view from there.

It was a short walk.  The elevator took us up 29 floors and then we walked up one more floor to an observation floor, a floor with dirty glass windows, but from which we could see quite a distance.  It was pretty clear.  From the tower you can see all around.,  We looked mostly to the West (the Mediterranean) and the East, toward Ibillin.  Without binoculars, we could not see the elementary school building at Mar Elias, but I am sure if we had them, we would have been able to see the school building.

After some pictures,

Mediterranean Sea



Looking North along the Mediterranean


Looking Northeast from Haifa


we headed down and back to the library to see if Ruba was ready to leave.  She was, so we started walking back to the car.  Salha went on ahead to bring the car and meet us along the road.  After getting in the car, Salha called Emil to see if he was home and if so, if we could come by and see him.  He lives in Osifiya, a village along the crest of Mt Carmel to the east of Haifa University.  Salha and Emil agreed to a place for us to meet after we arrived in Osifiya.  At the agreed upon meeting spot (a gas station) Emil soon arrived and we followed him to his parents’ home (his is on top and is still being finished).  At his parents’ home we first walked around the yard and admired a beautiful, well-cared for olive tree. checked out the vegetable and herb garden, and then went up the stairs to the home above his parents’ home to where Emil will live when finished.

March 18 -24


Continued from Sunday on the last blog.

Today a big event is scheduled for the guest house.  The leaders of the schools of the different catholic groups came to the the guest house for a late lunch and a meeting.  The basic purpose of the meeting was to discuss how they are in the task of education together, their relationship with the Ministry of Education as private Christian schools, their rights and their responsibilities.

We had to set up the dining area of the guest house for two purposes, for eating and meeting.  From this we learned that we can accommodate many more people than we had originally thought.  We had the tables for eating set up to accommodate 32 and then another set of tables set up in a U shape with the head of the U for the Archbishop and the latin prelate from Jerusalem, and the leader of the group.  This was set up to accommodate over 30 sitting around the tables.  As it turned out, there were enough present to overflow the eating area and so we moved chairs along the U shaped arrangement and many of the guest sat and ate at these tables.

Food preparation had been in the works for many days, especially all day Saturday.  As told for the Sunday part of the last blog, we drove to Akko with Nawar where, after visiting a short time with her friend Badia and Badia’s husband, he walked us over to the souk and the fish market to purchase fresh fish.  These fresh fish were stored in the refrigerator in the guest house kitchen and awaited another Badia’s, our cook, attention on Monday.

Badia arrived early in the morning and thoroughly washed each and breaded each fish.  Some she baked in the oven


and others she fried on the stove top.


In addition to the fish, she made a large pot of special rice cooked with carrots.  She also had the person who runs one of the kiosks help out by providing a large quantity of french fries.  She also made four salads, one of which is our favourite, a combination of avocado and fennel, parsley, mint, and lemon juice.

Jane and I went out to pick some roses so Jane could make the room look nice.

Clean Monday as the beginning of Lent in the Easter Rite Churches.  From Wikipedia “Clean Monday:  Clean Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), also known as Pure MondayAsh MondayMonday of Lent or Green Monday, is the first day of the Eastern Orthodox ChristianSaint Thomas Christians of India and Eastern Catholic Great Lent. It is a movable feast that occurs at the beginning of the 7th week before Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The common term for this day, “Clean Monday”, refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods. It is sometimes called “Ash Monday,” by analogy with Ash Wednesday (the day when the Western Churches begin Lent). The term is often a misnomer, as only a small subset of Eastern Catholic Churches practice the Imposition of Ashes. The Maronite Catholic Church and The Mar Thoma Nasranis of India-Syro-Malabar Catholic Church are notable amongst the Eastern rite that employs the use of ashes on this day.”

Because it was clean monday, no meat could be served, therefore the trip to Akko on Sunday to purchase fish that could be served on Monday.

The meal was well received, even Jane ate some of the fish.

The meeting continued for about three hours.  As I found out later, they were discussing common issues of curriculum, staffing and dealing with the Ministry of Education.






Clean up took until 5 pm, including rearranging the tables back to their original placement and removing the other tables set up in a U shape.  A big sigh of relief when we were finished.


Today we had a visit from a group from Switzerland.  It was set up so they would meet in the Library (part of the guest house) with Emil and then have lunch at the guest.  Following this I was to take them for a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and then over to the village of Ibillin to a family we had discovered because of the curiosity of Audrey Porksen, our friend from England, when she last visited.   I had arranged with A’ssad Daoud to bring them over to meet with him and his family.

As the group was about to go into the library for the meeting with Emil, Micha arrived to return a laser pointer I had loaned to him for his trip and power point presentation in German the previous week.  He joined the group and it was later reported that when a question was asked about volunteers, he sort of took over the meeting.  This resulted in some internal controversy which is of an ongoing nature.  Micha used to be in charge of the guest house and volunteers.  He was removed from those responsibilities and Elias Abu Ghanima put in charge of the guest house and volunteers.  However, Micha continues to find ways to insert himself in the visits to the school and use of the guest house.  His trip to Germany is part of his efforts to encourage greater involvement by the Catholic Church in Germany with the Mar Elias Schools.  As part of this we now have a brochure on Mar Elias Educational Institutions that I prepared in InDesign and then he had translated into German.  For purposes of dealing with the Catholic Church in Germany, Micha is the contact person.  This has already resulted in ttwo groups coming to stay at the guest house and in May we are expecting a couple to come to stay in the guest house for at least five nights while they travel around the Galilee region.  They are part of the leadership of the German group with whom this relationship is being developed.

After the meeting, I took the group over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and then I got into their bus and drove with them over to the village to the home of A’ssad Daoud.  He welcomed us into his backyard, a lovely area with overhead grapevines now starting to leaf out and a beautiful pond with large fish in it.

A’ssad talks about his family, the previous and current home (built in 1885).  We go into a building in the back yard that houses an old olive press, not used since the early 1990s, but kept is good condition.  He shows them the area of the old house in which people are welcomed (restored), and next to it a room where camels were kept.  It turns out that Ibillin was on the trade route from the Decapolis (an area to the east of the Jordan River and mentioned in the New Testament) to Akko.  The villagers protected the caravans from thieves.

From their backyard we can walk through a gate to the place where there is an archaeological dig with findings going back to the 1st century in Roman times and other remains down throughout the crusader times.  One structure of interest is a old bath.  The Jewish archaeologists claim that is is an old Jewish bath used for cleansing.  However, A’ssad points out that a source of fresh running water is necessary and there is no such source.  This may be part of the ongoing attempt to make the only narrative of Israel a Jewish narrative.

Also in this area is the home in which Mariam Bawardi was born and lived the first years of her life.  The Daoud family is in the process of slowly restoring it in the way it looked when she was in the home, in the 1850s.

From here we walk around the corner and up the road a little to get to the Greek Orthodox Church.  A’ssad is the architect in charge of renovating the church.  He has done a lot to make sure that the old parts of the church are not destroyed, but preserved and integrated into the renovations.  Part of the renovations are new icons which eventually will cover all the wall space of the nave and sanctuary.  An iconographer is in residence from Greece writing the new icons.

The time with A’ssad goes quickly and the group finds it necessary to be on its way.  This has worked well and I will be planning to bring more groups over to meet A’ssad and his family.

After lunch two of the 11th graders that we have been working with, Abdallah and Hassan came up to the guest house and we worked on some English lessons with them.

With the time difference of 6 hours, US had moved to day light savings time but Israel has not, we were to face time with Tyler after he got home from school, about 3:30 his time and 9:30 our time, not 10:30.


This would turn out to be a very special day.  We planned with Johnny Mansour to visit the destroyed village of Ma’aloul, near Nazareth.  All that remains in the village, in addition to the destroyed homes of the villagers, is a Melkite Catholic Church, a Greek Orthodox Church, and a Mosque.  Of these three, only the Melkite Catholic Church is in good enough condition to be used, in fact we hope to return to the church on May 6th when they people of Ma’aloul have permission to return for a worship service in the village and the church, a worship service we understand that will be attended by Christians and Muslims.  Permission for a worship service is granted only once a year.

We left iblllin about 9:30 and drove east toward Nazareth.  We turned off south before the road we usually turn on to get to Nazareth and skirted around the south of Nazareth and then came back north to reach Ma’alul.  We had to turn off on a dirt road where we were met by Ali Saleh and Jad Salem.  Jad is 87 years of age, born in 1926.  He was raised in Ma’alul and was in the village when the IDF came into the village in July of 1948.

We followed them slowly over the dirt road.  It was in pretty good condition which was a good thing since we did not have four wheel drive or much clearance under the car.  We stopped first at a Muslim grave site and got out to take some pictures.




We next approached the Melkite Catholic Church.


It is intact and locked, basically to prevent cattle from entering the church building and making deposits like this


in the church building.  It is quite an irony that the cattle from the Jewish settlements nearby are free to roam the Palestinian land of Ma’alul while at the same time the residents are not permitted to return to their homes.  While they may visit, they are not permitted to hold worship services in the church except on one day of the year.

Ali unlocked the door to the church and we entered.


it was a large room with the iconostasis and the sanctuary (the area behind the iconostasis) on the left as we entered.  There were no chairs set up in the nave (what we protestants call the sanctuary), but stacked on the far side of the nave.  We spent some time taking pictures of the room, iconostasis and individual icons.





Ali opened the door at the back of the nave and we exited that way and walked around the building taking pictures from many different angles.  We were shown a picture of the church taken after the church was built in 1936 and before the villagers were evicted in 1948.





Ali Saleh, Johnny Mansour, and Jad Salem


Ali commented that when the Palestiniians lived here there were no trees.  Now there are many tall evergreen trees.  Perhaps you made a donation when you were in grammar school to plant trees in Israel.  This is how they were used, to hide and cover up the destruction of Palestinian villages, over 500 villages.

We walked up to the Orthodox church and took more pictures.  it was locked so the only pictures were of the outside.




While on the grounds of the village, Jad talked about what life was like in the village before 1948.  He was about 22 when the Israeli armies came through and evicted the people from the village.  There is part of the village on the hill across the way (now there is an Israeli military base there).  The Israeli army came to this part of the village first and shot and killed a small girl.  The came next to the village area near the church and killed five more of the villagers.  The villages fled from their village according to the desire of the Israeli army.  The village homes were demolished as part of the plan to leave nothing behind to which the villagers could return.

Other information provided while talking with the men.  The village was made up of Christian and Muslim families that shared life together in many ways.  Specifically they talked about two features of this sharing of life.  For whatever reason, the number of male births outnumbered considerably the number of female births.  That meant that a lot of weddings were held i the village.  On the night before the wedding, if it was a Muslim wedding, the bride would come and spend the night with a Christian family.  The reverse was true if the wedding was a Christian wedding.  At the wedding, there would be both Christian and Muslim men and women standing with the groom and bride respectively.  And all children born in the same month were baptised together, regardless of Muslim or Christian.

Following our time at the site of the churches, we got back into the cars and drove back down the road a short distance where we stopped to go look at the Mosque.  It was not in good shape as you can see from the picture below.


Then back in the car and to the place where we met.  On our drive home Johnny took us a different way actually through the Jewish settlement where Ilan Pappe has his home.  It reminded us of the north side of Berkeley.


The first day of Spring is mother’s day in Israel.  Badia and Elias brought Jane a beautiful blouse that she will wear when it gets a little warmer.

A’ssad called about noon asking that we come to his home to talk with him and his brother, Madji and his mother, A’bla, about the upcoming visits to their home by visitors from Sweden.  We walked up to their home in the village and enjoyed sitting in their backyard under the grape vines and talking about a variety of issues, including what A’ssad would talk about with the people from Sweden.  A’ssad talked a great deal about the history of Ibillin and about the work he is doing on the Greek Orthodox Church.  We mentioned our visit to Ma’alul and he told us that he had done work for the Melkite church there and its restoration.  He also commented on what is being done in the St George Melkite Church in Ibillin — that they are not restoring the ceiling properly.  They also took us into their house and showed us the large room that is consider a reception area and then into a beautiful room that we would call a living room.  During our conversation we had juice to drink and then toward the end A’ssad’s mother brought out the Arabic coffee.  Of course we had to talk about making coffee.  They prefer to buy coffee beans and grand their own.  They also grind cardamom seeds, the whole pod and seeds inside, and add that to the coffee just at the end of making the coffee.  The water is heated almost to boiling, then coffee added, back on the heat to raise the temperature again constantly stirring (with a sooon lifting the water up and dumping it back in). This until it almost foams over, off heat again constantly stirring, back on the heat again until it almost foams over.  Off the heat again add the cardamom, and back on the heat for a short time.  Then you are done.  For those who like sugar in the coffee it is added now  — Jane and i do not add sugar, but Badia does.

Crochet hanging in the Daoud home.


coffee roaster


Old coffee grinder (crusher)


Mariam Bawardi Mosaic icon made in the St Gerasimos Greek Orthodox Monastery in the Jordan                                                         Valley near Jericho


The coffee was very good, and of course with some kind of sweet to eat as well.

After our time with the Daoud family, we walked to the pharmacy for a few thing then across the street to the fruit store.  While we were there Salha called and asked where we were.  When she found out that we were at the fruit store she told us to wait there and she would pick us up.  Soon we saw her and with her was her sister in law and her nephew, all dressed up for mother;s day.  We drove back over tot he guest house and they all came up for some coffee.  Salha had brought Jane a mother’s day present of  large vse filled with different kinds of candy.

Salha and her sister in law were on their way to Salha’s parent’s home where her mother was roasting a whole stuffed lamb and all the family (a lot of people) were coming to celebrate mother’s day.

After they left Jane and I went out for a walk and saw the white breasted kingfisher.


Today Jane met with Noor and Ashraf as usual.  Ashraf is beginning to be able to express himself more easily in English, not like translating from Arabic to English.  He will soon have an oral interview that will affect his application to college where he wants to study psychology.

Today also the faculty gathered at 10:45 for their brunch and someone provided Manaesh.  It was delicious.

The strong winds coming out of the east are bringing terrible sandstorms to our area.  In Bethlehem, President Obama could not take the helicopter to get from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and had to go by car.  That meant he had to drive right alongside the apartheid wall and go through a check point.  He did not have to wait in line for hours like the Palestinians, but at least he saw the terrible wall and the checkpoints up close.  We called the sandstorm affecting Bethlthem, the ruach of God, the breath of God.

Later we received a call from Elias O telling us that we should walk down to the preschool where a mother’s day party was in progress. we did.  Badia had helped do some cooking for the party — she regularly cooks for the children, over 20 kids, children of parents who work at Mar Elias. It was a great party with professional entertainers to keep the kids and their parents busy.  From the expressions on the faces of the children and parents everyone had a good time.  Toward the end food was set out and we enjoyed some delicious different kinds of sweets.


At the break, Amal, one of the teachers, brought a special cake she had made, carob topping, cheese on the bottom.  Again we enjoyed it very much, as we have found that we do with most of the foods here.

After the break, I went to Veronica’s English class.  This is a tenth grade class and they are now together as a homeroom.  I set up my camera and tripod, used the color correction card, and then took pictures of those who were willing to sit for a picture.

We spentsome of the day getting ready to leave on Monday for Amman and our trip to Petra and Jerash in Jordan.


Today we were up earlier than usual.  Elias and Badia planned to pick us up shortly after nine and we would drive together to Mt Tabor.  Afterward we would go to their home for a late lunch.  Mt Tabor is the place where the transfiguration of Jesus took place.  It is recorded in the synoptic gospels and also referred to in II Peter 1:16-18.  The language of the gospels refer to Jesus taking Peter, James and John with him to a high mountain.  Today this is Mt. Tabor.

Mt Tabor is located to the east of Nazareth, visible from the roof of the Abuna Firaj Pilgrim House where we stay when we are in Nazareth.  The long distance lens makes it look as if Mt Tabor is right on top of Nazareth.  Map images below show that it is not.



From the map image below you can see that Nazareth is 1,500 feet elevation, the area between Nazareth and Mt. Tabor drops to 452 feet, and then Mt Tabor goes up to 1,886 elevation.  Beyond that to the east when you arrive at the Sea of Galilee you drop to 646 feet below sea level.  Imagine spending your days walking this area as did Jesus and his disciples.  Of course they did not have watches or smart phones with built in calendars, they were on God’s time.


Large tour groups on buses have to disembark from the buses and take taxis to the top.  From the image below you can see why, large buses could never make the switch backs, 15 in all going to the top of Mt. Tabor.


I recently placed a reservation for a group called The True Life in God (http://www.tlig.org) to use the Church of the Sermon on the Mount for an early morning worship service Sunday September 1st with 600 people expecting to attend.  The reason for an early start for the service, 8:30, was explained by mentioning that after the service all 600 are going to Mt Tabor and all 600 will have to be transported to the top in taxis — if you are reading this and plan to be any where near Mt Tabor that day, don’t go there!

We manoeuvred the switchbacks with Ronza counting them as we went up.  Near the top there is a fork in the road, the left road goes to the Greek Orthodox church and the right, which we took, goes to the Latin Rite church (catholic).  We arrived soon, parked and began our walk to the church, the Basilica of the Transfiguration. ( We would find out later that we could not get into the Greek Orthodox church.  Ellas and Badia are Greek Orthodox and had come another time and were not able to get into the church then.  From the write up in the Lonely Planet about Mt. Tabor, it appears that the writers were not permitted in the church either.  There is no detailed information about the church like there is for the Basilica of the Transfiguration.)

The entrance to the area in which the Basilica is located is through a 13th century gate.


The gate is part of the fortress built by the Muslims in the 13th century.  Under the fortress are remains of a Byzantine Church, crusader churches, one destroyed by the Turks in the early 1100s, rebuilt and again captured later in the 1100s when the crusaders were defeated at the Horns of Hittin.  It was then that the Muslims built their fortress.  This inspired the 5th crusade.  The fortress survived attacks but the Muslims decided that it would be a constant source of conflict.  Truces permitted the return of Christians until their ouster in 1263. (info grom Lonely Planet)

We walked up a long stone walkway to the Basilica,




passing a gate to our right that takes you to a small chapel that according to our guide book commemorates the conversation that Jesus had with his disciples after the transfiguration,


and then entered the Basilica just as a worship service for an Italian tour group was ending


This enabled us to get up close to see the nativity mosaic.  We took many  pictures inside (the mosaics are spectacular)

and then outside from a vantage point overlooking the Jezreel Valley, over a thousand feet below.




We returned along the road stopping to take some more pictures (Nazareth in the distance) and seeing sky divers using the mountain as their take-off point.




On our way back to Ibillin we drove through the western most part of Shefa”mer and then west of the main road from which we exit to get to Ibillin.  We found out we were being taken to Elias’ and Badia’s small plot of land on which they have some olive trees and other plants.

Olive trees in blossom



Za’atar plants





Then back to their home for a barbecue and delicious salads.  Finally home in the late afternoon.  We finalised our packing for Jordan with the exception of last minutes items and went to bed to rest before beginning our next adventure, one we were looking forward to very much.

March 11 through March 17


On Monday, I walked Michael and Angelina down the stairs to meet with Johaina, the Director of the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School and the Middle School (the guest house is on the top (fifth) floor of the elementary school, so we walked down four flights of stairs).  Since their screening equipment and other supplies were still in customs, they had to adjust their plans for working with students at the school.  Johaina had received permission slips back from the parents of four students who had already been identified with hearing problems and had some kind of hearing aids.  It was decided that Tuesday morning would be the time for meeting with these students and their parents and Johaina showed us the nurse’s room on the basement floor that could be used for this purpose.  Johaina also had the results of the screening tests for these students of which she made copies to share with Angelina for the audiologists to look at to determine how they might best be of help.

At the same time, I took the art teacher, Jessie Smith, to Johaina and she directed her to the classroom where the art teacher was working with the elementary school students.  We told Jessie to come back up to the guest house by 9:15.  Jessie reported later on her good experience with the art teacher and the children in the art class.  She later provided a donation for the art teacher to help buy art supplies.  Jessie is taking pictures of art projects on the other side of the 3rd floor.

jessie with student art

The whole group would be walking over to a room behind the church to meet with the Archbishop at 9:30 and then they would be joined by a group of students coming from Notre Dame University at 10:00 for a joint meeting with the Archbishop.  The group from Notre Dame would also be coming over to the guest house for lunch around 12:00.  (We were using this room because some rooms on the 6th floor were being renovated to provide cubicles and desks for tutoring of high school students and the hallway was cluttered)

After getting the audiologists and the art teacher connected, I walked down to the high school to gather up books, DVDs, and other materials to carry over to the room where the Archbishop would be meeting the two groups so I could set up tables with these materials for sale.  Also I helped to set up juices, coffee and wafers for the guests to enjoy.

Getting to this room is like walking through a maze.  You enter the large building, in which the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and the Niwano Peace Auditorium are located, in the back of the Niwano Peace auditorium and walk around behind the auditorium to steps, up the steps, and back around, now at the level of the church, to a room that is bright and sunny, much better for pictures than the sixth floor room where we usually meet.  Right outside the room is a hallway large enough for us to set up tables on which to place the Archbishop’s books and the other materials we have for sale and information.

Traveling with the HearCare Audiology group were some people doing professional video and making reports back on the group’s trip to Israel/Palestine for a TV station in Ft Wayne, Curtis Smith, a weather reporter, and Tim Langston, a videographer.  They set up early and did an interview with the Archbishop



and then were delighted with the fact that here in Ibillin, they, from Ft Wayne, IN, were meeting up with students from Notre Dame University also in Indiana.  Interviews were conducted with some of them as well.  You can see their reports at this web site (http://www.indianasnewscenter.com/weather/hearing-the-call/),

Comments on these reports;  this group spent over a week in Israel/Palestine.  The work they were doing in providing professional, careful and sensitive attention and care, and hearing instruments, to children with hearing disorders did bring rewarding smiles to them on the faces of the children and parents.  It is an effort well worth making.  However, if you look at all of the reports shown on the site above,  it is as if the apartheid wall and the oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, now recognised by the United Nations as Palestine, does not exist.  There are no pictures of the wall or the check points and no mention is made of either.  Additionally, they listened to the Archbishop who speaks specifically about the unequal, injust treatment of Palestinian citizens in Israel, and Mitri Raheb pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and one of the contributors to Kairos Palesetine: A Moment of Truth, a document which affirms that resistance to injustice and oppression is firmly grounded in the Christian principles of faith, hope, and love, and which asks Christians around the world to hear the call of the Palestinian Christians. None of this is reflected in the reports.  Actually their reporting is a pretty good case study of how persons can travel in Israel/Palestine, even persons who are paid to “see” and “hear” and either are not willing to “see” and “hear” or at least not willing to report on all that they see and hear.

Following the Archbishop’s talk with these two groups, I took the Notre Dame students


into the Church of the Sermon on the Mount to show them the iconostasis and the beatitude iconsand then we walked over to the guest house where they ate lunch.  After lunch we walked up to the roof for a quick look around.  From the roof, on a clear day, you can see all along Mount Carmel and to Haifa.

haifa panorama

Often the Mediterranean Sea looks as if it forms a wall rising straight up from the land.  As you move your eyes up the coast, to your right, you can see Akko


and on a clear day all the way into Lebanon.  From here also you can gain a better idea of the scope of the campus of Mar Elias Educational Institution.  You can also see across the valley to the village center of Ibillin and the Mosque, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Melkite Catholic Church.  In front of the Melkite Catholic Church you can also see the first building erected by the then Abuna Chacour, the kindergarten.

The students from Notre Dame were soon on their way.

Michael and his group were going into Haifa tonight for dinner, so we had the evening off.


We were up early again the next morning to help prepare for breakfast.  After breakfast, the audiologists went down to the nurse’s room in the basement and began to see the four students as had been planned yesterday.

As this was in process, Angelina was trying to find batteries for some of the special kind of hearing aids they had carried in with them.. Micha Chacour took her to a local place run by a former student of Mar Elias who also had hearing problems and used hearing aids.  The audiologists finished their work, everything was packed up on the bus and all were ready to go waiting for the return of Micha and Angelina.  Finally they made it and soon the Michael Spath group was off for Tiberias.

For our part, the clean-up began at least to prepare for the arrival in the early afternoon of three couples from Italy who were on a hiking pilgrimage through Israel/Palestine.  As usual we stripped the beds and I carried the bedding and towels to the laundry room on the room and Jane started the wash.  While she was up there, Elias O, who was working on the roof, called her to come over to the edge of the roof at the back ans see the strange animal that was on the hillside behind the elementary school.  When Jane looked there was the hyrax that we had seen from time to time earlier, but not for a long time.  You can look up hyrax on Wikipdeidia.



We actually get quite a few hikers from Italy because the guest house is listed in an Italian hiker’s guide book.  They start at the airport in Tel Aviv and take a taxi to Akko where they stay the first night  The second day they walk from Akko to Ibillin and stay the second night in the Mar Elias Guest House.

They ddi arrive in the middle of the afternoon.  It was one of the hottest days of the year to date and they were red, from the sun. hot and wet from the heat and sweating.  They were delighted with their rooms, showers and a place to wash out their clothes and hang them up on the clothes lines on the roof.

After showering, washing clothes, and resting a bit, one of the women asked me if it were possible to visit the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  The guide book mentions the iconostasis and she is an iconographer.  So when they were ready, by this time it was getting dark, I walked them over to the church.  I had them wait outside while I went inside to turn on the lights and to let the lights come fully on.  Then I invited them in.  The woman who is an iconography took one look at the iconostasis and exclaimed “Paradiso!”


From their entrance into the church and their behaviour while in the church you could see the reverence with which they approached the iconostasis and the other icons and how much they appreciated the opportunity to come into this place.  After quite a while in the church with them exploring all the icons of the iconostasis very closely, we returned to the guest house and Badia had dinner ready for them.  They ate well.  They indicated that they would like to leave sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning,  We showed them where things were for them to make sandwiches if they desired and where there was fruit they could take with them.  I told them I would be up to let them out of the guest house.  (We lock it up every night).  And we all went to bed.


I got up earily and was just in time for the last of the hikers waiting to take the elevator down to go outside and on his way.  The elevator holds only five people, so the others were already downstairs.  i rode down with him and found, as I expected, the others waiting at the door to get out also.  After opening the door, I pointed them in the directions they needed to walk to get off the campus and they were on their way.

Today we were expecting 35 visitors who were alumni or friends of alumni of  Calvin College which is located Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Their leader was William Vanden Bosch.  They met with Elias AG at 12:30, and then we visited the Church of the Sermon on the Mount



and then came back to the guest house for lunch, again a delicious meal prepared by Badia

They were on their way shortly after 3:30.


Today was the day for my surgery.  We were to be at Nazareth English Hospital by 10:00 am.    Elias Obaid picked us up at about 9:15 and we arrived at the hospital before 10:00 (you can never tell how much traffic you will hit so it is always wise to give yourself plenty of time).  Fortunately we found a parking place right near the hospital entrance and found our way up to the sixth floor where outpatient surgery is performed.  The secretary was training a new secretary so it was taking a very long time for signing up each patient.  I finally was called to get signed up,  had a bracelet put on, payment made (not much), and ushered into a curtained off room to wait my turn to go into the operating room.  It did not take too long before I was rolled into the room, the doctor administered the local anaesthesia, and he made his excision (no pain), and began to stitch up the surgical cut, eight stitches in all.  I was soon out of the operating room and had to wait a few minutes more until the report was written and I was released, all in all from the time I was taken into the first room until I walked out, not more than 45 minutes.

This was the day we had planning to complete two other tasks while in Nazareth: my Canon lens that needed repair was ready for pick-up at the Abu Castro Digital Camera shop and, since I knew I would be in Nazareth on this day, I had arranged with the people from the International Center for Mary to pick up payment for their stay at the guest house last Saturday night.

The lens was indeed ready.  I put it on my Canon 7D and took a few test shots.  It worked and I was greatly relieved since we would be leaving for Jordan and a special visit to Petra the next week.

We moved on to find parking so we could walk up to the International Center for Mary which is located across the street behind the Basilica of the Annunciation — very limited parking near it.  We did find parking in a lot and then walked across the main street, through a souk area that took us to the road that goes by the Basilica and around behind the Basilica to the entrance to the International Center for Mary.  We made it just in time, since they close their doors between 12 and 2.  Once inside we found Luc and Marie-Christine (husband and wife who run the center) and received the payment and then went and sat in their beautiful cafeteria area for a cup of coffee and some conversation.  Jane went to look at their gift shop and Elias and I stayed and talked with Luc.  In a short time we were on our way back to Ibillin with all of our tasks accomplished. On the way back into Ibillin, Elias took us to a special falafel restaurant. it did not look like much, but the falafel was delicious.  Elias then drove us back to the guest house.


After breakfast, Jane walked down to the high school to work with Nur and Ashraf.  She is finding it very helpful to have them together when she is working with Ashraf.  Nur understands English quite well and so he helps explain to Ashraf what he has to do.  Jane is working with him to prepare him for an oral interview concerning his plans for his future.

A week ago Johaina, the Director of the Mariam Bawardi Elementary School had asked us if we would like to come to her home for an overnight stay and a visit to Kfar Kana (the Cana mentioned in John’s Gospel where Jesus turns water into wine).  We said yes, we would like to come and arranged to come today.

Today after the gifted program was finished, one of the teachers, Kamil, who also lives in Kfar Kana would pick us up and take us to Johaina;s home.  So at 2:00 pm we got into his car and drove off toward Kfar Kana.  He stopped on the way at his sister’s home in Shefa’mer, the city right next to Ibillin.  Her husband is an internal medicine doctor, educated in Italy.  We were treated to strawberries, dates, and coffee with some sweets also. Another sister of Kamil came with us on our trip to Kfar Kana.  The road to Kfar Kana takes us past Nazareth on the north and then it seemed like we kept going down and down until we finally arrived in Kfar Kana.  We had two stops before getting to Johaina’s, Kamil bought some sweets to take to Johaina, and we bought some large bandages for my arm since I could now take a shower and then would have to cover the stitches  Then we dropped off Kamil’s sister and on to Johaina’s home.  There we were greeted by Johaina, her two daughters, 4 and 8, and her husband, Amil.   Her two daughters were quite excited about our coming.  Johaina had instructed Badia not to feed us lunch because she planned to feed us soon after we arrived.  So after getting our things into the room where we would stay, the girls’ room, we sat down to a delicious meal.  We were introduced to a dish we had not had before, green burghel with pasta, kafta with tahini, chicken, potatoes, tabuli, and a salad of fresh greens,  After eating, we walked to the Greek Orthodox Church, where the miracle of turning water into wine is celebrated. Before getting to the church, we were joined by Amin’s father (he lives right next to the church) and he escorted us into the back way into the church.

Greek Orthodox Church

Greek Orthodox Church

The church was very crowded with tourists.  Amin’s father said crowds start coming at 7 in the morning and continue until 7 at night with the tour guides rushing the tourist along,  a true image of “running where Jesus walked.”  It is here that John 2 writes of Jesus turning water into wine.  John two starts, On the third day,  . . .”  In chapter one Jesus has met Nathaniel.  Nathaniel’s home is Cana.  We do not know if that is where Jesus met him.  However, Nazareth is not a short distance from Kana especially when you are walking.  It is, however, mostly downhill, in fact constantly downhill.  One of the things that impresses you when you are here for a while and not rushing around like when on a tour, is the mountainous character of the Galilee — and to think that all of the people in Jesus’ time walked.  From reading in the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples walked considerable distances and it was not easy walking.  However, their sense of time was quite different from ours and they were not being rushed along by tour guides

Afterward we left the oldest daughter, Raghad, with her grandparents and Amin, Johaina, Ranad, Jane and I drove toward Tiberius,   We stopped first at a garden center which was quite nice.  Here to our delight, we found packaged seeds for za’atar and the small squash they use so much here.  In addition to all of the plants and trees, they had a special area in which spices were in abundance.  The fragrance of the spices was delightful.



We drove on to Tiberius, again constantly downhill.  The Sea of Galilee is over 240 meters below sea level.  We parked and walked down to the boardwalk along the edge of the sea of Gallilee.  it being Friday night, it was pretty quiet.  We found an ice cream place and enjoyed sitting alongside the sea and eating our ice cream.  Two kids are enjoying ice cream.



On our return trip we stopped off at Amin’s parents to pick up their older daughter.  Of course that means coffee, fruit and sweets.  Amin’s father worked with the UN Peacekeeping forces for most of his working life and proudly showed us a plaque he had been presented upon his retirement.  They had the ceiling of their dining room decorated in way that would make me uncomfortable to sit in that room under that ceiling for a meal.


Back at Joahaina’s   Their daughters had given up therir beds for us to sleep on.  The youngest, 4 year old Ranad, we were told, was delighted because it meant that she could sleep in her mother’s and father’s room.

Saturday Morning

We were up early since we had to leave for Ibillin by 7:00 am with Johaina and Kamil.  The elementary school begins at 8:00 am.

After breakfast we began our return journey and arrived back at the school around 7:30.  We took our things upstairs while Johaina and Kamil went to the first floor and began preparation for school to begin.

All day today Badia was busy in the kitchen preparing a meal for 40+ people at lunch on Monday.  This was to be a special meal and the day was also known as “Clean Monday” in the Eastern Rite churches.  (you can check this in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Monday)  The main course would be fish, no beef or  chicken.  We talked with Nawar, the former Director of the Elementary school and one of the old timers at Mar Elias, and she invited us to go with her tomorrow to Akko where she would purchase fresh fish.  We agreed and she said that wo would go some time around noon.


We were up in time for a leisurely breakfast before beginning our 20-25 minute walk over to the village to go to the St George Melkite Catholic Church for worship.  After church we went to the fruit store as usual for some fresh fruit and then made the walk back to the guest house.

Around noon I called Nawar and she said she would be over to pick us up in a few minutes.  Soon we were in her car and on our way to Akko.  Akko is made up of the old city with its Palestinian residents and then mostly Jewish residents in newer housing surrounding th sold city.  We drove all the way to the street that goes along the Mediterranean and turned left to go down to the old city.  After parking, Nawar took us to Badia’s home, one of her oldest friend’s.  She was originally from Ibillin.  It is a beautiful old home in the midst of the old city.  We knocked on a door of a building right on the street


and when her friend, Badia, opened the door and invited us in we were amazed.  We walked through a court yard


and then into a large sitting room where we sat and talked withBadia and her  husband.  He was dressed in a suit and tie.  We found out that he had been the organizer and leader of the scout troops in Akko for many years, now retired.  Of course our conversation included coffee and sweets.  Then Badia’s husband led us walking through the narrow stone streets of the old city to the souk.   We find this most interesting, walking through the narrow streets of the old city, stopping to take pictures along the way.






The home of the parents of Suha Arafat, the wife of Arafat.


We soon arrive at the old souk (the shopping area filled with small shops along each side of the narrow stone street and make our way for awhile until we arrive at the place where fresh fish are for sale.  Badia’s husband goes around the table where many different kinds of whole fish are displayed and talks with the owners.  He asks for 44 fish for Nawar to take for the lunch tomorrow and a few more for Nawar to take for herself.  We followed him around behind the table and are able to see the fish being selected.  Next comes the scaling, gutting and cleaning of the fish.  Then they are packed in a large box and ice put on top.

Then the box is loaded onto a dolly and an older man begins to walk the box back through the souk and the narrow streets, stopping often as the top pops off.  Finally he finds an heavy piece of wood and props in on top.  We finally arrive back at the car and load the box into the car.

We then get back in the car for the ride back to the guest house.

When we got to the guest house, I took the box of fish out of the car and carried it up to the kitchen area.  Nawar has left.  Jane and I opened the refrigerator and check to see how we can get this large box inside.  We decides that to do so we needed to remove some of the shelves.  It turned out to be a difficult task and we were afraid that we might break something in the refrigerator.  We called Elias and Badia and they came over to help get the shelves out of the refrigerator so the fish could fit inside.  We finally managed and the fish were put securely into the refrigerator with the lid on tightly – no odors.

Elias and Badia left, with the information that Badia would be back around 7 in the morning to begin preparing the fish.

(Fish dinner to be continued in the next blog)

March 4-10 Monday Up early to help prepare breakfast for the German group.  They wanted to eat by 7:00 which means we were up by 5:45 to shower and then out in the kitchen by 6;15 to help Badia and Elias O get things set up for breakfast. Today they were touring around Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, a long day. We are enjoying the German group very much.  There are three couples, two older couples (60s) and one younger couple (30s or 40s), two women, and one man, a priest and their leader, Berrhard Pfaff.  He is also the driver of their van.  One of the women’s name is Uli -short for Ulrike.  She is in an interesting business in southern Germany, tours using old fashioned touring coaches.  You can see what her business offers at http://www.aaglander-iffezheim.de   Her shortened name, Uli, in Arabic means “speak”  Badia’s daughter, Ronza was at the guest house one evening and asked Uli her name.  When she replied, uli, Ronzi thought that Uli was asking her (Ronza) to speak.  This was a source for a good laugh.  From the way the members of this group interact with each other, it is evident that the members of this group enjoy each other very much.  They are very organised also.  Each morning before they leave for the tour for the day, they make sure they have packed plenty of bread, water, and things to eat on the way, along with plates and utensils, their own.  When they return, the first task is to come into the kitchen and wash everything to ready it for the next day. I went to Nardeen’s class this afternoon.  Today they were to write about what they wanted for their future.  I have been with this class many times and, in fact, recording some of the students who had written the best of the thank you notes to Pilgrims of ibillin.  Today, Nardeen said that the students wanted to talk about their future rather than write.  That was fine with me.  One of the basic skills the English teachers seek to help the students develop is the skill in speaking English.  We have done a lot with different classes in which we use the Ungame and give students a card and then have them talk about the question or topic on the card.  We have found the students to be very receptive to this, in fact one student came up to Jane after a class and thanked her for giving her the opportunity to talk. Nardeen’s class has 37 very active ninth graders.  We set the criteria that the students had to be quiet, not an easy task for this class, so their fellow students could talk.  They managed to stay relatively quiet.  It was necessary only a few times to stop and ask for quiet.  One student commented that he want to be a philosopher  — not a very usual desire among these students who are mostly oriented toward science or medicine. Tuesday Again an early morning.  Today the German group left for the north of the Galilee, including Biram, the village of Elias Chacour’s birth and from which he and his family were evicted by the Israel soldiers in 1948, a story well told in his book, Blood Brothers. A different but colorful sunset picture images03_05_13sunset-2 Wednesday Today was the day the German group went to tour Akko.  Jane and I find it interesting that many of the groups that come here do not go to Akko.  We find it one of the more interesting places just to walk in the old city and see the narrow stone streets with many arches and old shutters and gates.  Especially interesting are the walls that withstood the siege of Napoleon.  As I wrote in our blog from our first stay, November 2011 through January 2012, we were in Akko several times.  With a German architect we were able to go under the existing Melkite Catholic Church to the church that was here during the crusades, 1150 or so and even down into the large cistern where water was stored for the city. Akko also has a long history of being an important port for trade. It is mentioned in Egyptian writings as early as the 1900 BC.  It still serves as an important source of income for Palestinian who go out every day to fish.  Fresh fish can be found for sale in the old souk. After the German tour group left, I walked over to the Niwano Peace auditorium.  Here students on the student councils from five Melkite Catholic Schools were gathering.  In addition to all of her cooking for the guests at the guest house, Badia had been busy helping to cook lunch for this gathering of an expected 150 students, administrators and the Archbishop.  The students enjoyed the food prepared for them, as did the teachers. images03_06_13studentcouncil-9 images03_06_13studentcouncil-10 Students were present from Mar Elias in Ibillin, Mar Elias in Haifa, the Melkite Catholic high school in Shefa’mer, in Nazareth, and Jish.  The event was organised by Gloria, Gloria one of the high school teachers, along with Johaina, the elementary and middle school principal, and Kamil, a teacher at the elementary and middle school. Kamil and Johaina The Archbishop was present and spoke. Archbishop Chacour Music was also part of the program. I left when the morning session broke for lunch and returned to the guest house. At night we were joined for dinner by Elias AG and Fawaz, one of the high school teachers, but for this group more importantly, the person who organizes Mar Elias’ student exchange programs to Germany. Elias spoke about the high school and Mar Elias more generally. Tonight Badia made her special dessert, waffles, topped with ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce and sprinkles. special dessert Our guests, and we, were delighted. After all this, things got “serious”.  Uli brought out a hand written letter and began to read it to Bernhard. IMG_2392 The group was taking this opportunity to thank him for organizing and leading the tour. IMG_2393 They had enjoyed themselves very much.  After reading her letter, they presented Bernhard with a gift. IMG_2387 IMG_2388 He opened it and began to laugh with great joy — it was one of the paper weights, looking like the globes we give at Christmas time that, when turned upside down, start to snow.  In side the globe were goats.  Everyone started laughing and Bernhard was delighted.  Early in his stay at the guest house, he had shown us a whole portfolio of pictures of his neighbour’s goats.  Evidently he spends a great deal of time with them and has names for each of the goats. IMG_2391 Thursday Today our German friends left. IMG_2394 Since we were expected a group from the International Center for Mary to arrive on Saturday night, we quickly went around to the rooms, stripping the beds, gathering towels, wash cloths etc and taking them up to the roof top washing area, where Jane began the task of washing. Friday One of Jane’s blind students, Bonsiana is now being taught by Hanadi.  This is a good move, since Bonsiana has great difficulty with English (as well as most other subjects, we found out).  Hanadi just returned this year from two years in New York City at CCNY.  She is an Englsih teacher and of course speaks Arabic, so she will be able to work more closely with Bonsiana. Today, Jane had both Ashraf and Nur in the room with her and found having Nur very helpful in working with Ashraf.  Nur understands English pretty well.  Jane is working with Ashraf on his oral skills.  He is a senior and when he applies for colleges he will have to go for interviews, in English.  Having Nur with her, Jane could tell Nur what she was trying to get Ashraf to vocalize in Arabic and then Ashraf began the process of speaking in English. Saturday Early in the morning, around 8:30, we left for Nazareth to go to the English Hospital to see Dr. Hakim, the plastic surgeon who had removed a basil cell from my left cheek soon after we arrived last September  – an agreement I had made with my dermatologist before we left in late August.  Today he would look at a growth on my right arm where the tricep muscle is located.  We arrived early and when we walked into his office, he greeted us and immediately looked at my arm.  He said it would be best to remove the growth and do so in the operating room under local anaesthesia.  So he scheduled me for next Thursday, telling us to come some time between 10 and 12 noon.  So we were back in Ibillin very quickly. Today we made sure the necessary number of rooms for our guests from International center for Mary were prepared.  We have made a check list of items to make sure each room has the necessary number of towels (bath, hand, wash cloth), bath mats, TP, bars of soap, toilet bowl deodorant, that the pamphlet providing information is in the room, etc.  We open the doors, and i make out a list of the rooms with the names of the persons in the rooms (as this list has been sent to me in advance, usually upon my request).  For the group coming tonight we needed two rooms with a double bed (two married couples — although this assumption does not always work), one room with three nuns, two rooms each with two nuns, and three rooms with one person in each room — eight rooms altogether. The group from the International Center for Mary arrived around four.  After showing them their rooms, they moved into the library and set it up to watch a projected DVD.  Five of the members were still to come, including the director of the center, Luc Lagabrielle. It turned out that three of the nuns coming from Nazareth had difficulty finding their way here. Elias, Badia’s husband, did his usual thing.  He spoke with them on the phone and gave them directions, not once, but at least three times.  He finally got in his car and drove into ibillin to see if he could find them.  He figured our what they had done, taken a left instead of a right and he found them at the building for a language school in Ibillin, not Mar Elias. They had asked for simple meal, no meat.  Badia prepared a delicious soup and several salads along with rice. Sunday This morning after breakfast, the group from the International Center for Mary moved all of their luggage into the library so we could clean up the rooms to be ready for another group coming in tonight.  Then I walked them over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount.  They brought implements for mass and, for after their worship service, we had set-up a room for them to use behind the church in which to continue their retreat.  I showed them the two options they could use including the filtered hot and cold water dispenser and then brought them back into the church and showed them the area they could use to celebrate the mass.  Then I showed and talked some about the various icons in the church, including the beatitude icons.  I then returned to the guest house to help further with the set up for the group coming that night. We were expecting a group led by Michael Spath, a member off the Board of Directors of Pilgrims of Ibillin, and a professor in the Religious Studies Program, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, Ind.  He was bringing with him a group from the HearCare Audiology nonprofit organization.  They worked last year with Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (and much more), to provide hearing tests and hearing aid equipment for children in Bethlehem using the Bethlehem Health and Wellness Clinic Mitri had set up .  Now they were seeking to establish a relationship with the Mar Elias Schools to do something similar here. For those willing to stay with me, this is an interesting, to me, sample of one of the things I do as a volunteer.  I began email contact with Michael on January 23, 2013, after being sent his contact information from Elias AG,  by introducing myself and Jane as volunteers at the Mar Elias Educational Institutions through the Pilgrims of Ibillin (at the time not realizing that Michael was a member of the Board of Directors of Pilgrims of Ibillin) and that part of my job as a volunteer was to contact persons coming to stay at the guest house to be of assistance to them in planning their stay.  Michael responded on Feb 5th with a description of their plans and hopes, including screening for all 1st and 4th graders and helping students with special needs regarding hearing difficulties. Their planned stay was to arrive in the afternoon on Sunday, have a tour of the Church of the Sermon on the Mount, meet early in the morning with Elias AG, then meet with the Archbishop.  Then lunch and after lunch begin the hearing tests.  Dinner would be in Haifa.  After breakfast the next mooring, hearing tests and attending to students with special hearing issued would continue.  They planned to finish and leave for Tiberius right about noon time and have lunch elsewhere. I arranged with Elias for him to eat dinner with them on Sunday night and talk with them after dinner.  This was communicated to Michael on Feb 6 and also indicated that I was to meet with Johaina, the Director of the Elementary School and the one whose students would be affected by the work of HearCare Audiology. Later the same day I emailed Michael again with the results of my meeting with Johaina.  Based on their experience with the center in Bethlehem, an assumption was made that hearing tests were not performed on children in Israel, or that no tests had been performed for first graders.  In fact, under the Ministry of Education, all children in Israel are screening for hearing problems in grade one and again in grade seven.  The results are given to the parents and the schools are also informed. I do not know if the way children with hearing difficulties are treated in the Palestinian schools is different from the way children are treated in Jewish schools after the results are know.  If a child has a hearing problem needing further diagnosis and/or hearing aids, in the Palestinian village/cities tit is the responsibility of the parents. I reported this information to Michael and then was introduced to Angelina.  It was decided that screening would be done for the fourth grade class since no screening would be done by the state of Israel again until the seventh grade class and that I would inquire about any students already diagnosed with hearing problems so that they and their parents could be invited to come for further screening and testing.  In addition, I reminded them that this was the initial contact with the school and that they should view this as the time of making connections and finding out how best to serve the needs of these children during further visits — which was the plan of the HearCare Audiology group.  Over a period of a month we emailed back and forth to finalize plans, the final part being to provide a mailing address for HearCare Audiology to use for shipping their equipment and supplies to Israel instead of carrying it like they did the year before (as it turned out this would be a major mistake — their equipment and supplies have still not been released from customs). One important part of the preplanning was providing some detail concerning screening and other services the audiology group would provide so Johaina could sent out a letter describing this and let any parent who did not want his/her child to participate in the program, indicate this to her.  Angelina provided that information to me and I gave it to Johaine so she coiuld sent out such a letter at least a week in advance of the coming of HearCare Audiology. The group arrived in the late afternoon as planned and after getting settled in their rooms, I walked them over to the Church of the Sermon on the Mount and gave them a tour of the  Niwano Peace Auditorium under the church and then the church and its beautiful icons. Elias AG arrived in time for dinner and then spent about two hours with them afterward talking about living as an Arab/Palestinian/Israeli Citizen/Christina in Israel and about the development and vision for the Mar Elias Educational Institutions. I gave them the schedule that had been worked out with Johaina.  As mentioned earlier, their equipment and supplies had not been released from customs, so the plan for Monday was changed so Michael and Angelina would meet with Johaina early in the morning to find out about the four students whose hearing problems had already been identified and try to set up a time for them to meet with these students and the parents. Another facet of the scheduling was to see if one of the members traveling with the group, an art teacher in the US, could participate in art classes during the day on Monday.  I had arranged this also with Johaina, so the art teacher was scheduled to be with the Mariam Bawardi art teacher beginning at 8:00 am.  She would stay unit the time she would walk over to the place where the Archbishop would meet with them at 9:30 the next morning. Having gone over all of this, everyone was ready for bed.  Tomorrow is another day.

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

Week of January 21-27


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

Churches Diocese Melkite Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Today is a holiday, the Muslim New Year.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset tonight was spectacular




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


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

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

More sunsets




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

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



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


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

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

Week of  February 25 to March 3

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

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





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




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

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


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


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


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

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




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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of Feb 18 — 24


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





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

With the rain almost always comes clouds and sunseets.





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

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

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


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

We met with Emil’s class again.  We got the key to the smart board room where we could watch a You Tube program, Suad Amiry’s talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk7joCi-gXs well worth watching if you have not done so already.  We used her presentation to have them write about what they really love to do and what things act as “gravitational forces” to keep them from doing this.  We had some very interesting comments from the students.

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


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

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

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

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



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


gym and highschool

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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



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

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


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