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Sam and Ruth's Journal from Ibillin, Israel
November 11, 2013
This has been a busy week and it has gone by very rapidly. Last
Monday afternoon we were pleased to host a group of 23 from Pilgrims of
Ibillin, led by Joan Deming, the current Director. For the
record, this included full board for two days, and certainly kept
Badiya, our cook, busy. I think it was a good time for us to
assess just what is important in this job, and what part is not worth
the worry. Here is what I mean:
Around last Friday I received a message via Joan that a visiting
Presbyterian Minister, Anne Conroy, had part of a day free and would
like to visit the schools on Tuesday, the 5th. This was the
principal day of Joan and her group's visit, and Anne wanted to join in
with them. The issue was transportation, since Anne would be
leaving her hotel in Jerusalem in the morning, and going back to Tel
Aviv in the late afternoon for a meeting of the board of the Abraham
Fund, an organization that has been working on Palestinian - Jewish
relations for about 100 years. It seemed important to us that
Anne should have a good visit here.
I exchanged several emails with her with regard to transportation, and
the outcome was that she would come to Ibillin by taxi, and we would
arrange transportation for her to Tel Aviv. Elias A. G. agreed to
work it out. At this point Joan received a message from
Elias A. G. that Tuesday would be a holiday, and then I received a
message from Anne that she would not be visiting after all. I
told Elias that we did not need to arrange transportation. Then I
received another message from Anne, saying that since it was only a
holiday for the high school, she would be coming anyway, and that she
had found a driver that would stay with her to Tel Aviv, and that he
knew his way to the school. Fine! At around 10:00 on
Tuesday I looked out the window and saw an unfamiliar taxi coming
tentatively down the hill from the Christian Cemetary. It turned
toward the schools, and I ran down to the parking lot to be a good
host. Her first words were that there were no signs and that they
had a terrible time finding the campus. I took her to the
elementary school to meet Joan, and on the way she told me she wanted
to talk to Elias A. G. I contacted him and he said he would be
free for 20 minutes around 11:30. At around 11 Joan's group,
along with Anne, had gone to see the Church of the Beatitudes (at the
opposite end of the campus) and I received a call from E. A. G. that he
was free now, but had another meeting soon. I took off
practically running for the church, and Elias O. ( Badiya's husband and
often our saviour) drove up beside me and said "Sam, you are in a
hurry. Jump in". That was the best part of the morning.
We found Anne, and E.O. delivered her to E. A. G. She had a
good meeting, came to the guest house for lunch, and then vanished.
I hope she had a good time.
The story is that I tried too hard to make detailed plans, but in the
end it didn't matter. None of my plans worked out. It is
just like Danny Kaye in the Court Jester. Plan A never works, and
plan B is usually unknown until it happens. What we have to do is
simply let people watch how expertly we go from plan A to plan B.
So Anne Conroy came and went, Doug Brouwer's group of 17 came (as
Joan's was leaving) for a meeting with Abuna, and on Thursday the
Father Ritter's group from Northern Ohio came for a meeting and a tour
of the church. There seem to be three features that are
1. The guide says he knows how to get here, and then complains that there are no signs.
2. Abuna (or Elias A.G.) opens their minds to the plight of Palestinians in Israel, and the mission of the school.
3. The groups buy many books, and leave happily impressed.
Well - so much for the boring part of the job. We did venture out
more, but primarily on foot, and we did encounter a few surprises.
With Joan's group we spent most of an afternoon visiting the home of
Assas Daoud, an architect who lives in one of the oldest houses in
Ibillin - it is prominent in a picture from the 30's, among only a few
other buildings on this side of the mountain. He showed us his
restored, old olive press, run by one motor with belts to many
After that he showed us the restoration of the Orthodox Church in which
he had participated - here are some pictures from that afternoon:
Through garden to Orthodox Church
Interior of Orthodox Church
Sometime After Joan's group left on Tuesday, we had plenty of BB
work to do - washing and changing sheets, cleaning rooms, and getting
the finances straight. An English teacher, Emil, called me up
unexpectedly and asked me to come to his class to talk about the Great
Depression. I did well enough for him to ask me back the next day
- but nothing since then. In addition a new volunteer,
Sara Rangel, arrived.
Sarah recently graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, and
she was remarkably upbeat despite many hours in the air and a long
stopover in London. In addition, she seemed to have lost some
money suspiciously on the flight, and the driver we had sent didn't
find her. Fortunately she had only a backpack and a purse, and came up
by train to Haifa where Elias O. met her and brought her to the
Guesthouse. Even though she had every right to be tired, she has
jumped right into the activities here "with both feet".
Thursday evening we decided again to go in search of an accordion at
Nabeeh's music school on the top of the hill. This time we did
meet Nabeeh briefly as students of strings, keyboard, piano, and a
zither - like instrument called a qanun. It is played with pics
tied to the thumb and first finger of both hands. Its special
feature is set of tuning devices called mandals on each (triple)
string. With it the player can get half and quarter intervals
which are not played in western music. Here are some qanun
Nabeeh did not react to the word "accordion", but he did invite us to
come back for small concert in the evening. We did return, and
found the main room set up for about 100 guests. A man from the
Ibillin junior high school (we hadn't been told of it before) wondered
why we were there, and then told us that this was not a concert, it was
a day commemorating the birthday of a much-loved doctor who had died
last May; but we could stay if we wished. We stayed, ending up in
the middle of the front row.
Nabeeh's choir along with a qanun player and a drummer did perform
three songs, and later a tall and beautiful young woman sang a solo,
sccompanied by a 14 - year-old boy who surveyed the audience as
he played - just the way Will does. In between there were long
and short, emotional and humorous tributes to the man who had died.
In other words, we were in a Quaker memorial service, only in a
different language. (I felt like the young man who came to Paul's
service and said at the end, "Paul seems to have been a great guy - I
wish I had known him").
Ruth and I decided to make the trek across town to the bank, just to
see how the drivers keep getting lost. It was interesting.
Just before we left Emil appeared and announced that a worship
group of which he is a member needed to find a place to discuss things
for an hour or so and they would be using the guesthouse - we
said ok, as if we had a choice, and we set out on our walk.
I downloaded a satellite map of the town, but of course things look
different on the ground. We had to ask directions a couple of
times, and each time we were asked why we were walking when we could
drive, and why we were going to the bank since it was closed.
Good questions. No matter - we did find the bank, which is
about the first business on the road entering Ibillin. Then when we
walked back home and I think I traced the best route - but when I
talked to Elias O. he said that would be hard for a bus. The best
idea is to give them his phone number and he will guide them in.
There is some kind of professional politics at work here.
We returned to find lots of people in the guesthouse. The "Hour
or So" was approaching three hours, and showed no sign of ending.
In fact by 8 pm about 65 people were in every chair we could
find, and the main room had been transformed into a church, with all
the implements needed for a full Catholic service. The
congregation was enthusiastic and close - knit. We were invited,
and did attend the service - an hour and a half which seemed to be
close to a praise meeting with Greek, Latin and Arabic liturgy.
Fortunately Emil, who speaks English and translates skillfully sat
between us and translated the entire service. We even took
communion, no questions asked.
The Service is About to Begin
After the service there was a great spread of snacks, sweets and drinks
- then in a short time all the church things disappeared, the chairs
and tables were in their usual places, and we were alone - just like
Sunday morning we decided on another hike, this time to a Jewish
village only a 3 km from the north-eastern end of Ibillin. We
laid out the path, and noted on the satellite map a dirt road right to
the village. We set out, making a couple of wrong turns, and came
to a main road with the dirt road in question more or less across from
us. The trouble was that before we could reach the road we would
have to cross a deep ditch and climb a six-foot fence. We saw
that there was a more normal entry about two km away, and started
walking down a very busy highway.
Before long a familiar car pulled up on the other side. It was
Elias O. "Where are you going on such a terrible place to walk?
Mitspe Aviv? They won't let you in - but I know the
security man, and he will let us in. Climb in the car - you won't get
there on foot".
So began another interesting day with Elias O. Apparently he had
worked at a little Mini Market at the settlement, and knew a few people
there. He did get us through the electric gates, and took us on a
little tour of the settlement, including several day-care centers.
The settlement mostly contained sensible little houses that fit
into the environment, with grape vines, fruit trees, desert shrubs and
no grass (except in front of the community hall). Here are some
views of Mitspe Aviv:
Three-year-olds on a hike
We thought our visit was over when Elias O. seemed to pick out a house
at random and knock on the door. The man who emerged turned out
to be a childhood friend of Elias's, named Eini, and he invited us in
for Iraqi tea. (Two friends of his were just leaving - they often
went to Ibillin, but had never heard of the Mar Elias Schools).
We had a good conversation about how Elias' and Eini's parents
had met, and how Eini's parents had escaped from Iraq. The story
was different from what we had heard from other sources, but we avoided
Note the Tires in the Playground
A Home in Mitspe Aviv
Ruth and Ruth in Mitspe Aviv
On the way back to Ibillin Elias stopped at a modern olive press, and introduced us to the man who runs it.
Eini, Elias O, Ruth and Sara enjoying Iraqi Tea
We did arrive home safely, despite having to add brake fluid before a steep downhill.
Modern Oil Press
Workers and Friends