Hello and Goodbye
Summertime is now in full swing and the Meeting Place is consistently full. The volunteers are working very hard to accommodate the groups and ensure a pleasant stay. We have watched the Al-Sharooq School from Beit Jala come and go along with the Al-Quds Charitable Society from Shufat Camp, and we are currently hosting the Elwyn El-Quds Center from the Old City Jerusalem. Each group has contributed to the unique atmosphere of which all visitors and residents of Tabgha are so fond.
The Volunteers of 2010/2011
Now, everything is moving very quickly at Tabgha. The construction of the new monastery continues unabated, the groups are coming and going, and the volunteers can see the end of their year of service approaching and are waiting to welcome the first volunteers of the next generation. This will be my final blog post as I am short before returning home. On behalf of the 2010/2011 volunteers and zivis at Tabgha, I would like to thank all of the monks and community at Dormition Abbey, Hildesheim, and Tabgha for the wonderful opportunity to work and live at Tabgha. Thanks to all the groups for spending their time with us and always being open and hospitable. Thanks to all the well-wishers for their thoughts and prayers. We will never forget this experience and are proud to have served this community for the last year. We look forward to introducing a new generation of volunteers to this special place and are confident that they too will be proud to join the Tabgha family.
Where Unique Experiences are Commonplace
Of course we are always excited when new groups are coming, but our experience with the Al-Amal School from Jerusalem far exceeded our expectations. We were shown once again the amazing impact that the Meeting Place can have on groups and individuals. The Meeting Place, as the name suggests, is designed to bring people from different cultures, backgrounds, and religions together in a common space and that is exactly what happened with the Al-Amal School.
Enjoying Time at Tabgha
During their week at Tabgha a German family of six was also staying with us and they took advantage of the opportunity to meet and join the school in some activities. From having coffee and talking to making bread over the open fire, both the Al-Amal School and this German family were introduced to new and unfamiliar people and cultures. When one of the Al-Amal children had a health concern, the mother of the family, being a doctor, was able to treat him to ensure his safety. This caring behavior and mutual respect
Making Bread at the Fireplace
across language barriers, cultures, and religions is the goal at Tabgha, and it was achieved for the Al-Amal School and this German family. Truly, both the family and the school gained something from their interaction, and neither will forget their time at Tabgha.
Sharing Space at the Meeting Place
We have spent the last few days with Amutat Shekel from South Jerusalem and the Arab Society of the Physically Handicapped. Once again, the campus at Tabgha was filled with life and sound. The community at Tabgha was reminded that our services extend to, and are appreciated by, a wide variety of groups. Shekel works with severely disabled people and is therefore more limited in its flexibility and activity while the Arab Society works with the physically disabled. Regardless, the pool has been filled with smiling faces floating slowly along its surface. In the night a staff member from Shekel strums a guitar while the rest of the community sings loudly, the voices echoing against the walls of the Beit Noah and across the pool.
Shekel In Front of the Beit Noah
Though the Arab Society has since left, we were happy to share our campus with the two groups simultaneously. Shekel will have spent a week with us at Beit Noah. For them, Tabgha is a very special place because, for various reasons, it is about the only place that they can take overnight holidays. Though they will leave tomorrow, we were happy to host them and know that they will visit us again.
Continuing Our Work at Tabgha
We had a wonderful time spending the last few days with the Rehabilitation Youth Center of Jerusalem and we were reminded of the importance of Tabgha. Once again, Katharina's newly renovated animal-house was put to use and the group sat for hours petting the rabbits. This activity provides a relaxing and meditative therapy for the group members, especially those with mental or behavioral disabilities. It was especially rewarding to watch one member, who generally harms animals because he feels threatened by them, sit quietly and carefully pet the rabbits. The Youth Center consists of about 30 students from a very mixed background ranging from Orthodox Jews to Arab Muslims.
Spending Time with the Rabbits
Some parents of the group-members in fact consulted their Rabbi before allowing their child to visit us at Tabgha, to which the Rabbi consented. It is this very idea that we try to uphold here at Tabgha: a meeting between a variety of cultures, religions, and backgrounds in a respectful environment. We thank the Rehabilitation Youth Center for joining us here again this year and look forward to seeing them soon.
Living and Enjoying
Recently our dear old friend Aram Okeh and his “Arab Society of the physically handicapped” came with a group from Jerusalem. It was very nice to exchange experiences with the members of the group.
Everybody was invited to join an evening with the group. The was a bedouine flute-player who created a warm and happy Middle-East atmosphere here in our beautiful garden and the people were dancing and enjoying themselves together.
Again Tabgha and the “BEIT NOAH” showed their incredible power and influence. One of the girls in the group made her in our environment a big step in her development. Before she arrived here the staff of the group couldn`t understand her, because she has problems with articulation. In the five days that she could spend here she was able to develop her abilities so far that it
was possible to have simple conversations with her. A big smile and a very happy girl was the result. Everybody was very proud of her. We wish her to extend her abilities and see her here next year.
Thak you for coming and letting us being part of this!!!
Welcoming Groups Back to Beit Noah
Petting a Rabbit
The season has opened and groups have begun visiting us at Beit Noah again!
We could not be happier!
Katharina Distributing Rabbits
We also celebrated the Grand Opening of the Tabgha "Pinatchai" with some members from Kfar Tikvah. Here, groups can pet our rabbits and enjoy the birds.
Hand-in-Hand School, HaGalil Part 2
Perhaps the greatest influence on the school is found in the students' parents. The parents' support and understanding is imperative for the success of this school and it requires a rather open-minded parent to see the benefits that the school has to offer. Some parents, both Muslim and Jewish, joined us at Tabgha where they participated with the students in a closed, quite environment to study, socialize, and live together. While the school is integrated, the students go to their homes at the end of the day, but at Tabgha they lived with one-another for the duration of the visit which was a practical exercise in the respect taught at the school.
The students' days were filled with activities both academic and recreational. As the volunteers continued their daily work the campus was filled with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students painting, learning Hebrew and Arabic, swimming in the pool, and playing on the playground.
On the Playground
The parents' involvement in these activities served as an example of intercultural cohesion for the children. It is through such examples and activities that the school responds to the conflict and hopes to overcome it in future generations.
Before the group left I spoke with some of the teachers. My question to them was simple, but important: with all of the criticism and negative feedback from the community, why do it? Why work so hard to continue this project? There was a long pause before an answer came. “Because it doesn't have to be this way.” When the school was founded the initial goal was to work for a different life. Rather than living like rivals in separate villages and allowing stereotypes and preconceived notions to dictate and skew the impression of the other, exposure at a young age can alleviate and eventually overcome the conflict. The group left, but we will continue contact with them as we are all eager to know what the future holds for the Bilingual Hand-in-Hand School, HaGalil.
Hand-in-Hand School, Hagalil Part 1
We recently hosted the Bilingual Hand-in-Hand School, Hagalil. We were put into contact with this group through Delia Dornier-Schlörb from Starnberg, the founder of the Kinder Abrahams. This program works to instigate meetings and activities between Jewish and Arab children in the hope that exposure to one-another at a young age will help to overcome preconceived ideas and stereotypes of the other. We were supported in this connection with the HaGalil School by the Erzbischöfliche Ordinariat München as they helped us with the necessary finances. So, with the hard work of multiple organizations, we hosted the 4th and 5th grades from the school.
In the Pool
The HaGalil School is one of four in Israel that enrolls Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students alike and we at Tabgha were very excited to meet this group. In the struggle against the Israel/Palestine conflict it often seems like we get too tangled in its complexity and intricate subtleties to decide, much less agree on, a plan of action. The faculty of the Bilingual HaGalil School are an inspiration to the peace movement in this regard as they actualize their philosophy.
Playing Cards at Tabgha
They have created a tangible response to the conflict and though sometimes they are met with hostility and criticism from the surrounding Jewish and Muslim communities, they continue to work toward peace through the education of the youth. Through education, exposure, and communication the school hopes for a better future. All of the children are taught Arabic, Hebrew, and English because accurate and clear communication is essential for discussions of peace. We at Tabgha were happy to host such an intelligent group and gain understanding and perspective on the country, the conflict, and the history.
The Al-Salam School came from Jerusalem and spent about five days with us at Tabgha. The school consists of students with mental and physical disabilities between the ages of 16 and 21 years old. Once again, the campus was electrified with the excitement of our new group. Though this group had been coming to Tabgha for many years, they carried an energy of enjoyment and happiness.
The first few days of the group's visit consisted of reacquiring a taste for the campus and spending time outside. On their third day, though, Tabgha received its first rainy day. Thunder and lightning accompanied the soft pitter-patter of rain on the pavement and rooftops. My immediate thought was that the group would be confined indoors for the duration of the day and their trip to Tabgha was ruined, but I was quickly proven wrong. When I approached Beit Noah I found the group, directors and members alike, dancing and singing in the rain. Rain would not force this group indoors or prevent them from enjoying the retreat. In fact, their excitement seemed to be re-energized by the foreboding weather.
Group Photo at Tabgha
That night the group invited the volunteers for a barbeque and dance. We were fed heaping plates of food which we ate happily, and rushed to the “dance floor” by the eager students. With spastic legs and flailing arms we threw ourselves around the Beit Noah trying to emulate the dances of one-another, ultimately ending in uproarious laughter all-around. Pictures were taken from every corner trying to capture the essence and feeling of the night; the songs, dances, sights, and smells, in the hope that they could be preserved forever. After burning all of the calories from dinner on the dance floor we filed into the damp night. A light rain fell as we spoke and snacked, but nobody seemed to notice or mind. We took a group photograph as a final memory of the wonderful night. Al-Salam School returned to Jerusalem, but the volunteers are happy for their visit and for the strong connection that has developed between the school and Tabgha.