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Jerusalem and the West Bank
Study Trip 2007 Itinerary
Jerusalem and the West Bank
Study Trip 2007 Diary

Jerusalem and the West Bank — Feb. 12 - 20

FEBRUARY 19, 2007

On Monday the group finished their last full day in the Holy Land with an excursion to the Mount of Temptation outside of Jericho, and a visit to Qumran and the Dead Sea. After a farewell luncheon with the IOCC staff at its headquarters, the group was given the afternoon free to shop and make their own way through the Old City of Jerusalem.

The group is returning early Tuesday morning before dispersing to their homes in the States.

FEBRUARY 18, 2007

On Sunday the group had the privilege of worshipping at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The church is built immediately to the side of a well where tradition says the Virgin Mary was drawing water when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to her the good news of God choosing her for His plan of salvation. The Metropolitan of Nazareth celebrated the Divine Liturgy and welcomed the group in coffee hour following services.

The Orthodox Community Council of Nazareth then provided light snacks for the group and explained their desires to re-open an Orthodox Parochial school for the youth. IOCC has helped the group with some small projects in the past and is looking into opportunities for future collaboration.

Following the meeting the group traveled to Cana to the Church celebrating Christ's first miracle at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee. Lunch followed at beautiful sea-side restaurant on the See of Galilee where everyone enjoyed St. Peter's fish.

After a stop at the beautiful Orthodox church by the sea in Capernaum, where the domes are painted a beautiful pink, and contain some of the most beautiful iconography in the Holy Land, the group traveled on through Tiberius with a final stop at a site on the Jordan river

FEBRUARY 17, 2007

Saturday's activities began at midnight with a vigil service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where clergy members of the Study trip group served in the Divine liturgy. In addition to the other members of the Study group, also present were significant numbers of Russian and other pilgirms. The Liturgy ended at about 2:30 a.m. with Holy Communion served just outside the Tomb. One priest, on his first trip to Jerusalem and his first visit to the Sepulchre, commented that the experience was like a dream and that he felt reborn.

After a few hours of sleep and breakfast, participants walked to the Jerusalem Patriarchate where they had a special audience with His Beatitude THEOPHILOS, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. His Beatitude discussed his concern for the condition of Holy Land Christians, and of his intention to support specific community development projects, as well as his support for the work of IOCC.

The next tour stop was a short walk to the St. Dimitri School, an Orthodox institution under the Patriarchate, whose building will be rehabilitated through IOCC's USAID-funded repair program. Students were in class, some studying foreign language lessons, but smiled and interacted with participants. Lunch was spent in the Old City storefront of the Melia Center, an Orthodox organization that trains women in embroidery as a livelihood project and also runs a restaurant.

Saturday's weather was sunny and spring-like, perfect for a trip to the Mount of Olives where participants stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Tomb of the Theotokos. A winding bus ride took participants to the Biblical town of Bethany and the Four Homes of Mercy, a special care facility for people with significant physical and developmental challenges, and one of the only centers of its kind in the West Bank. IOCC has aided the home in the past and is giving the home a new grant at this time.

The day ended with a meeting with Orthodox community leaders of Jerusalem, including individuals involved in government, church and charitable institutions. Leaders were able to answer specific questions on the political and social state of Holy Land Christians.

On Sunday the group plans to travel to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth for Divine Liturgy followed by a full-day of sightseeing in Cana, Capernaoum, Tiberias, and a stop at the Jordan river.

FEBRUARY 16, 2007

Friday morning started out with a visit to the historic 6th century Greek Orthodox monastery of the Prophet Elias (Elijah). The monastery, which unfortunately only has two remaining monks, is built on the spot where the Prophet is believed to have rested on his journey to Jerusalem from Bethlehem.

Participants then attended a special signing ceremony between IOCC and three local private schools that are being rehabilitated through a grant from USAID. The ceremony was held at HOPE school in Beit Jala, one of the schools in the project, and was attended by the USAID Cognizant Technical Officer, Theodora Zeidan-Hindeleh, as well as the headmasters of all three schools and the mayor of Beit Jala, as well as other dignitaries. The schools are all located in the municipality of Bethlehem in predominantly Christian Orthodox villages.

After a lunch and tour of the International Center of Bethlehem, where the group heard from its director, Rev. Mitri Raheb, the group went to the Shepherd's school in Beit Sahour, another of the IOCC schools to be rehabilitated.

The excursion to Bethlehem ended with a special visit to the Church of the Nativity and the opportunity to venerate the place where, according to tradition, Christ was born.

A fitting conclusion of the day will be the opportunity at midnight Friday to participate in the Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

FEBRUARY 15, 2007

On Thursday, the IOCC Study Team members continued their educational process with visits to the West Bank villages of Kufur Dan, Rumaneh, and Ti' inek. These are three of the 24 villages that IOCC had helped with job training, construction, and employment generation as part of a USAID grant that finished over a year ago. The goal of today's visit was to demonstrate how, even without continued funding, the projects have become self-sustaining. Many of the original paid workers have so enjoyed their work that they have continued to volunteer in their same positions or take substantial pay cuts to keep the programs going.

In Kufur Dan, the group got to sit in on part of a class for village women instructing them how to provide nutricious meals to their families with readily available foods. As a demonstration the teachers shared with the guests and their students nutritious meals made with rice and lentils or wheat and lentils.

In Rumaneh, the community center that IOCC built was being used to its full capacity by the Village Council, the women's group, and other village entities. They had also furnished a lending library and computer lab for the young and old of the community.

And in Ti'inek the Study Tour members saw a building that IOCC had built that was so well received that another group provided funding for a second floor.

Friday the tour will continue with an emphasis on visiting both Holy sites and IOCC projects. After visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the group is planning to be present for a signing ceremony at HOPE school in Beit Jala with officials of USAID.

FEBRUARY 14, 2007

The first full day of the Study Trip in Jerusalem and the West Bank consisted of viewing past and current projects and listening to future hopes. The morning was spent in the village of Taybeh, the Biblical Ephraim where Jesus withdrew to before His last Passover (John 11:54). On hand to greet the tour participants was the Mayor of the village Daoud Khoury, a graduate of Hellenic College in Boston and schoolmate of two of the Study group, who has returned to his childhood home as a businessman and now community leader. A tour of the Patriarchal school in Taybeh was next on the agenda. Tour members not only saw the 6 new classrooms that IOCC added on to the circa 1800's structure, but also personally handed out school kits (an IOCC gift-in-kind project) and heard plans of the future renovations that will occur in the next months with money from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Also in Taybeh the group visited the IOCC sponsored computer lab at the community center and met with members of the women's association that IOCC had trained in beekeeping and animal husbandry. Exiting the village a brief stop was made to show off one flock of the women's' sheep. The training from IOCC prompted the women to form their own cooperative.

In Ramallah city the group visited St. George Patriarchal Orthodox school where IOCC is preparing to add a third floor to the existing structure. After lunch the group was entertained by the youth folk dance troupe at the Orthodox Club. Board members of the club explained their future plans and how IOCC could possibly collaborate with them to help them strengthen their programs.

The evening finished with a flourish with two presentations on either side of dinner. Mr. Howard Sumka, new Director of the USAID mission in Tel Aviv made a special trip to Jerusalem to brief the group on USAID support for the West Bank and Gaza and the specific support that they have offered to IOCC through grants. Mr. Sumka, who has had a distinguished nearly three decade long career in the foreign service, is well acquainted with IOCC after having served stints in Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He praised IOCC's work from his first-hand experience and remarked that writing a good grant might win somebody their first grant, but having good local staff, the capability to plan and deliver what is promised, and overall accountability is what will garner continued funding. IOCC's ability to continue to receive funding in different locales provides tangible evidence to what the Director alluded.

The final presentation of the evening was made by Dr. Bernard Sabella, Sociology professor at Bethlehem University and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. His remarks provided context to much of what the group has seen, and will continue to observe in coming days.

FEBRUARY 13, 2007

The twenty members of IOCC's inaugural Study Trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank arrived safely Tuesday afternoon in Tel Aviv and immediately transfered to Jerusalem which will be the base of their 8 day stay in the Holy Land. The first order of business was to meet most of the Jerusalem IOCC staff at their office. On hand to greet the visitors from the US, in addition to her staff, was IOCC Head of Office Nora Kort, who with Program Manager Dr. George Malki, gave a more in-depth overview of the work of IOCC in the Holy Land.

The program will start in ernest on Wednesday when the Study Tour members travel to see the work that IOCC has accomplished in the Christian villiage of Taybeh. In the evening the participants will also be briefed by the Mission Director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) which is funding much of the work of IOCC in the area, as well as the unique opportunity to meet with Christian members of Parliament. The group includes clergy and laity from the Greek Orthodox and Antiochian Orthodox Archdioceses, The Orthodox Church in America, and The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (Ecumenical Patriarchate). In addition to being the first Study Tour for most of the participants, it is also the first trip to the Holy Land for the majority.

FEBRUARY 12, 2007

Eighteen IOCC supporters from New Hampshire to Florida and from California to New York departed today for the first ever IOCC Study Trip to the Holy Land. The group will be visiting various IOCC work sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as visiting Holy Sites. Accompanied by IOCC Senior Staff, Matthew Parry and Dan Christopulos, the four priests, two deacons and twelve lay people represent many of the jurisdictions of SCOBA from throughout the country.

After spending most of the day at IOCC Headquarters in Baltimore for orientation the group departed from Dulles International Airport for Tel Aviv. They will be greeted in Jerusalem by IOCC Head of office, Nora Kort and her staff. In addition to visiting the Holy sites and IOCC project sites, the group is scheduled to also have an audience with the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theofilos III.

Please check the web site daily for further updates.

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