Tag Archives: Mount Tavor

Peacefulness amidst Chaos

4 Dec

On a frigid and clear Friday morning I scale the roads leading to the summit of Mt. Tavor.

ENtrance to church grounds

Entrance to church grounds

Tired of hitting the university books, disgusted with the depressing news of violence between Arabs and Jews, I decide to take refuge at the highest point in Lower Galilee.  At eight in the morning I’m the sole driver negotiating the hairpin turns of the mountain.  The car radio is off, only the sound of the shrieking wind that bends the cypress trees up ahead.  At the next turn, the entrance to the church compound appears, all majestic.  tavor 11The Franciscan flag with its signature four small crosses and one large cross is splashed against the blue sky.  The flag sits atop a tunnel that dates back centuries.  I park at the plateau alongside several large vans.  Eager parishioners must have come ahead of me.  At the main gate, a large group of Filipino worshippers are about to leave.  They giggle like school children, rubbing their glove-less hands to ward off the cold.  Mt. Tavor is a long way from Manila, I think as I continue down the pebble pathway leading to the church.

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Franciscan Friar on Mt. Tavor

Three men wrapped with scarves round their necks rake the pebbles on the ground, back and forth, back and forth, until all is flat and even.  Gardeners tend to the flower pots, pull errant leaves and discard them.

The peacefulness hurts.

What is it about these men-of-the-cloth that makes them appear so tranquil and at ease.  Just 600 meters below, we’re out to kill one another.  The contrast is so severe, the solitude so intense, the beauty so striking that it pains me more than the icy wind.  I march on and read the plaque honoring Antonio Barluzzi, the “architect of the Holy Land.”  An Italian Franciscan monk, he left his mark on several churches in Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and here, on Mt. Tabor with his Church of Transfiguration, completed almost one-hundred years ago atop the ruins of Byzantine and later a Crusader church.  Tavor 7

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

Pilgrims from far-away Colombia at Mt. Tavor

It is at this point that I’m reminded that history in this neck of the woods has always been bloody, crusaders on horseback pillaging,killing, torching, and now, surrounded by green lawns and colorful petunias, it seems unimaginable.

The space inside the church is awesome.  The acoustics are first-class; the prayer coming from the chapel down below.  A Franciscan friar with his robe and its trademark rope tied with three knots (poverty, chastity, obedience) leads the prayer service.  Turns out, this summit atop Mt. Tavor is revered by Christians the world over, along with Bethlehem and Nazareth. It is here that Jesus is believed to have “transfigured.” tavor 12It is here that he shone, became radiant and spoke to Elijah and Moses before descending the mountain.  Sounds familiar?

Bird's eye-view of my village below

Bird’s eye-view of my village below

I visit the small chapels dedicated to Judaism’s forefathers.  Then off to the rooftop balcony to take in the magnificent view.  A group of pilgrims from Colombia are listening attentively to their tour guide.

From this vantage point I see my village, Kfar Tavor, sprawled.  Below, nothing but houses upon houses and lush fields sparkle in the morning sun.

Must I come down and face reality?


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com


or at BN.com



School’s out for summer!

21 Jun

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Yet, for my twin daughters, Maya and Romy, 14, things did change this year.  They’re done with middle school at Kadoorie, an agricultural and boarding school in Galilee.  The large campus, horse stables, milking cow shed, fields — they all stretch below Mount Tavor.  Last week the renowned school celebrated its 80th anniversary.  Among the graduating class of 1940: the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; in 1937: Yigal Allon, the late Foreign Minister.

Yitzhak Rabin graduated from Kadoorie School in 1940

Yitzhak Rabin graduated from Kadoorie School in 1940

With such a pedigree of alumni, I thought it fitting to ask my daughters of their impressions of the school, a summer away from becoming freshmen at Kadoorie.

Me:  “This is your second year in Israel.  How would you say Kadoorie is different from your school in Los Angeles?”

Romy: “In L.A., we had 200 kids in the entire school.”

Maya: “At Kadoorie we have 2000.”

Romy: “The kids come from all over.”

Me: “You mean from the different villages?”

Romy: “I mean the kids are bused from ALL over: villages, small towns, some Arabs, Circassians.”

Yigal Allon graduated from Kadoorie School in 1937

Yigal Allon graduated from Kadoorie School in 1937

Maya: “And kids from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia.  They come from these countries without their parents.”

Romy: “And refugee kids who’d escaped from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia.  They live at the boarding school.”

Me: “Do you know that some of Israel’s most famous leaders attended and graduated from your school?”

Maya: “They talk about it at school all the time.  But no one listens or cares.”

Me: “Why?”

Romy: “Because no ones listens to ANYTHING being said at school.”

Maya: “You can’t imagine how loud the kids are.  They’re out-of-control.  Wild.  Crazy.”

Romy: “The teachers can’t control the kids.  The kids don’t respect authority.”

Kadoorie school

Kadoorie school

Maya: “A kid will talk back to the teacher.  The teacher warns the kid.  The kid doesn’t care.  The teacher writes his name on the board.  The kid acts out.  The teacher warns the kid.  The kid get up from his seat, cusses the teacher, walks out of class, slams the door.”

Romy: “Half the kids are on Ritalin.”

Me: “How do you know?”

Maya: “It’s easy to spot them, the ADHD kids; they’re like zombies, their heads are on the table.”

Romy: “Sometimes they forget to take their medicine in the morning.  That’s when they go wild in class.”

Kadoorie school grounds

Kadoorie school grounds

Me: “What does a typical period looks like?”

Romy: “Okay, this is _____”

Maya: “Let me tell you.  The period is 45 minutes long.  First off, the teacher is late arriving in class.  By that time, the kids are on their phones, calling, texting, screaming, jumping.  It takes 10 to 15 minutes to settle the class.”

Romy: “Then we might learn something for 20 minutes.”

Maya:” Most kids put away their books 10 minutes before the bell rings.”

Me: “What kind of bell or buzzer is it?”

Romy: “It’s not a bell.  It’s a song.  The school plays a Hebrew song on the PA system.  They change the song every week.”

View of Mount Tavor from Kadoorie School

View of Mount Tavor from Kadoorie School

Me: “Do you guys smoke?”

Maya and Romy: “No! But several kids in our class smoke.  They smoke near the school bus depot, on the grass.”

Me: “And the teachers don’t care?”

Maya and Romy: “They smoke too!”

Me: “What about school tests.  Do you cheat?”

Romy: Dad!!!

Maya: “Kids take screen shots of WikiPedia articles with their cell phones before the test or write stuff on the desks.”

Me: “And the teacher lets them?”

Maya and Romy: “Kids don’t care.”

Me: “What do kids bring for snack?”

Kadoorie -- last day of the school year

Kadoorie — last day of the school year

Maya: “Nutella spread on white pita bread.”

Romy: “The kiosk sells disgusting hot dogs.  The fries are pretty good.  Everyone buys soda and candy.”

Me: “Do kids do their homework?”

Maya: “If they do, most teachers don’t bother to check.”

Me: “What’s your favorite subject?

Maya: “History.”

Romy: “geography.”

Me: “What’s you least favorite subject?”

Maya and Romy: “Bible!!”

Me: “Why?”

Maya and Romy: “Because the teacher herself is on Retalin!  She gets God, Moses, Yehoshua, everyone, mixed up.”

Me: “There’s a school uniform T-shirt, but I noticed they don’t all wear it.”

Maya: “They do.  But some of the girls cut the neckline lower so they can show more….  And some roll up their shirts to expose their belly button.  And often they’re pierced.”

Me: “And the boys?”

Romy: “They all wear flip-flops and shout all day.”

Maya and Romy selling their old textbooks at Kadoorie book fair

Maya and Romy selling their old textbooks at Kadoorie book fair

Me: “No, I mean do you find some of them cute?”

Maya: “The ones that are smart or mature are not cute.  The the ones that are cute are not smart or mature.”

Me: “Shouldn’t you cut them some slack?  You’re not perfect.”

Maya and Romy: “We’re not perfect.  We just hope they’ll mature next year.”

Me: “Did you make friends?”

Maya and Romy: “We each have a best friend.”

Me: “So how would you best describe Kadoorie school?”

Maya: “A playground with teachers.”

Me: Did you know Yizhak Rabin and Yigal Allon went to your school?”

Maya and Romy: “Dad!!!!


Do you remember your LAST summer before starting high school?

Let me remind you:

Here are some lyrics from Alice Copper’s “School’s Out for Summer:”

Romy and Maya -- Is it summer vacation or what???

Romy and Maya — Is it summer vacation or what???

“We Got No Class

And We Got No Principals

And We Got No Innocence

We Can’t Think of a Word That Rhymes

School’s Out for Summer

To play, click on link below….



Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.

Lionel Messi of Barcelona Scores Big in Galilee

6 Dec

It’s three in the morning in Galilee.  I’m a passenger inside a tiny Honda that races past dark fields and meadows.  I’m sleep-deprived, caffeinated, bundled in a coat and scarf.  At this hour small talk is small with my wife’s brother-in-law, Hezi, and his two sons, Yaniv and Ido, ages 35 and 29.  We’re all heading to the airport to take part in a four-day, three-night soccer expedition to Barcelona.

Barcelona Harbor

Barcelona Harbor

“You’re crazy and why can’t you watch the game on TV” — my father’s words from the night before — echo in my head as I go past airport security and take a seat on board the charter plane.  We’re one of three flights — 900 passengers — leaving this morning for Barcelona.  There isn’t a single Spaniard, American or Englishman on board.  We’re all Israelis with one purpose in mind: to see Boy Wonder, Lionel Messi.

After we land, a convoy of buses awaits, whisks us to our hotels near Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s pedestrian-friendly boulevard.  At the Rialto hotel we inch our way to the reception desk to get our keys.  There are about 100 Israelis and 100 suitcases in line.  These soccer fans range from young to old, from couples to buddies (us), to toddlers.  Toddlers?  They’re wearing Barcelona’s football club jerseys, red and blue stripes.  Around us, Hebrew is dominant.  We own the place, talk about the upcoming game tomorrow night.  The hotel clerks are calm; they must have seen it all before; they pepper their instructions with “Toda” and “Shalom.”

We venture into the streets.  It’s frigid, scarves and woolen hats all around.  Hezi, whose arm was injured during Yom Kippur War of 1973, chooses to wear one tight leather glove on his good hand.  It’s not long before we sample the many tapas bars and the one beer in town: Estrella.

Barcelona Soccer Game

Barcelona Soccer Game

Israelis are everywhere.  By their numbers in the streets and bars you’d think Israel is ten times its size.  Souvenir shops carry signs in Hebrew along English and German.

The big night arrives.  The Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou, is filled with 90,000 fans, a near sell-out for a league game against Athletic Club Bilbao.  The people of Barcelona hate being labeled as Spaniards; they’re from Catalunya.  In fact, many wish to separate from Spain, form their own nation.  Their language is different as is their food, their music, their culture.

Lionel Messi and his teammates enter the stadium through the tunnel.  They’re warming up on the green pitch.  It’s a frenzy of screams and shouts.  The Israelis behind me join in, call out his name from the stands.  Some wave Israel’s flag, possibly wanting to adopt him as their own.  Messi continues to stretch, to hop and skip.

The whistle blows.  It’s kickoff time.  The game clock ticks. Barcelona tapas At 17:14 the crowd suddenly erupts into song.  Ido tells me they chant at every game at the same exact minute and second — 17:14 — to commemorate the last time, the year 1714, the Catalans were independent.  Eventually they were crushed by the French, later taken under the Spanish flag.

It isn’t long before the team from Bilbao is crushed.  By half-time Barcelona leads 2:0.  The game ends 5:1.  What a treat to see Messi score twice, to hear the crowd roar, to watch the locals question the referee’s every call, to watch all the Israelis become one with Barcelona.  After the game we celebrate with rounds of Estrella at nearby bars.

Initially I thought the Israeli presence was restricted to Barcelona.  I was wrong.  The next morning our Israeli tour guide takes us on a day-long bus tour to Monserrat, a multi-peaked mountain range an hour away.  The limestone rocks jut out like fingers pointed at the heavens.  Against the rocks there’s a beautiful monastery with depictions and paintings on the exterior walls.  The words Jerusalem, Hebron, Nazareth are inscribed on the walls.  At closer inspection I see another set of words: Mount Tavor.  Its significance to Christians worldwide is undeniable.  Hezi, the brother-in-law, appears to take pride in that Tavor is “our” mountain, seen from our window at home.

We return to the bus past the souvenir shops and the cheese artisans.  I can’t believe my ears.  The herdsmen and farmers are describing the goat cheese, the soft and the hard kind, the herbs – in Hebrew!  The guide tells us they sell the most cheese to Israelis, chose to learn key words to drum up more business.

Gaudi Cathedral

Gaudi Cathedral

By the fourth day, I miss home.  I’ve had enough of tapas in glass displays, of beer, of soccer talk, of my three male partners, of Gaudi’s wild (!) cathedral, of seeing pig legs hang from every hook known to man.

It’s not long before I start to hum the lyrics to Elton John’s song: “Rocket Man”

“I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife
It’s lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight”

The bus to the airport arrives.  We catch a red-eye back to Mount Tavor, back to Galilee.  Still early in the morning, I climb into bed and pull the blankets over me.

Good night, Messi.