Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Happened to Beit El Baraka?

"Stop. Stop. Pull over."
We had just left Gush Etzion on our way to Chevron with famed veteran photographer Gershon Ellinson. Gershon has an absolutely priceless photo exhibit at the Machpela Visitors Center in Hebron. (Unbelievably breathtaking collection!! You must visit the gallery in the Machpela Visitors Center at the foot of Me'arat HaMachpela. But that's another story.)
We were excited to visit the photo exhibit with the photographer himself, but we had hardly driven for five minutes when Gershon told us to stop on the road, right before the Arab town of Beit Ommar.
Now, this is the problem with photographers. Everything looks fascinating to them. They've got to photograph it all. Besides that, photographers see a scene from all angles, and it makes them very curious. They see things that normal folks, like you and I, would probably never pick up. So unless you're a photographer too (which my husband is), you could go a little crazy when you've got one around.

Back to Beit Ommar…
Since most people only know Beit Ommar from the violent demonstrations there, I wasn't too thrilled to stop. But then again, we were armed …with our cameras.
Gershon told us to photograph the building on our right. Its gate said, "Beit El Baraka". On the road between Chevron and Gush Etzion, Gershon probably passed Beit El Baraka thousands of times in those years when he lived and worked in the City of Our Patriarchs.
In one of its gilgulim (reincarnations) the property used to be an agricultural school, he said. Well, that would make sense. Emek Bracha (Valley of Blessing) is renowned for its fertile soil. The Gush Etzion Winery has one of its most innovative fields situated in one section of Emek Bracha.
The Valley of Blessing is mentioned in Chronicles II 20:26. After a miraculous battle fought by G-d against Israel's enemies – Ammon, Moav and Seir – Judah's King Jehoshaphat gathered the people in Emek Bracha…"for they blessed Hashem thee, hence they named that place Emek Bracha until this day."
And the land upon which Jehoshaphat made his blessing is still blessed and exceedingly fertile today. Emek Bracha is surrounded on its periphery by the Jewish towns of Carmei Tzur, Bat Ayin, Kfar Etzion and Alon Shvut and by the Arab town of Beit Ommar. Once Beit Ommar was a Christian town. I looked, but I couldn't find it statistics for today's population.
Beit El Baraka
The Beit El Baraka building seemed abandoned. Its main building was closed up tight, behind barbed wire, and its smaller buildings were smashed with broken windows and shattered glass. I could imagine lots of teenagers walking around its large green grounds in better days, circles of friends playing guitar around a small campfire. But that was then and this was now.
A small sign hung above the door of the building, that it was once a Presbyterian Center, but perhaps there were no more Presbyterians in the area, so they closed up shop. The signs on Beit El Baraka were written in Arabic and English. Gershon insisted that the sign once had Hebrew as well. Since he's got a photographic memory, I had no reason to doubt his word.
According to a Presbyterian website, "Beit El Baraka, formerly a hospital established by Dr. Thomas Lambie in the late 1940s, received its license as a Pilgrim Youth Hostel in April 1995, after ten years of government paperwork. The spacious facilities with modest rates are available for local and foreign groups for camps, retreats and tours."
I wondered what happened to Beit El Baraka. I found a google earth picture captioned, "Beit El Baraka American tuberculosis hospital, rebuilt to hostel, now abandoned." I guess it had many lives in its time.
The Presbyterians bought the property for a church in 1947 to work among the Arab Christians of the area. It had weekly Sunday services, prayer meeting, Ladies’ Bible study, children’s classes and youth work. It even had a summer camp.
I actually called Miss Joan Davenport, who was listed as the person in charge of the place, representing the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Mission. I emailed her too. Thus far no response.
Her web page (from some unknown year) said, "Joan is Director of Beit El Baraka with the overall responsibilities of administration, hospitality to guests, campers, tourists, and overseeing of the buildings and grounds maintenance. Joan Davenport has many years of experience and her knowledge of Arabic helps her in her diversified ministry in the Holy Land. Pray for help to come and strengthen Joan’s hands and help in this Christian ministry for G-d’s glory."
The site explained, "In December 1995 the Palestinian Authority extended its rule over Bethlehem, which is part of the West Bank, where our mission property is located. The Arabs enjoy more freedom and an easing of the tension. Pray that God will help the Arab Christians as they face new complexities in their young nation."
That was an understatement. It hit me especially hard today, since I had just watched a Latma video on the difficulties of Christians in Moslem areas.
The page continued, "Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church is mature and under Arab leadership….Pray for spiritual growth and unity in the Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church."
Lastly, "Pray for the completion of the sale of Beit El Baraka."
So, either the property was sold or a sale never succeeded, because this beautiful piece of real estate stands abandoned and ready for some terrific organization to turn it into a college campus, a high school and a summer camp.
There are so many yeshivot, universities and high schools struggling for space today. Anyone looking for a great property??

1 comment:

  1. obviously your friend passed 1000 times without looking at the building....the building has never been totally abandoned.....after it has been sold an abandoned building was fixed and a man who is from Norway as I heard is living in it....that's beside the Palestinian family who always served there. the situation is mysterious though...no body knows to whom it was sold...I never asked the people who live there though.I also don't understand what that foreigner does there.