This last question offers a good starting point for explanations about the history of Star Mountain. Walking around the compound with visitors, it is rather easy to tell about the past, for there are so many links to the history to see.
We start our tour at the entrance. After a 10-minute ride from Ramallah north toward Birzeit, the green hilltop comes into view. Upon entering the gate, visitors are greeted by an astounding number of huge pines. An experienced eye can guess the age of the tall trees: planted in the early 1960s, the eldest one will count over 50 years.
Talking about the history of Star Mountain, is also talking about the history of the care for Hansen’s disease patients and the history of the Moravian mission.
The plot of land for Star Mountain was bought in 1958 by an order of the Unity Synod of 1957 to build a new hospital for patients afflicted with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. This new hospital would continue the work done of the hospital for leper patients called ‘Jesus Hilfe’ that Moravians had operated for more than 80 years in Jerusalem.
Where the building was raised as a hospital for leper patients in 1960 (and the school building of today) one can still see the structure of the former hospital: two corridors with small rooms on both sides — the former rooms for the patients, one side for the men, the other for the women. Because of the change and expansion of the work, in later years a second floor was added. Also a big dining room and a more appropriate kitchen were built on the eastern side of the building.
On the east side of the mountain are three tiny little houses — now a place for guests or volunteers, but originally built for the couples among the patients. This was a rather revolutionary idea: until then the prevailing view was to force couples to live separately. To give them useful activities in daily life, each house had a small stable for chickens, a goat, or, maybe, a donkey.
Thanks to the progress of medical science, during the 1960s the number of patients declined significantly. In 1974, the Unity Synod decided to focus upon another disadvantaged group: intellectually disabled children. Two of the last leper patients who left star Mountain were two women, named Khadra and Ghazali — nowadays they are commemorated at Star Mountain by their name, given to two guestrooms. Both of them still live in nearby villages and there are still contacts on a regular basis. As a responsibility and honorable obligation, Star Mountain continues to give her a small monthly allowance.
In 1980 Star Mountain made a new start as a boarding school for intellectually disabled girls. It started with a few, but soon more came. Due to several circumstances, including second intifada in the year 2000, the parents were asked to keep their children at home during the night.
During all changes in the recent history, the steady growth is a constant factor. From a boarding school in the early 1980s, it grew to an institution with five programs: Community Work Program, Kindergarten, School Education Program, Autism Program and Vocational Training Program.
Digging in the archive shows another frequent factor: the growth of the number of Palestinian employees. Where a newsletter of the early 1980s mentions the arrival of the first Palestinian employee (between staff members of mainly German origin and most of them members of the Moravian Church), nowadays all staff members (34) are Palestinian, of both Muslim and Christian background, except one, the training and liaison officer, member of the Moravian Church in Zeist, The Netherlands.
One of the questions I mentioned is still not answered. Where is the Church? There is no church. I mean, there is not a church building at Star Mountain. But as written in This Month in Moravian History : ‘The work at Star Mountain continues to be a symbol of peaceful cooperation and Christian love for one’s neighbor.’ That’s the church of Star Mountain.
Marianne van de Glind from Zeist, the Netherlands, is training and liaison officer Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center. For more on this history of Star Mountain, see the July 2006 and June 2010 editions of “This Month in Moravian History” from the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem (www.moravianchurcharchives.org
From the March 2012 Moravian Magazine