The University of Bethlehem (photo: CNEWA files)
Becoming gourmet cooks (photo: CNEWA files)
Training in billing and reservations (photo: CNEWA files)
Courses in “mixology” (photo: CNEWA files)
Take a dash of desire for jobs in the homeland, an ounce of the vacant Christian Brothers High School, mixed with the appropriate amount of classes in cooking, budgeting and language and one has the ingredients for a degree in hotel management from Bethlehem University.
Since 1973 when Bethlehem University was founded, hotel management courses have been offered. The hotel management degree was designed to ensure that students would remain in their homeland to work. Each year thousands of tourists visit the Holy Land. As a result of these pilgrimages, tourism is a major industry in the area.
The program has proved extremely successful. Of the 88 students who have earned degrees in hotel management most have found jobs in the hotel industry and a majority are working in the West Bank area.
One of the largest employers in the areas hotel industry is the Notre Dame Center, a 400-guest facility which is the official Vatican hotel in Jerusalem. Many hotel management students work there part-time while attending classes. Habib Khoury is one student who stayed on after graduation to become head waiter of the hotels grill room. Habib has studied on scholarship in Italy and Norway during the summers and hopes to manage a hotel one day. Walid Dajani, the faculty director of the hotel management program believes that practice abroad is essential in order to keep up-to-date. The Universitys administration agrees that experience abroad is important and offers scholarships for summer travel.
There were no women in the first graduating class of 1975. Arab parents felt it was demeaning for their daughters to serve meals anywhere but in the home. Many parents have come to realize that hotel management is not just serving meals, but it involves ordering food, budgeting, and supervising staffs. More than half the 34 students currently enrolled in the program are women.
Vera Masris is the first woman to have completed her degree. She is now in the public relations department of the 500-guest Intercontinental Hotel in Jerusalem where she is responsible for contacting clients, quoting rates, making, confirming and cancelling reservations. Vera has been promoted a number of times since she started her job five years ago. She credits her schooling and training at Bethlehem University as the reason she was promoted. The diploma is highly thought of, she said.
Another successful graduate is Jane Kamashta who works at the American Colony Hotel. As back-of-the-house manager Jane is responsible for buying materials, checking rooms, and inspecting uniforms of the waiters and other staff.
One of the first graduates of the program was Joseph Maayeh who is now manager of the 125-guest Palace Hotel. In the early days, the old waiters would laugh at the idea of getting a University diploma for hotel work. They are still waiters and now I am a manager. Joseph believes a barrier to better service is the status quo which he sees in family owned hotels. The regular customers dont want to see the same style of crockery and room decor year after year. We even change our uniforms here, he said.
Nabil El Mufdi is one of a few students who has joined the staff of Bethlehem University. Nabil teaches food and beverage control, an area he is responsible for at the ntercontinental Hotel.
A unique aspect of the hotel management program is the extensive time spent out of the classroom. Students put into practice what they learned in lectures when they enter the kitchen. Connected to the kitchen is a restaurant and a bar. Under the supervision of Alfred Harb, assistant director of the faculty, the students serve North American, Palestianian and European dishes. This practical experience has proved invaluable. It is here where students get their hands on knowledge. Bethlehem University is interested in developing the program to include hotel rooms where students can learn room service and preparation. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association supports this worthwhile endeavor through its sister organization the Pontifical Mission for Palestine.
When the program began degrees were awarded after two years of study. In 1975 the course of study expanded to three years. By 1984 the curriculum will last four years. To receive a degree, students are required to take a total of 21 courses in accounting, budgeting, cooking, letter-writing, food and beverage control, languages, psychology and computer operations. The departments 18 professors all hold full-time positions in the hotel industry.
A 19th century building with wrought iron fences appears to be an unlikely setting for hotel management courses. But it is not unlikely that in these buildings is offered one of the most popular and successful programs at the University. By recognizing the desire and need of students to contribute socially and economically to their homeland, Bethlehem University is fulfilling a vital role in the community it serves.
Brother James FSC, from London, teaches English at Bethlehem University.