Palestinian Melkite Catholics Eli and Peter Hosh prepare meat in the kitchen of their restaurant, Abu Eli, in Bethlehem. CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Bethlehem has a special hold on family

By 
  • December 19, 2019

BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- Brothers Peter and Eli Hosh grew up knowing that their hometown was not only the place where they went to school and ran down to the corner market for their mother, but the town where Jesus was born.

It is a lesson they and their two sisters continue to teach their own children, especially during the Christmas season.

“I feel that here there is something great here. We are living in a holy place,” said Eli, who, at 50, is the elder of the two. “Bethlehem is important for our family, and I tell that to my children. Jesus was born here. I always feel the holiness here, this is my city, but the best time in Bethlehem is Christmas.”

Unlike many other Christian families in the Bethlehem area, none of the Hosh siblings have moved abroad.

“The most important thing is for the local Christians to stay,” said Peter, 33. “Year by year we see less Christian (families) here. Why? It is difficult everywhere. We have hard things in life, we know, but we have to stay here and fix that. You leave and you have to start from zero; here we have our family, our work. Everybody knows each other.”

Two of Eli’s daughters are studying at universities abroad in Europe. “Of course they will come back. Bethlehem is important for our whole family, and we know we need to stay,” he said.

Together the two brothers, who are Melkite Catholics, run one of Bethlehem’s most well-known grilled-meat restaurants, Abu Eli. It was founded in 1999 by their late father, Anton. “Abu Eli” means the father of Eli in Arabic and traditionally Palestinian men are given the nickname of “father of” after their first-born son. The restaurant is a favourite of local Christians for Christmas Eve dinner.

This year Peter said he is able to experience the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of his three-year-old daughter, Yasmin, who is now beginning to understand the concept of the holiday and that she is living in the place where Jesus was born.

Katherine Hosh, 70, said she is proud that all her children have remained in the city.

“I don’t want anyone of my children to leave,” she said. For her, as a Christian in Bethlehem, it is a privilege to be able to go to Mass at St. Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. “I pray every Sunday.”

Eli and Peter said they never felt the need to leave Bethlehem for long. Peter completed all his academic studies, including his BA in hotel management, at Bethlehem University.

“I travel abroad, but I can’t stay away from Bethlehem for more than a week,” he said. “If I am away longer, I don’t feel well. I feel more comfortable here than any place in the world. Maybe there is something secret here. Maybe this is a sign that there is something special here. Most of our town is Muslim, so maybe some (Christians) leave (because) they are afraid, but I am not afraid. I feel this is our city, our town.”

Since Christmas Eve is the busiest day of the year for the restaurant, the Hosh family celebrates Christmas the following day. They go to Mass at St. Catherine Church and then have lunch, which the Hosh sisters have prepared.

“I like this tradition,” said Peter. “We visit the church and pray. It is a special day.”

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