Servas Israel Tour – Part II – Fantastic – Haifa and Nazareth
Our fabulous Tour Israel with Servas continued.
Day 3 – Wednesday 24 December 2014
Our morning began with a great breakfast with our Servas hosts: Shoshana and Shmuel.
We were lucky to be handed off to Shlomy, Servas Coordinator Claudia’s husband, and while we waited to meet up with others, he gave us an impromptu tour of Haifa, a city he loves.
We started at the Bahá’í Gardens:
“The Bahá’í teachings emphasize that each person is in charge of his or her own spiritual development. <http://www.bahai.org/action/response-call-bahaullah/walking-spiritual-path>.
Bahá’í members recognize and celebrate all religious leaders.
“The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. At its heart stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb,which is the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith.” From: <http://www.ganbahai.org.il/en/haifa/>
In much of the art throughout Haifa is a plea for peace.
In the Museum Without Walls:
The artworks scattered along the Art Route explore the themes of tolerance, an Arab-Jewish and multicultural dialogue, and the local heritage of the neighborhood. The exhibit was inaugurated in 1993 by the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Culture Center, Haifa Municipality, and the Wadi Nisnas Neighborhood Association as a shared multicultural celebration.
We left Haifa to join up with our Servas Tour members in Nazareth.
According to the Nazareth website, “The city of Nazareth was a small and insignificant agricultural village in the time of Jesus. It had no trade routes, was of little economic importance and was never mentioned in the Old Testament or other ancient texts. . . .
During the lifetime of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, it is believed the population did not exceed 500. Nazareth was a small Jewish village where people knew one another, and like Jesus, lived, prayed and studied in the Jewish tradition. They gathered in the synagogue, meeting for prayer and holidays. . . .The New Testament mentions Nazareth many times, referring to it as the home of Mary and Joseph, the town that inspired Jesus during his childhood and early manhood, the place of the Annunciation . . .
From the 1st to the 4th century AD, the small Christian presence in Nazareth was often persecuted for their beliefs. It was only later towards the 6th century . . . that the town of Nazareth became the Christian pilgrimage site it is to this day. During this time, the Byzantines built one of the first churches on what was believed to be the site of the Annunciation. With the arrival of the Crusaders in 1099, an era of growth began . . . With the defeat of the Crusaders in 1291 by the Muslim army and during Ottoman Rule (1517 – 1917), Nazareth fell into decline. It was only in 1720, when the Franciscans built a new church, that the site of the Annunciation was again revived. In 1955, the church was demolished to carry out extensive archaeological excavations and was finally rebuilt in 1969” <http://www.nazareth-israel.com/nazarteh-history>.
Nazareth is now a bustling, growing city of about 74,000 and home to the largest Arab community in Israel. Nazareth has changed from an isolated village of little importance to one of most important sites for Christians.
Because I was raised Christian (Episcopalian) and now identify as a Quaker, I did expect a spiritual experience especially since we were there for Christmas Eve!
In Nazareth, we walked the cobble-stoned streets of the Old City, visited the famous spring and Mary’s well, and saw the remains of a cavern believed to be Joseph’s carpentry shop. And because we were there on Christmas Eve, we got to see what the people living there do to celebrate.
Mary’s well was the our first religious site on the Servas tour that afternoon. The Church of St. Gabriel, (also known as the Orthodox Church of Annunciation and The Greek-Orthodox Church), is located over an underground spring, which is believed to be where the Virgin Mary was drawing water when the Angel Gabriel said to her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).
In modern times, Mary’s spring is at the end of the subterranean chamber in the Church of St. Gabriel.
We walked along the Pilgrim’s Path to the Basilica of Annunciation, the Catholic site that also recognizes and celebrates Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The Basilica marks the spot for Catholics of the Annunciation.
We also saw the White Mosque, built in 1785. It’s the oldest of the mosques built in Nazareth. According to its website, the White Mosque is now managed and maintained by the al-Fahoum family. The mosque sends out messages of peace and harmony and seeks good relations especially with the “different Christian communities in town” <http://www.nazarethinfo.org/OldSite.aspx?levelId=63490>.
The White Mosque is located in Harat Alghama or the “Mosque Quarter” in the center of Nazareth’s Old Market.
We ate in the Old Market and got to taste local food and sweets, including baklawa and the Middle-Eastern kenafi or kunafa, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup.
At 15:00, we started lining up along the Christmas Parade route, which ran from Paul 6th St to the Annunciation Church (Basilica).
17:15 – Near the Basilica of Annunciation, we watched the balloon release and the Christmas parade. We wandered around looking at the parade and the people coming to celebrate.
In his book Green Crescent Over Nazareth: The Displacement of Christians by Muslims, Raphael Israeli notes that in 1918 when the British marched into Nazareth, the city then had a population of about 8,000 – 2/3 Christian and the rest Muslim. Today, Nazareth, known as “the Arab capital of Israel, has a population made up predominantly of Arab citizens of Israel, almost all of whom are either Muslim (69%) or Christian (30.9%).
Because the British ruled Nazareth for 30 years, the numerous bagpipers in the Christmas parade must be one lingering influence.
At the finale of the parade, we got to see the fireworks as part of the Christmas celebration.
For our Servas Tour, we didn’t go to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve since the town is usually overwhelmed with Christian pilgrims. Nazareth did have its own special sites, and we got to see and do things we hadn’t expected as part of our celebration. One surprise was that the Christmas carols, which I love to sing, were sung – in neither Latin nor English – but in Arabic! It seemed that everyone participated – especially in the parade. Santa was there in Nazareth for the young children.
As for the spiritual renewal I expected since we were there where Jesus had actually lived and walked, it didn’t happen there for me.
Instead, Nazareth was a great experience in people watching and seeing historical and religious sites. Being in Nazareth was also a good reminder that when you travel, experiences – especially others than those you expect – are the ones to keep you in the moment and help you appreciate what is really there.
Aloha and Shalom, Renée