Recently, we had a Servas visitor from Israel. Servas, established in 1948, is the oldest host and traveler organization in the world. Its mission is to foster peace, goodwill, and mutual respect among a world-wide network of travelers and hosts.
More than 15,000 Servas hosts in more than 100 countries open their homes to travelers – like you. For two nights/three days, you can share and experience the lives of Servas hosts. For Barry and me, our very best travel experiences have often involved being with Servas hosts. For more information, go to < https://usservas.org/> or for international travel < https://www.servas.org/>.
On Maui, Barry and I are Servas hosts and feel the world comes to us. Last week, our Servas guest was Sharon, a most interesting man and wonderful visitor. His visit enabled my friends and family to have direct interaction with an Israeli; he works in a bomb deactivation unit.
Sharon realizes that many U.S. citizens don’t know the whole story and so judge Israel harshly without knowing the complex situation.
He suggests my friends to see the following links:
- The first video is done by Danny Ayalon, Founder of the “Truth About Israel,” Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Israeli Ambassador to the United States:
“The Truth about Jerusalem” < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zz9CTBOKK4g>
- The second is by David Brog, Executive Director of the Maccabee Task Force, which was created in 2015 to combat the disturbing spread of anti-Semitism on America’s college campuses.
“Why Isn’t There a Palestinian State?” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76NytvQAIs0>
These videos are only about five minutes each. Please watch them.
The on-going Israeli and Palestinian situation is very difficult and multifaceted.
In December 2014 – January 2015, Barry and I spent five weeks in Israel, traveling all over including being on the 10-day Servas tour of the country, living a week at Kibbutz Lotan on the Jordanian border near Egypt, visiting our friends Ruthi & Danny, whom we met through teaching in China, spending Hanukah with Clair’s Israeli relatives (she was our son John’s girlfriend at the time), being there for Christmas, and for me (not Barry because he is Jewish), going into the Palestinian Authority area to see Bethlehem; this all gave me an understanding of Israel and the very complex situation there.
I hope you can travel to Israel. The Servas hosts there, including Sharon and his family and those Barry and I met in 2014 are wonderful – and the country interesting, diverse, and complex.
Go see for yourself. If you go as a Servas traveler (a few hosts are Palestinian), you will glean insights and have experiences not readily available to most visitors – and you’ll certainly have more knowledge than you can glean from the newspapers or T.V. And talk to people, like Sharon, who actually live there.
Sharon’s visit here to Maui allowed for discussion and mutual respect. One of my friends who considered herself pro-Palestinian concluded, “Sharon is a good man.”
May Israeli and Palestinians (and all of us) walk forward in the light.
Aloha, Shalom, & As-salaamu 3aleikum (peace be with you), Renée
On Friday, we met for dinner with our tour members and Servas Israeli hosts to mingle and share information about our countries.
On the way, we saw old armored vehicles along the road – preserved to remember the many who fought and died so that Jewish people could have a country.
According to “The Convoy Skeletons” by Gil Gertel & Noam Even,“[T]he vehicles that brought food, water and arms from Tel Aviv to besieged Jerusalem in early 1948. . . were extremely vulnerable. Piles of stones were placed along the width of the road forcing the drivers to halt. Then snipers hidden between the rocks in the hills near the road, would open fire on the riders and vehicles.
Most of the trucks belonged to various kibbutz cooperative transport companies. Many of the drivers volunteered; the return trip was also via convoy. . . .
LESSER KNOWN FACTS
* During the battle for the road to Jerusalem, 230 convoys set out to bring supplies to the besieged city. . .
* Over 3100 trucks made their way to Jerusalem carrying 10,500 tons of supplies. . . .
* In February 1948 – 1299 trucks made the uphill trip to Jerusalem, in 81 convoys.
The armored vehicles symbolize the courage of those who guarded the convoys and who sacrificed their lives to bring supplies to the besieged city of Jerusalem. In the battles on the road to Jerusalem, more than 400 fighters were killed,
Our Servas Israel hosts served great Middle Eastern food including hummus, wonderful olives, breads, . . .
My favorite presentation was the one from Russia (and you will understand why). The Russian women showed crafts and gave a slide show about beautiful Lake Baikal, located in the south of Siberia. We learned that Lake Baikal, which is about 25 million years old, is the largest (by volume) freshwater lake in the world; it contains about 20% of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water and at 1,642 m (5,387 ft), the deepest and among the clearest of all lakes. It contains more water than all the U.S. Great Lakes combined!
Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two-thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. In 1996, Lake Baikal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temperatures are cool: a winter minimum of −19 °C (−2 °F) to a summer maximum of 14 °C (57 °F). Lake Baikal is very beautiful and a wonderful place to visit.
Then the Russians ladies gave us typical Russian treats to eat and Lake Baikal water to drink. When the bottle came around, I poured a cup for Manda and another for me. I took a big gulp —- then I realized it wasn’t clear, cold Lake Baikal water, but another liquid for which Russia is famous: vodka!
For Manda, it was the first time she’d had alcohol in 20 years! But no harm was done – and we all got plenty of laughs out of the presentation. We could see that Russians are fun-loving people. Beware, however, when a Russian offers you “water”!
Besides getting to know Servas members and learn about other countries, we also heard from Franco Collodet, an Italian sociologist and philosophy professor from the Institute Volterra-Elia of Ancona.
In several earlier pilgrimages, Franco Collodet has walked the roads of Europe — to Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, and Santiago de Compostela — tracing the ancient routes that arrive in major places of worship. Collodet says he is inspired by integration among peoples.
In his latest pilgrimage, Collodet walked 4,100 kilometers (2,547.62 miles) from the Cathedral of Ancona in Italy to Jerusalem, arriving on Christmas 2014! He shared highlights of his “Send Your Prayer to Jerusalem” experience.
Servas hosts and tour members had a wonderful evening together.
Our following day tour was Christmas in Jerusalem.
At 10:00 a.m., we met at Jaffa Gate of the Old City and viewed the walls surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem – a city of many faiths.
We walked to the Christian Quarter and saw the Franciscan Church of ST. SAVIOUR- St Salvador, a beautiful Italian style church decorated for Christmas.
The Crypt of the Basilica marks the place where after the Resurrection of Jesus, Mary lived and died.
At the heart of the Christian quarter, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher honors the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and arose. The Stations of the Cross end here.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is controlled by – the Greek Orthodox, who own its central worship space, the Catholics, and the Armenian Orthodox. The three groups have yet to agree on how to restore the crypt area damaged by fire.
We also visited the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.
We walked then through the Jewish Quarter of narrow alleys to visit at the Wailing Wall and then climbed up to Mt. Zion.
The Muslim shrine located on the Temple Mount within the Old City Walls of Jerusalem, The Dome of the Rock, is considered by some the “most recognized of Jerusalem’s landmarks.” It was first completed in 691 CE.
The site’s great religious significance for Jews, Christians, and Muslims stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, the Foundation Stone, at the heart of The Dome of the Rock.
Although the Israelis captured the Dome of the Rock in 1967 during the Six-Day War, the country gave the Muslims authority to manage the Temple Mount to “keep the peace.”
In 1993, King Hussein of Jordan donated $8.2 million to refurbish the dome with 80 kilograms of gold! No wonder it glows in the sun.
Then we walked on to visit The Last Supper Room.
And we saw Dormition Abbey – a golden, highly decorated church that contains the tomb of the Virgin Mary.
We walked again along the walls of Old City Jerusalem back to the Jaffa Gate – to end another wonderful day full of history and religion and new friends.
Aloha & Shalom,
Servas Israel Tour – Part III – Places of Spirit: Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Tabgha, and the Jordan River
Day 4 – Thursday, 25 December 2014 – our wonderful Servas Israel Tour continued.
We traveled to the Sea of Galilee on Christmas Day guided by Iris Salomon- Har Even, host in Oranit.
At 10:00 a.m., we met up at the National Park of Capernaum (Kfar Nahum)
We started at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum), where Jesus lived and began preaching.
“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And He saith unto them. ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men'” (Matthew 4:18).
Here by the Sea of Galilee and at Tabgha, I did feel spirituality everywhere: in the air, in the water, in the light – in the religious sites.
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee is a Greek Orthodox monastery:
“The Church of the Twelve Apostles takes its name from the Gospel account of Jesus choosing the Twelve in this area of Galilee.
But it is also known as the Church of the Seven Apostles — a reference to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance by the Sea of Galilee to seven of his disciples — Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John and two other disciples” (John 21). . . .
After the Six Day War in 1969, when Israel pushed its border back to the Golan Heights, restoration of the church began first with the removal of a thick layer of cow manure covering the floor – since the church had been used for many years as a barn.
Between 1995 and 2000 the church was redecorated by a Greek iconographer with an eclectic array of Byzantine-style frescoes inspired by works in Orthodox churches and monasteries in various parts of the world, in particular the Balkans. The church glows in the light.
A small, cross-shaped building with white walls, the Church of the Twelve Apostles has two central domes surrounded by six smaller ones, each topped by a cross. As you can see, brightly-colored frescoes and icons cover most of the ceilings and walls of the church.
Inside one dome, Christ the Pantocrator (All-powerful) is surrounded by a chorus of 12 prophets who foretold his coming.”
Tabgha (ancient Heptapegon) on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee is the accepted site of Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-46) and also of the fourth resurrection appearance (John 21:1-24). Until 1948, it was the site of a Palestinian Arab village.
The site’s name is derived from the Greek name Heptapegon (“seven springs”).
Its pronunciation gradually changed to “Tabego”, and was eventually changed to “Tabha” by the Arabic speakers. St. Jerome referred to Heptapegon as “the solitude.” From: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabgha>.
The Chronicle of Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: The Adventures, The Events, The Holy Sites Go to: <http://www.amazon.com/Chronicle-Pilgrimage-The-Holy-Land/dp/965724000X>.
The Church of the Heptapegon – Seven Springs is built over where Jesus laid the fish and the five loafs of bread on a big rock before distributing the food that would feed five thousand (Mark 6:30-44).
However, I loved the views from inside!
Then we saw the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha – also so named because of Jesus’ miracle. The church is modern but stands on the site of 4th and 5th-century churches. It too preserves splendid early Christian mosaics as well as the traditional stone on which the miraculous meal was laid.
One of the wonderful aspects of this Servas Israel Tour was getting to meet others from around the world.
The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter is north of the Church of the Multiplication and was built on rocks at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s considered the place where Jesus appeared the fourth time after his resurrection (John 21:1-24), during which, according to Catholic teaching, Jesus again conferred primacy of Simon Peter.
Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to Tabgha in March, 2000.
After a delightful time at these holy places, we next traveled to the Jordan River, the baptism site of Jesus:
My brother Alan said he would’ve done the immersion, but it was December, already getting dark, and I’m a wimp, so I didn’t! However, many Christians braved the cold and were re-baptized in the Jordan River. Many collected water from the river to take home.
Behind schedule on this wonderful day and way after sunset, we said our goodbyes and headed back with our hosts to their homes. On our way to Barry and my Servas home, we got to stop at a fantastic Japanese restaurant: Osaka – Asian Kitchen and Sushi Bar in Ra’anana – wonderful. <https://www.facebook.com/osakarestaurant/posts/552482348116139>.
This day – Christmas Day 2014 – was personally the most spiritual of our Servas Israel Tour. I hope you will get such an experience too.
Shalom and Aloha, Renée
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
It was a wonderful, whirlwind tour of the country hosted by Servas Israel. Barry and I (and John) have been Servas travelers and hosts since 2002, and many of our best experiences involve visiting with Servas members.
However, the Servas Israel Christmas Tour was beyond our normal experience of staying with people we didn’t know and learning of their lives. “Servas home stays,” says the website, “provide insight into the political, cultural and social realities that face people of diverse cultures and backgrounds around the world.” Go to -(https://www.usservas.org/Membership/). On this tour opportunity, not only did we stay with local families but we were also guided around Israel by people who live there.
We did much and saw much, but it is only now that I’m reporting since I’ve had trouble retrieving my photos and only now are we back home. So here is an overview of the highlights of the first part of that fabulous 10-day tour.
On December 22, 2014, we started our Israel Servas Tour with an evening gathering in Jerusalem. Other Servas travelers were from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Germany, Italy, India, the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Surprisingly, Barry and I were the only ones from the U.S.
The people on the tour were varied and interesting. One Servas woman whom I was sure was from the UK because of her accent and manner is actually from Sweden. She says that she’s always been an Anglophile :). I’d never meet anyone from Belarus – and there were two! One woman is a flamenco dancer; one young couple have built a community center; one had written a book about his studies abroad. Everyone was open and friendly. We got to meet not only Israelis but also others from around the world.
Day 2 – Tuesday – 23 December 2014 Guided Tour to Kibbutz Kfar Masarik – Akko – Haifa We had a really full day starting off at 7:30 a.m. at Kfar Masarik, one of the first kibbutz – started even before the creation of Israel. Located in the western Galilee, Kfar Masarik was founded by Czechoslovakian and Lithuanian immigrants in 1932. In 1937, they were joined by Polish immigrants. Despite opposition from those who reasoned that the sandy soil could not support agriculture, the kibbutz grew, and in 1940, the kibbutz moved to its present site and was renamed Kfar Masaryk after Tomás Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia.
Our Servas hosts in Kfar Masaryk, Haim and Avraham told us about the kibbutz: The First and Second Aliyah (immigration wave), the situation in the country and in Europe at the time and the establishment of a pioneering settlement outside the main urban centers of the time, including the many difficulties involved.
They noted the social structure of the kibbutz work – of sharing and equality, the difficulties in everyday life — family split apart from children, laundry services, dining, clothing, and various members’ decisions. The guides also said a few words about the present privatization, which is happening with most of the surviving kibbutz in Israel today.
10:00 – Our guided tour in Acre (aka Akko) started at an elaborate Tunisian synagogue where we learned basic concepts of Judaism. The mosaic motifs on the walls represent an integrated Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Zionism in a unique place.
While many synagogues are in humble buildings, the Tunisian Djellaba Synagogue in Akko is the only one of its kind in the world; all four stories, within and without, display spectacular mosaics (from Kibbutz Eilon).
As we toured Acre/Akko, we learned about its significance during the Crusades, Arab and Turkish periods until today. We visited the fortress walls, went inside the local ruler’s fortress, remotely viewing the Knights Halls.
Located directly under the city built above it, a perfectly preserved Crusader city is being unearthed and brought back to life in Akko.
The Old City of Akko is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls and fortresses, knights’ halls, churches, synagogues, and mosques are all reminders of the city’s conquerors and religions, from the Canaanites and Romans to the Crusaders, Turks, and British.
12:30 Midday break – lunch at a local eastern restaurant/eatery.
Then we got to wander through the Acre markets.
The Akko Port was first mentioned in relation to the Greek campaign to conquer Egypt in 527-525 BC.
The port had been built during the reign of Ptolemais II (285-246 BC), transforming Akko into an international port city and the gateway to Israel. It reached its zenith during the conquest by the Crusaders. In the 13th Century, Akko became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom in the Holy Land. After the Ottoman conquest, the port was neglected, reduced to a fisherman’s harbor.
During the British Mandate, the Akko Fortress served as the main prison in the north of the country. Prisoners included hundreds of members of the underground movements: the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi. The Underground Prisoners Museum in Akko has a new exhibit describing reasons for incarceration, daily prison life, the Akko Prison breakout, and the story of the Olei Hagardon (those hanged on the gallows).
Then we drove for about an hour to reach downtown Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, third largest in the country, with about 600,000 residents in the area, and home to the Bahá’í World Centre (another UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The history of the city spans more than 3,000 years.
Haifa has been conquered and ruled by the Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans, British, and the Israelis.
Today, Haifa is a major seaport on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and plays an important role in the economy. It is also home to one of the oldest and largest high-tech parks in the country. Haifa Bay is a center of heavy industry, petroleum refining and chemical processing. Formerly it was the western terminus of an oil pipeline from Iraq via Jordan.
Downtown Haifa connects the past and the present and points to the future. Our Servas guides noted historical factors that affect the status of Haifa as the northern province and industrial and logistics center. The cultural fabric of life of Arabs and Jews in Haifa points to a possible realization of future peace for other places in Israel.
Then, instead of joining the other Servas members at Castra – the modern center that combines a shopping and art center, Barry and I finished the eventful day by going with our Servas hosts’, Shoshana & Shmuel, to their daughter’s home for Hanukkah donuts and celebration.
I couldn’t eat just one 🙂 !
It was a wonderful way to end a varied and interesting day.
The following days would be terrific too.
Shalom and aloha,