As I write this, we are floating down the Suez Canal. It is another beautiful, sunny, warm day. Life is great!
Today (actually two days ago) we headed off towards Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. We were told yesterday that there would be less walking and that it would be an easier day today, but I am not sure I agree! It was a bit shorter in length (we got back at 7:30 rather than 8:30) but was just as intensive as the day before. Our tour guide today was Yosi Kfiri (firstname.lastname@example.org). Yosi kept me very busy taking notes as he gave us a tremendous amount of information over the course of the day.
Someone in the group had requested a stop at the Baha’i Gardens. I had heard of Baha’i before but as a cult in the US; I did not know whether or not this was the same group. For all I knew, it was a Hebrew word and had no affiliation with the religion. We drove through the German Colony where one can see traditional German-style homes that are inscribed with Bible verses. Groups of Germans settled here in 1869. They believed that if they lived and prayed in the Holy Land that it would encourage the second coming of Jesus. I guess they had a pretty high opinion of themselves!
We continued up the hill to the Baha’i Gardens. By the way, here in Haifa, the higher up the hill you live, the more expensive the property. The property closer to the water is less expensive. It turns out that the Baha’i Gardens were indeed created by “those” Baha’i. The faith was founded in the mid-19th century and has its roots in Islam. The leader of Islam was looking for a better interpretation of the Koran. He wanted to shift that was more pacifist and more open and liberal. Shockingly enough, the idea wasn’t accepted and he was executed in Shirazi. His bones were tossed away, but someone collected them (Baha Olah?? Not at all sure of the spelling of this name). This next person was arrested and exiled for 5 years, but was eventually freed. The bones were brought here to Haifa and buried in the gardens. This is one of the holiest places for those of the Baha’i faith; many make pilgrimages to Haifa. There are 6 million Baha’i in the world; 2 million of them are in the US (the largest concentration anywhere) and 1 million are in Iran, where they are discriminated against. All Baha’i contribute 1/19th of their income to the faith. The Baha’i in the US will try to convert you to their faith, but those in Israel do not. Five hundred volunteers live in Haifa to tend the gardens. The Baha’i faith has changed over time; they no longer follow Islam and Mohammed and are considered heretics.
We took a few pictures looking down on the gardens and then crossed the street to where a couple of monuments were located. One was dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm II who wanted to visit the Holy Land but had some physical disabilities that prevented him from being able to manage getting to shore in Jerusalem. The Germans in Haifa built a special wharf for him; he was rowed in to the wharf in a dinghy and was able to then disembark and travel overland to Jerusalem. He spent two days in Haifa first and the monument was erected to mark the occasion. Hertzl from Vienna (more about him later; he was the head of the Zionist movement) met him here. Herzl wanted to let Jews settle here (remember that Israel was not founded until 1948, so this visit took place 50 years prior).
The other monument was a cannon with the date September 23, 1918 inscribed on a plaque in front of it. This commemorates the British conquering Tel Aviv/Jerusalem two months before the end of WWI. It had been agreed ahead of time that the French would get Lebanon and the British would get Israel (known as the British Mandate). The British remained in control of Israel for 30 years.
As we drove towards Galilee, Yosi talked to us about immigration to Israel, which took places in 5 waves. Going back to Theodore Hertzl, the first wave of immigration can be attributed to him. There was a trial of a Jewish officer in the French army named Dreyfus. He was accused of spying, but was only accused because of anti-Semitic sentiments. A trial took place and he was found guilty, and was exiled to an island in the Mediterranean. Emile Zola, who was a friend of Herzl, wrote an article that accused the judges of being anti-Semitic. A big scandal ensued, and a second trial was held. This time, Dreyfus was found not guilty. This laid the foundations for Hertzl’s activism; he believed that Jews could not be treated fairly in Europe. He demanded a Jewish congress to discuss Jewish issues, which took place in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. He wrote, “In Basel I have founded the Jewish State.” He wrote a book describing what the Jewish state would look like (published in 1898). Fifty year later, David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence for the Jewish State of Israel. Quite the prophet!
Following this, people started to head to Israel, including Golda Meir when she was 17 years old. Many students immigrated; at this time in history, ideology was very important. This time encompassed the first and second waves of immigration. The third was following WWI; the 4th from Poland in 1924.
The fifth wave was from Germany in 1933. Two hundred thousand Jews fled Germany, bringing the total population to 600,000. Can you imagine? The ratio of “new” German Jews to “old” Jews in Israel was 1:2. Think about that. If the same thing happened in the US, which has a population of over 300 million, that would mean that 150 million more would immigrate, bringing our total population to 450 million. These German Jews were a very educated group and very much changed the culture of the country.
After the Holocaust, many more immigrants headed to Israel, but the British limited immigration and would not let them in. The Arabs did not want more Jews. Thus started a period of clandestine immigration. If you have not read the book “Exodus”, by Leon Uris, it describes this time period and is an excellent read. Survivors wanted refuge, and so would arrive in small ships at night and would swim for shore where they were met by local underground groups that would help them. They then lived in Israel as illegal immigrants.
During the 40’s the population continued to grow; the country became more prosperous. In 1947 riots were taking place between Arabs and Jews (there were more than twice as many Arabs). The British got tired of all of the conflict and went to the UN to request ending their occupation. At this time, they were also withdrawing from other countries, such as India. The Great British Empire was ending.
In November of 1947, there was a split between Israel and Palestine. On the 30th of that month, Arabs shot a Jewish bus on the way to Jerusalem which started a war. Both Jordan and the US told Israel that they should not form an independent nation, that all surrounding countries would fight against them, and that they stood no chance of success. Nonetheless, the vote for independence was 6-4, and on May 14, 1948, independence was declared. Israel offered cooperation to all nations.
Seven nations invaded Israel the next day. Israel won the war but lost 1% of its population (6,000). If a comparable loss took place in the US, that would be 3 million plus casualties. Most of those lost were young men which made it a challenge because there were not enough men to marry. The ceasefire that ended the war took place in March of 1949. The next war was against Egypt in 1956. In 1967 the 6-day war occurred (Syria, Egypt and Jordan invaded). In 1973 there was another war with Egypt and Syria (the Yom Kippur War); Henry Kissinger got involved in diplomatic matters related to this war. Three weeks later, Israel prevailed. The region is peaceful right now, though there are occasional bombs lobbed from the Gaza Strip (30 miles from where we ate lunch today). Israel is the only foothold of democracy in the Middle East.
In Seattle, we think of ourselves as one of the top cradles of technology, right behind San Francisco. But, Israel is #2 in the world. The add Waze (one of my favorites) was developed here, along with Intel processors. The colonoscopy was invented here (no comment on that one!) as well as the stent. Many of the electronics on aircraft were developed here as well.
OK, the modern history section is now over! On to Nazareth, where Jesus lived much of his life. After the birth of Jesus, his family fled Bethlehem to Egypt because of King Herod’s decree to kill all of the infant males in the city. When they returned, they moved back to Nazareth. Our first stop was the Church of the Annunciation (a Franciscan Basilica). Engraved on the church was, “Verbum Caro Factum Est Et Habitavit In Nobis”, which means, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This quote is found in John 1:14. It underscores an important philosophical difference between the Jewish and the Christian religions. In the Jewish faith, God is “virtual” and can never be felt or touched. In other words, one is one; there is not a triune God. Under the quote were the 4 apostles: St. Matthaevs, St. Marcvs, St. Lvcas and St. Johannes. Incidentally, Roman Catholic priests often study in Israel for 2 years because, in order to understand the Christian faith, one must understand the Jewish faith (, essentially the teachings of the Old Testament).
Yossi then related the story of the annunciation: Mary was 16-18 years old when she was visited by the angel Gabriel. After bringing water home from the well (which was one of her daily duties) the angel Gabriel appeared before her. She was frightened; Gabriel was a bit scary looking (not like the beautiful angels we saw in our Bible story books when we were children). Gabriel also appears in the Koran, by the way. Gabriel shared with her the news that she would bear a child; in other words, the word became flesh. The seed was planted and Mary bore Jesus. This must’ve been a very difficult thing for her to do since she was a virgin and betrothed to Joseph. Joseph stayed by her side and married her anyway.
This particular church was built in 1969. Artists from many countries submitted artwork depicting the annunciation and these are posted all around the courtyard. It is really fascinating to see the many interpretations from the different cultures. The German one has an interesting feature – there is a wall between the boy and the girl. During this era, of course, the Berlin wall still existed and Germany was split into two separate parts. A little political symbolism mixed into the religious art!
We went to look at the Holy Door. There were multiple panels on the door; each depicts a scene from Mary’s life. The virgin Mary is seen differently within Christianity. In most protestant churches, she is but a vessel that carried and gave birth to Jesus. In Catholicism, she is the mother of God and revered as such. Yossi described several of the panels to us, including Mary as “Mediatrix” (mediator). Another panel had the manger scene with the donkey and oxen that are in every nativity scene. This can be traced back to the book of Isaiah; in this book the donkey and oxen “knew their master” so there is symbolism here as well. There is a historical error in the panel depicting the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple; there is a Jewish star on the temple. This symbol was not in use at the time of the Presentation, so is historically inaccurate. However, with the star on their, people do recognize it as a temple!
After viewing the Holy Door, we walked back to the main entrance. Someone in our group had asked about the significance of one of the statues on the building – it was an ornate cross with a pair of hands open beneath it. The cross itself is a Jerusalem cross; a large cross with 4 crosses surrounding it. The crosses represent the countries of Italy, France, Germany and England; the countries that tried to free Israel from the Muslims. The two hands represent St. Francis of Assisi who was known for his simple life and affinity with the poor. This is why the most recent Pope, Francis I, took Francis as his name when he became Pope; he is very similar in attitude to St. Francis.
We now entered through the main gate. This door was divided into 6 panels which were pictures from the life of Jesus. Starting at the top left, moving counterclockwise: birth of Jesus; Jesus, Mary and Joseph on a donkey; Joseph teaching Jesus carpentry; the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist; the Sermon on the Mount and the Crucifixion.
As you enter the church, there are patterns in the marble floor that are an optical illusion to make you think you are walking downhill, though the church floor is completely level. Inside the church is Mary’s House, where Mary lived when the Angel Gabriel visited her.
The wall on the interior of the church is from the time of the Crusaders. It is a two story church with unique architecture. There is not enough room on the main floor for services to take place, so a second level with more space exists. The dome of the church is in an octagonal shape. The number 7 is a natural number; it represents the number of days in a week, so 8 is a “supernatural” number and was used for this purpose. From the exterior, the dome looks like a lighthouse (yet more symbolism!).
Like all Catholic churches, the 14 stations of the cross are represented here. One difference between Catholic and other churches is that the acoustics are incredible. Others include the use of a crucifix rather than a plain cross, statues, icons and confessionals. There were icons of Mary all around the church. I took pictures of the ones that grabbed my attention. Their countries of origin are 1) USA 2) Mexico 3) Japan (the sleeves of Mary’s gown are seed pearls on this one) and 4) Canada.
Stepping outside, we walked the short distance to St. Joseph’s Church, a much smaller church. Mass was taking place so we immediately went down to the grotto. The first thing we saw was a Jewish ritual bath (Jewish women must be cleansed after menses and before weddings); this is further evidence that Jesus grew up in a traditional Jewish home. There are stair leading down to the bath, and a hole in the corner where you could stand (the water completely submerged you).
Then, we looked down into Joseph’s carpentry shop. Not too much was visible and it was difficult to take a good picture given the green lighting and the grate that covers the opening.
Walking back up the steps, we exited this church and walked up a steep hill to what is known as Mary’s well (where she brought water back to the house from every morning). It was a difficult walk without carrying water; it must’ve been quite a challenge to manage with a jug of water! We were given a few minutes to get something to drink and something to eat if you wanted a snack. We were going to have lunch around 1:30 (or so we were told) and so Clayton and I decided to wait. Almost everyone else in the group opted to find food in the area rather than waiting. I wanted pomegranate juice, but the line was incredibly long, so we paid $2 each for a can of coke.
Mary’s well is contained in a Greek Orthodox church. One important difference between the orthodox and other denominations is that their altar is separated from the rest of the church with a partition (wall). Only the priest can enter this area to prepare the Eucharist. The Greek’s claim that Mary saw the angel Gabriel here and ran home in fright. Gabriel then followed her there, and that is where the annunciation took place.
Back to the bus for more background information before our next stop, which will be the Sea of Galilee. Jesus first miracle was at the wedding of Canaan, which is a 4-5 hour walk from Nazareth. During the wedding, they ran out of wine. Mary was asked to “mediate” with Jesus to see if he would turn the water into wine. He responded that the time had not come yet, but reconsidered and turned 6 jugs of water into wine. We did not go into Canaan, but were near it. We were now in the valley leading to Tiberius (a resort town) and the Sea of Galilee. The Sea is 214 meters (642 feet) below sea level. There was lots of volcanic activity in the Jordan Valley, so rather than seeing limestone on the side of the road, we now saw basalt. It is very hot here in the summer; there are many tropical plants. We passed by the town of Magdala (where Mary Magdalene was from). Apparently, once per week, bombs from Syria are lobbed here. Jesus left Nazareth and lived in this area for the final three years of his life.
We arrived at the Sea of Galilee at a spot known as Peter’s Primacy. We sat in an area where Pope John Paul II conducted mass. Yossi read to us from John 21. After the resurrection of Jesus the disciples had been fishing all night long with no luck. Jesus called to them from the shore; they did not recognize him (perhaps it was still dark?). He instructed them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat; they then caught enormous quantities of fish. They then recognized him, “It is the Lord.” Simon Peter jumped into the water. Perhaps he was embarrassed because he had denied Jesus three times leading up to the crucifixion? Anyhow, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do You Love Me?”. Peter responded, “You know that I love you.” Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Then feed my lambs” (Peter was a shepherd). This is known as Peter’s Primacy; primacy meaning “chosen above others”. He went on to become the first Bishop of Rome (Pope).
They ate the fish together on a rock known as, “The Lord’s Table”.
We were able to walk down to the shore and dip our toes in the Sea of Galilee (a very rocky, difficult walk). Clayton dabbed some behind his ears.
By now, it was past time for lunch so we headed to a restaurant by the sea where they served what is known as St. Peter’s fish, which is a local fish caught in the Sea of Galilee. There were only three couples that had lunch there (Harry and Sue from Texas, Alison and Frank from Vancouver, BC and Clayton and I); everyone else had eaten earlier. We were thinking that it would’ve been a good idea to count how many people wanted the sit-down lunch while we were at Mary’s Well. If there were just 3 couples, we all would have happily eaten earlier along with everyone else. On the positive side, the food was excellent. For $20, we filled up on the goodies at a huge salad bar that included delicious hummus and fresh pita bread. The other couples had the fish lunch; Clayton and I had chicken. The fish was a whole cooked fish and looked very messy to eat, but apparently was quite delicious. The chicken was incredible, so we all left well fed and extremely full.
Next on the agenda was the Town of Jesus, Capharnaum. Jesus lived here for 3 years with the mother-in-law of St. Peter. The miracle of the loaves and the fish took place here. Our guide kept referring to it as the miracle of multiplication. Of course, as a former math teacher, I kept thinking that there must be something mathematical that happened here! The actual miracle was feeding a group of 5000 with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The disciples split the people into groups of 50 and Jesus fed the crowd. After everyone ate, there were 12 basketfuls of food left over. Unlike Moses that asked God to provide food for his people, Jesus provided the food without intercession from his Father.
We viewed the house where Jesus lived.
Then we went outside and saw the site of one of Jesus’ miracles. He took a paralyzed man off of a roof, and took him to Peter’s house where Jesus healed him. The roof was made of palm fronds. In Matthew 24, we read of two women grinding grain with a hand mill; one was taken and one was left behind. When visualizing this, I never knew how large and heavy a hand mill was, but it is the two part stone mill pictured below.
We then made a brief stop at the synagogue where Jesus taught and preached daily. Here Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant. The Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant who was a pagan (non-Jew). Jesus agreed to bless the servant, but the servant was not in Capharnaum (he was in Jerusalem), but Jesus was able to heal him from afar. The Centurion responded that he was unworthy to stand under this man’s feet.
By now we were way behind schedule. We had a few people in our group that consistently did not follow directions and were not back to the bus on time. We had to wait for them to show up and had to rush to Mount Beatitude, where the Sermon on the Mount was given. We got there at 4:40; they closed at 4:45. The man at the gate did not want to let us in. Our guide told him that we would be done by 5; he said he was leaving at 4:45. We went in anyhow and were allowed to very briefly enter the church; the nun was getting ready to lock up. Literally, we had just enough time to walk around the altar and then had to go outside.
We met up behind the church, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Yosi asked me if I would read the Beatitudes to the group. I was happy to do so, and it was one of the more moving experience I have had. Yosi then asked us to hold our arms at 45 degree angles (forming a 90 degree angle); he pointed out that in the area between our arms, all of Jesus’ miracles took place.
It was getting dark; we loaded the bus and headed for our final destination, the River Jordan. We passed by some low trees that are known as the Suffering of Jesus trees; the crown of thorns was made out of them. We passed through the town of Tiberius and stopped at what looked like a large souvenir shop. There were plaques in many languages describing the importance of the location.
Passing through the shop, we arrived at the River Jordan. Yosi told us that it is a popular place for pilgrims to stop, and that many get baptized (or re-baptized here). They were special white gowns that they then dry (without washing the river water out) and save for their own burials. It was dark so difficult to get a good pictures, but I snapped a couple anyhow, including on of Yosi.
We looked around the souvenir shop but felt that their items were overpriced. I might’ve purchased some date honey but the smallest jar was about 12 oz. and heavy. I did not want to risk it breaking in my suitcase on the flight home. I found a few similar items to the ones I had bought at the shop in Palestine; all cost double (or more) here. I was interested in the Dead Sea cosmetics; both tour guides highly recommended them and I know they are extremely expensive back home. Unfortunately, they seemed pretty expensive here as well, so passed on buying any.
These two days have both been absolutely incredible. I have learned so much about Israel, but the main thing that I will take away with me is being able to visualize where many of the important events in Jesus’ life took place. Reading about it and seeing it are two entirely different concepts. My words cannot convey how powerful this experience has been for me.