Tuesday, October 29-
Pastor Nabors (his comments in regular type): Waking up in Haifa at our Bay Club Hotel. By far, it is the nicest place we’ve stayed so far. It looks like a very old building that has had a major renovation. The rooms are definitely 5-star with all the amenities. We go down for breakfast. I can only say that breakfast these past days has been the meal of the day. Bread, yogurt and granola and just about anything you want from the menu are the preferred choices. We board our bus at 9, ready for the day. First stop, Nazareth.
This is the town where Jesus was raised. This is our first destination point. Nazareth is an Arab town with over 60 percent of the population, Muslim. Our Jewish guide asks, “And what Israeli Jew would want to live in Nazareth?” Most would not. He believes that most Jews and Arabs prefer to live with their own people, and separately from others. I am still trying to grasp the essential divisions of this country. Inside the “Green Line” is Israeli control. Outside the “Green Line” is both Israeli and Palestinian control. Also outside the line are the territories carved into A, B and C. Ummm, I think. It is definitely complicated for a visitor.
Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. It is also the largest city in the northern part of Israel. There are nearly 80,000 residents, most of whom are Palestinians with sixty percent Muslim and thirty percent Christian. The Church of the Annunciation is here. Alaa asks, “Who do you think is the most revered woman in the Koran?” No one can guess. He says, “Mary, the mother of Jesus.” Tradition records that, The Church of the Annunciation is built over Mary’s childhood home in Nazareth (where she becomes impregnated with Jesus). Alaa mentions how early Muslims were persecuted in Mecca. The Prophet told the people to leave Mecca and relocate in Ethiopia. He then tells a remarkable story about Mary found in the Koran.
Church of the Annunciation
The tour of the Church of the Annunciation was a powerful one. It was built in 1964 under the orders of the Vatican. The first chosen architect wanted to encompass the architectural trends of the area and presented the proposal to the Pope. It was not accepted, and the second architect was given the job. The man not hired, a very popular architect became very ill and it was attributed to his rejection from the Vatican. I find it amazing that in this overwhelmingly Muslim community, there is such a reverence for Mary. In addition, we have learned that Muslims also believe in many prophets and are particularly impressed with Abraham, Moses and Elijah. However, only Jesus is viewed as having been the only perfect person to have lived. I was given the opportunity to teach a brief lesson about Luke 1, when the angel visits Mary and the culmination of the Magnificant.
Daniel and I then talked about Jesus’ return to Nazareth after spending 40 days in the desert and his first inaugural sermon, and its results. On walls surrounding the exterior of the cathedral, there are mosaics and paintings of Mary from different countries around the world. Most of the images are white/very light, but a few of them are very dark- particularly Spain. I think about the Black Madonna. Inside the church are more images of Mary from various countries. Another church is the Church of Saint Joseph, not far from Annunciation. Saint Joseph Church is said to be built on the ruins of where Joseph had his carpentry shop. It is amazing to see, this conglomerate of holy houses of worship existing side by side with thousands of tourists and pilgrims visiting, cooperating and respecting each other. One wonders how this can happen here (with no sign of military personnel) but does not appear possible in other parts of the country.
We stand in line, walking down steps leading to a closer view of what is said to be Mary’s home. It really is a sight to behold, though the church itself was only built in 1964. Later, we go upstairs and come out to a narthex leading to a very large, beautiful sanctuary. Outside we come to a beautiful statuary of a Roman shield with an insignia, built into a wall with running water. It is the symbol of Constantine and reflects the dream he had before a battle, that ultimately led to his baptism.
Because of time we miss the famous outdoor market in Nazareth, known for its variety of merchandise, fabrics, tastes and spices.
The City of Shefaram
We board the bus and now head to our next destination, Shefaram. It is an ancient city located in the North at the entrance of Galilee. It is built on seven hills. Its elevation makes it strategic in that it connects between the valleys and mountains of Galilee. The Bay of Haifa can be seen in the distance. The tomb of Rabbi Judah ben Baba is in the town. He was captured and executed in the 2nd century by Romans. Our guide Alaa is excited about this town. His wife is from Shefaram and her family still lives here. His brother-in-law has a stable and owns horses that his children love to feed, each time they visit. Our goal is to visit a synagogue, church and mosque. The synagogue we visit is an old one and dates back to the 17th century and it sits upon the ruins of where the Sanhedrin (rabbinic court) sat in the 2nd century. It is very small and does not appear to be in use today. Alaa knocks on the door of a Palestinian home to borrow the key to let us in. We go in and hear about a clash that occurred in the town in 1929, between Jews and Arabs. The Jews left the synagogue at that time and migrated south. The place appears to be used today only for tourism. We hear about its history and then say a prayer before exiting and moving on.
Rabbi London: I want to bring the group to Shefaram because Rawy Khatib who is from Shefaram, lived in our house the summer of 2010 and our families have visited back and forth many times since then. Rawy, and my son, Yonah, were on a program called Hands of Peace that brings together Israeli Jews and Palestinians, Palestinians from the West Bank, and American kids for dialogue about the conflict and to build relationships across difference. As it turns out, our guide Alaa lives next door to Rawy’s aunt in Akko and Alaa’s father-in-law is a past mayor of the city and friends with Rawy’s parents. It’s amazing to see one-degree of separation between an American Jew—me—and an Israeli Palestinian—Alaa, our guide! Rawy’s mom, Suaad, joins us for lunch and the tour around the city. It is nice to see her. She’s a lovely and warm person who I’ve enjoyed getting to know over the years and who has been very hospitable to our family. Her son, Rawy, is also a fabulous young man, who does video production and has a clothing line he is developing. He is very hardworking, enterprising, and creative. Later that evening, I have dinner with Suaad and Rawy in Haifa where Rawy lives and works.
We notice a house sitting atop a Palestinian Arabic Church and are told that the French consulate, once lived there. The PAC broke from the RC church over differences regarding over site by the Vatican. We now head to a Fortress that sits at the highest part of the city, which is itself, built on a mountain. We notice two mosques, side by side with an Israeli flag waving from a home not far away. We walk through the hilly streets and it is as if we are seeing how people lived a thousand years ago. We notice important buildings from the Ottoman Period. One is the Government House built by Daher el Omer in the 18th century. Another is the White Mosque, still used today as a house of prayer and an education and cultural center.
We board the bus and head back to our hotel in Haifa. We have an early end to our day and are afforded a chance to rest, reflect and counsel what we have learned, seen and experienced.