Friday June 14th 2013

17 Jun

We woke up this morning with a bus waiting for us outside the hotel ready to take us on a long day of sightseeing. As Murphy predicted, If something can go wrong it will; we were stuck in a continuous confusion of never arriving elevators in the midst of the arrival of another chaotic group to our hotel. We finally arrived to the moment when we could rest our eyes on the bus. This was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice of a guide who helplessly tried to wake us up with loud information. I think we were all in denial about the fact that our loved guide Talya wasn’t going to lead us through this part of her loved country. Once we got off the bus and tried to put together the pieces of information that we had heard in between the sleepiness and denial, we realized what an amazing place that we had found our selves in. 

We were about to visit the Baha’i gardens in Haifa on Mount Carmel. We were welcomed by orders from two guards that made it clear that in this holy place there was “No smoking and no chewing gum”. The Baha’i gardens are considered a Unesco patrimony. These gardens are garden terraces around the shrine of the Bab. The Baha’i claim that Bab was the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist. Bab was the first one to have reform ideas during the Islamic Regime, he wrote about his ideas on Social Justice, the possibility of coexistence between science and religion, and equality. These ideas were suppressed by the Islamic regime; Bab and his followers were persecuted. Bab was executed by the Islamic regime in the mid 1850’s. The terrace gardens have now become the pilgrimage for Baha’i religion, only the devoted to the Baha’i are allowed to climb the stairs up the gardens. The gardens are absolutely breathtaking; perfectly taken care of, ornamented with a combination of green and marble and accessorized with colorful flowers, all of which keep a symmetrical pattern. Image

We learnt about the other praised figures in the Baha’i religion. Baha’u’llah was one of them, he claimed that he was a prophet sent from God. His ideals developed from Bab’s; he also believed in equality, to the extent that he believed that humanity is one single race and that it should be unified in one global society. He was also persecuted by the Islamic regime but he came from the high society and his family was very connected so they compromised with the Islamic religion that he wouldn’t be executed but imprisoned for the rest of his life across the sea from Haifa. We later went to visit the jail where he was imprisoned in Acre. 

While we left the gardens and started to make our way to the next sight we discussed the Baha’i religion and tried to find its weaknesses. The Baha’i religion is acceptant to everyone; every religion and every person. Their efforts consist in spreading the will to the renunciation of material possessions and to incentive world leaders to work together to settle disputes, and of course to better the world and its people. It is hard not to like a religion like that!

The next place we visited was a Mosque from Tunisia. People in Tunisia used to have a very beautiful synagogues so the people who came from Tunisia wanted to bring something beautiful and characteristic of Tunisia here in Israel. The Mosque was so beautiful that you didn’t know where to project your expression of awe. The whole place was covered in mosaic. We were welcomed by the cutest old man who had been in charge of the project of building the Mosque for 60 years. He lives across the street from the Mosque and he finds people to finance the kibbutz’s work on the mosaic. All of the mosaic is made in a kibbutz in the western galilee. He said the most beautiful words to welcome us; he told us we were all equal and all special and that we were more than welcome in the Mosque that we could now consider as a home. He blessed us and wished us peace and happiness. 

On the walls of the Mosque there were mosaics of ancient coins. On one roof there was a very ancient map. On the floor there are animals and plants from the land of Israel with their names in hebrew. One wall was dedicated to the holocaust; there was a map of Europe with the law cities and concentration camps. There was beautiful section dedicated to Women; the room had four scenes that depicted the matriarchs: Rachel and Lea, Sara, Rebecca and Esther and Ruth.

The main praying room of the mosque had all the prayers in mosaic on the walls because in tunisia they didn’t have prayer books so the prayers were on the walls and they prayed through singing and repetition. The torah scrolls were different, they were held in a standing case which was opened with scarves. This is typical to North Africa, it can also be seen in South America because it come from the Spanish tradition. Its closet is made of silver and inside it is beautifully decorated with silver ornaments and of course of more mosaic. We were all very impressed and curious about this beautiful place, but we quickly left to go to the next site.  Image

We arrived in Acre which is one of the oldest cities that are still inhabited. Historically this city occupied a critical location since it is on the Mediterranean and it would link the domestic commerce with the one across the waters. Acre has a lively history filled with invasions, take overs, victories and many failed attempts by different kind of leaders all over. Unfortunately our guide didn’t make the history of Acre very clear, and after some research I don’t blame her; it seems like a lot for a group of exhausted and hungry college students to manage. We visited the sights of Acre that were relevant to the crusader period and the ottoman period. We were impressed by the many passage ways and tunnels that were constructed by the crusaders, in addition to their many high roofed rooms. We were also being bombarded by the efforts of the guide to impress us with the bathrooms and sewage systems of the crusaders. The most beautiful thing about Acre is that there are so many levels to the city and the deeper that they dig the more they find; another level, from another time, of another people. 

What made us happiest was to stop in the Turkish bazaar to eat at what was the best hummus, according to our guide, I must admit that it was amazing hummus and we were all more than satisfied with our meals at the local hummus place and the packaged ice creams for the way. With our popped bellies and smiling faces we kept walking through Acre, appreciating its artistic side and the combination of various religions that it encompassed in such a small place. Image

We then went to visit the Grottoes of Rosh Hanikra. The grottoes are the result of a geophysical process that has been going on for thousands of years. The process of the formation of the grottoes began with a series of underground shocks that ripped the bedrock. Rainwater then penetrated the gaping rifts, dissolving them and forming tunnels and sea caves that went expanding with the slamming of the waves on the stone. These grottoes were once exclusively accessible to scuba divers, but today a small and shaky cable car will bring you directly to the beautiful creation of nature. ImageWe enjoyed walking through the natural tunnels brushed with water as we appreciated the time and power of nature. We were also happy to know that the next stop would be the last stop, our weekend apartment at Tzfat. Before we left we took pictures at the closest point to the border between Lebanon and Israel, this was exciting in many ways, especially because of the entertaining sight of our tour guide trying to use a camera. Image

When we arrived in Tzfat we had the chance to relax a little while before we had to get ready to experience the exciting and authentic shabbat services in the very special town of Tzfat, which is one of Judaism’s four holy cities, the city is actually manly composed of orthodox jews. I had never been to a jewish religious service so I was very curious to see how it would be. As soon as we arrived I realized that I would have a terrible time sitting through a service which I wouldn’t even understand. This is mainly because the synagogue was split between men and women. The women had to sit at the back and they were separated by blinds which didn’t allow them to see the other part of the synagogue, where the men were. The women all sat down singing calmly while on the other side it sounded like a rave full of dancing teenagers who were exploding in energy drinks. I was very frustrated at the situation, I would never be able to bare a society like this. Not only was I insulted by the fact that anyone could think that I am less worthy and thus I had to sit behind a curtain, but I was more frustrated at the fact that it seemed like the women had no problem with it. The women didn’t see how wrong the situation was. I could see it in their faces, they were passionately singing, on the verge of tears, they would also try and peak in to see the dancing men, and they would look at them with accepting and smiling faces. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the experience, I thought it was beautiful to think that a spirit had joined the people at the synagogue to welcome shabbat, and that that was why the women were happy and passionate. It’s a beautiful but manipulative thought. 

Our growling stomachs walked us home. We had a full table on the porch ready for us upon our arrival. Lenny conducted the service and we all enjoyed a full and satisfying warm meal under the clutch of the stars and surrounded by the serenity of Tzfat. 

Lucrezia Rigano

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