Friday, 18 January 2013

Haifa, Israel

We have had the most amazing time in Israel. I am overwhelmed with information and emotion. I really want to take the time to write about our 2 days in the Holy Land so this is a space saver...

Will update it upon my return to Sydney!

We arrived in Haifa, Israel, at the crack of dawn. Due to recent events, our scheduled stop at the port of Ashdod was cancelled and the ship would stay overnight in Haifa instead. Fortunately this did not have a large impact on our time in Israel other than a slightly longer day of travelling the next day. My parents had the great misfortune of being picked at random for an interview by Israeli security. They were apparently separate to Israeli immigration who had earlier interviewed my parents onboard and issued them with visas. Fortunately the series of questions that irritated my mother greatly did not take very long and they rejoined the rest of the family shortly after. Unfortunately, we had to wait for 15 minutes for our private tour guide!

Malcolm's first choice of tour operator, Digger Dan, was already booked when we first made enquiries. Digger Dan recommended Aviv, who we duly booked for our 2 days in Israeli. Aviv quickly made up for his lateness and it was soon clear why he came highly recommended. He made our day in Israel very memorable, not only with his wonderful sense of humour but also his vast knowledge. Our bus driver, Eli, was also very special. Although he could come across a little gruff at times, underneath the tough exterior, was an ex-army commander who was hilarious and had a heart of gold. I wished I had written down all of his jokes!

The family off the ship and waiting for Oma and Opa

The family at the port waiting for Aviv...

Our van is here!

Driving along the streets of Haifa, the first thing that struck us was how clean and orderly the streets were. Haifa is the third largest city in Israel behind Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Our only sight today within the city though was the headquarters of the Bahai. They had the most amazing gardens on prime real estate which had panoramic views of  the port and city of Haifa.
What followed next was a whirlwind tour of New Testament events. I really struggled to come to terms with seeing physical locations of biblical events. What I had known about in my head was suddenly before my eyes. Most of my day was spent in a haze of surreal joy, being in places where Jesus once walked. In the meantime, Aviv pointed out extraordinary things and places, the numbers of which kept increasing to the point where it became almost like reciting a list of ordinary facts and places. On our way to the Mount of Beatitudes, Aviv pointed out a small town on the hill, Magdal, where Mary Magdalene was from. I didn’t have much time to mull over the fact as we arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes shortly after. This was where Jesus delivered the famed Sermon on the Mount. As part of his introduction to the site, Aviv had prepared the relevant passages from the bible for us to read together. Listening to Elliot read through the book of Matthew touched the whole family. We finished with the Lord's Prayer and entered the church built upon the site. It was so peaceful. Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, we could see other groups praying and singing. I'm going to have to have to come up with many alternatives for the word "special" as it will be used repeatedly!
Matthew 5:3-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The beautiful Bahai Temple overlooking Haifa

Why am I showing you this hazy photo?!? The bit of land that you can just see over the water is Lebanon...

A very green Israel thanks to clever irrigation

Mount of  Beatitudes. The Roman Catholic Church built at the site in the 1930s to commemorate  the site where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

Everyone in good spirits walking in the foot steps of our Saviour

Reading the book of Matthew together before entering the church.

Looking down at the Sea of Galilee from the mount

The obligatory family photo!
We climbed into our van to drive the very short distance to Tabgha, to the Church of Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. On the site is a rock and it is believed that Jesus stood on this rock when he miraculously fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. An altar was built around the rock in the 4th century and then a church in the 5th century. This was "lost" for over 1300 years until it was rediscovered in the 1930s. It was restored in the 1980s and some of the 5th century mosaics can still be seen, one of which is of two fish and a basket of loaves. We piled into our van for another very short drive to the next site, the Church of the Primacy of St Peter. Our day would have been so much shorter if we didn't need to visit the toilet at every single stop! Its almost as if the knowledge of the existence of a clean toilet fuelled the fear of a lack one at the next stop. The family went into paranoia mode and into a bladder and bowel emptying frenzy. Ok rant over, moving on...

A miracle

Listening to Aviv who  went through the history of this church in the Church's courtyard. Don't know why we looked so bored. I promise everyone was interested in what he had to say!

There were streams with Koi within the church grounds. Jonah was much more interested in these...

The interior of the Church. Patience is a virtue. Just about 10 seconds earlier, it was packed!

The stone under the altar believed to be where Jesus blessed the loaves and fish.  I took the photo poorly but the mosaic in front of the rock is one of 2 fish and a basket of loaves

Mosaics from the 5th century church
We arrived at the Church of Primacy of St Peter and walked down to the nearby shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It is on these waters that Jesus had walked, taught, fished, calmed storms, made disciples and ministered to the people. And there I was, touching the exact same waters! The site was traditionally believed to be where the events of John 21:1-24 occurred, when Jesus appeared for the 3rd time to the Apostles after his resurrection. As with many sites, the existing modern church incorporated older churches over time, dating as far back as the 4th century. Within the tiny church was a rock called the Mensa Christi, or the table of Christ. It is believed that it was upon this rock that Jesus had prepared a charcoal fire for the fish and provided bread for their meal together. Also mentioned in some accounts are the "Twelve Thrones", heart shaped stones along the shoreline to commemorate the twelve Apostles. Some of these were also clearly visible.

The outside of the Church of Primacy of St Peter

Walking down to touch the waters of the Sea of Galilee

Heart shaped stones 

The Mensa Christi
We continued on to Capernaum, the hometown of who's who in the bible! Peter, Andrew, James and John lived there as did Matthew. It was where Jesus based himself for much of his ministry after leaving Nazareth, and where he performed many miracles including healing Peter's mother in law, bringing a child back to life, curing a leper, and enabling the paralysed man to walk again.

The two main points of interest in Capernaum were the ruins of one of the oldest synagogues as well as Peter's house. The white stones of the synagogue that were visible belonged to one that was built in the 4th century. However, if you looked closely you could see that it was build upon much darker stones. This was the foundations of the 1st century synagogue believed to be the one around during the time of Jesus. The details found on the stones were just exquisite. The second was Peter's House. Jesus probably stayed here with Peter and his family and it was believed that this was the place of gathering for the early Church.

Ornate remains of the 4th century synagogue

Details are quite amazing

I couldn't remember what Aviv said about the Star of David prior to its use as a symbol for Judaism!

The remains of the 4th century synagogue which was built upon a 1st century synagogue, believed to be one used during the time of Jesus

The ruins of the town at Capernaum

The building believed to be St Peter's house
By this time, tummies were started to rumble and so we took a break for lunch at a nearby restaurant. We had asked Aviv to organise meals of local food and he did accordingly. Lunch was grilled St Peter's fish accompanied by an assortment of salads. It was eggplant cooked a zillion ways but boy did it taste good! It was a light and tasty meal and we pressed on as we still had much ground to cover.

Different kinds of salads lining the middle of the table.

Grilled St Peter's fish with rice and fries. Never thought I'd see that combo!
We made a quick stop at the museum of the 2000 year old boat, one likely to have been used during the time of Jesus. In 1986, during a drought which receded the waters of the Sea of Galilee, 2 local fisherman chanced upon the remains of this ancient vessel. The museum recounted their efforts of salvaging and preserving the boat in what was a race against time. They had to remove the remains from the mud carefully but quickly to avoid the rising waters re-submerging the boat. After its successful extraction, the boat lived in a special chemical bath for 14 years before it was able to be displayed! It has been dated back to the 1st century. It was made from 12 different types of wood and so it was proposed that the boat had been repaired several times and so was likely in use for decades.

We blindly followed Aviv to our next stop along the Sea of Galilee where he produced a surprise for us. We all thought we were there for a photo opportunity with the sign of where the Sea of Galilee was in relation to sea level! What he had arranged was much, much better. We went out to the Sea of Galilee in our own private boat. Aviv had not mentioned this to us earlier as he was not sure if the boat trip could go ahead. It was snowing just the week prior to our arrival and it was usually windy and very choppy in the afternoons. He informed us that we were so lucky as the waters were never usually this calm at this time. It was a very emotional trip. We all had the opportunity for our own personal reflection. There was a gentle wind, the waters were calm and there was a slight mist. Listening and singing songs of praise just intensified the experience. We were then asked if we wanted to hear Jewish music. Why not? With much laughter and joy, we danced to Hava Nagila. Our time on the Sea of Galilee passed by quickly. We disembarked and started on our drive to Nazareth.

The 2000 year old boat

We thought we were here for a photo op...

...when our surprised sailed in

complete with the Australian flag

The very calm Sea of Galilee

Waters where Jesus walked on

A demonstration of fishing the traditional way
Nazareth was a small town that was poor and insignificant prior to the time of Jesus. In John 1:46 the question was asked "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?". However, as seen so many times over, the Lord uses what the world sees as useless and rejects as a vessel for great things for His purpose. It was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus Christ. It was also the childhood home of Jesus. Mary and Joseph resettled here after their return from their flight from Bethlehem to Egypt.

We headed for the Church of the Annunciation, built around the cave dwelling believed to the childhood home of Mary and where the Annunciation occurred. The church had two sections. A lower section which where the cave dwelling was and an upper section where there was a more opulent church. Scattered around the whole church and the grounds were mosaics depicting Mary donated from countries all over the world. We had fun trying to spot those from countries of "significance". Surprisingly, we found one from Indonesia and Japan! The one from Japan was beautiful with sections made of mother of pearl.

Church of the Annunciation

The church was built around the cave dwelling which was believed to be the childhood home of Mary

And where the Angel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would conceive Jesus

The dwelling is on the lower level

And on the upper, a magnificent church

Modern stained glass windows

The church has mosaics donated by different countries. This one is from Australia

The one from Japan - with parts made of mother of pearl

The extension of the cave dwelling that was seen inside the church
By the time we left the church, the light was failing and energy levels were flagging. Aviv dragged us into a store. It was a baklava store which served Italian style coffee! He assured that this was the best in Israel and many travelled here to buy the goodies. I could see why! He chose a selection for us that didn't last very long and we had to buy seconds...then thirds and then more to bring back onboard! It really was the best tasting baklava we've all had, including the ones you get from Auburn, Lidcombe and Lakemba! We shouldn't have eaten too much because our next stop was a tiny shop where freshly baked Manakeesh were produced. We occupied the whole shop as we munched on the regional version of pizza. It was essentially bread topped with a combination of herbs and olive oil. I have to admit that it was not quite to my taste but I was starving and so stuffed a few pieces down. With that, we climbed back into our van and made our way back to the port, eager to begin our next day of adventures in the Holy Land.

The best in Israel says Aviv

All sorts of goodies

All types of baklava on display

Eating manakeesh

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