Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Galilee

Dear Hearts,
Sorry these posts are so long. Wireless is only available in one small "hot spot." We often get back to our rooms so late that by the time I have finished writing I am in no mood to wlak outside to the outdoor area where I can access it.  There are mosquitoes here - not my friends. This kibbutz is more like Girl Scout camp than a nice hotel.
Here are my posts from the last several days - today we are off to Bethlehem - what an incredible journey!

Nazareth, Haifa and the Druze.
It’s Friday evening and it has been an incredibly full day.
We began this morning with an Israeli breakfast. Why is it that these people are not gigantic?  They feed us and then they feed us some more.  Sesame pastries, croissants, yogurt, hummus, more dips, cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and more – and it is all delicious!
Three hours of sleep was inadequate for the day, and I took a couple of inappropriate naps during some lectures, but tonight I intend to sleep very well. Now that I know the birds have no manners, I plan to wear earplugs. I got a private room so I would be assured that the only person making noise would be me. I had not planned on the birds.
The buildings at the Kibbutz are very run down. They were probably built in the early fifties when so many Jews were coming here from Europe or Russia and beginning their lives by working on communal farms.  This kibbutz is a dairy, and if the wind changes, it reminds me of Artesia in the late 60’s.
It was warm today – probably in the high 80’s, but it was beautiful. We are in the Galilee district so today we rode across the valley where there were corn crops, beans, lots of sunflowers, and other crops. We drove up to  Nazareth – home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (yes that does sound familiar). We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation where it is believed that the Archangel Gabriel came to tell Mary that she was to bear a child – named wonderful, counselor. The basilica’s outer walls are decorated with representations of the Divine Mother in every cultural interpretation from around the world – China, Portugal, Indonesia, Ecuador, South Africa – and many more. They are depicted mostly in mosaics, but others are large paintings. Inside the Basilica is a grotto, where the actual visitation is believed to have taken place. Groups come and go all day with priests saying mass for their groups. When we went inside, there were three Greek Orthodox priests who were singing the mass in harmony- they honestly sounded like the three tenors. It was beautiful – we could not have timed it better!
Our Christian educator Dr. Susanne Novak from Nazareth College gave us a lecture about Mary and the various versions as told in the Christian Bible, and also talked about the Jews of that time and their desperate straits. It was a time when a messiah was needed, and the prophecies had been realized in the birth of Jesus. She, a sister of St. Joseph, also was careful to point out that the stories in the Bible are not to be taken literally but to be experienced and felt in the heart.
Our Imam Dr. Mohammed Shafiq spoke of the significance of Mary in the Quran, and some of the differences between the stories.

On our way to Haifa, we stopped for lunch at a Falafel stand, and ate the most delicious falafel I have ever had! We are eating where the locals eat, so we are getting really authentic food. I can’t believe it really did eat the whole thing! So did all of us! Yum!
Off to Haifa, which is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It actually overlooks a large bay and on the other side of the bay is Lebanon. Haifa is the major ort of Israel. The Israeli Navy is al there. Outside the city is a nuclear power plant as well. University of Haifa is one of the finest schools in the world, and it is perched on the top of Mt. Carmel.
The Bahai Temple is also in Haifa. It rises up the hillside of Mt. Carmel with stair steps of symmetrical formal gardens. We visited there, and Dr. Shafiq and another fellow traveler who is a professor of mathematics at Nazareth College as well as a Carmelite priest, told us about the Carmelite order. I must confess my full tummy, the heat, and the lack of sleep made me a very bad student. I hope I didn’t snore.
We also visited the site where Elisha took on the form of Elijah. It is amazing to be in these places we read about in the Bible and see them for themselves. Every rock and tree feels like the Bible stories, although from a distance, it also feels like rural California, dotted with Cypress trees and eucalyptus instead of live oak.
Tonight was the real gift. We were guests of a Druze couple who own a restaurant in a Druze village outside of Haifa.  Druze are Arabs who broke off from Islam and began another version of the religion.  They claim that it is secret, so we will never see the inside of their worship center. They fed us another delicious home-cooked Middle Eastern meal, and I think I am going to pop!
We had an interesting discussion about the end of the world – and our conclusion was just as I often say – the end of the world will come at some point for each of us. What is important is how we live our lives while we are here.
We then asked our host what he thought of Obama’s speech and Netanyahu’s response.  He answered “For forty years this has been going on. We are tired. We want peace. Everybody has to give up something so we can have it at last.”
Our driver, Sammy, who has endeared himself to us, shared his point of view.  “I have lived here all of my life. I am an Arab Christian. I live in the West Bank. I don’t have this democracy that Israel talks about. I am a Palestinian. I do not have a passport, I cannot go anywhere, and I am even disallowed from staying at your kibbutz because I am an Arab. I want this to be settled. American dollars built the separation wall. What kind of democracy is that? There are over a million of us who have no homeland. We are tired. We want peace.”
If the people want peace, why is it that the politicians do not make it happen? Of course I know all the pat answers, but how can this land which has such deep meaning to many religions – not only the three Abrahamic faiths, but many others, find the peace they seek? Our lecturer last night told us the biggest problem is not so much between Arabs, Christians and Jews, but between Jews and Jews – many will not speak to each other! It is a very frustrating process.

Bodies of Water
The road to our kibbutz was going to be blocked off for a bicycle race this morning, so we were told that we had to be out by 6:50 AM. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am not an early morning person.  I was the first person waiting for the bus at 6:50. Dr. Eisen walked up to the bus stop a few minutes later and told me that we didn’t need to leave until later because the bicyclists had changed the route.  I am learning that the Israelis are as casual about time as the Hawaiians, and that things can change very rapidly around here.
Our driver Sammy, always tells Dr. Eisen that he knows the BEST place to eat good breakfast, good fish, good Arab food, etc. When we get underway, either he can’t find it, or he goes to a place and it is closed, and we drive around looking for food to eat.  We ended up at an Arab bakery after trying two other places, and had pastries, yogurt, and either Arab coffee or tea. It was delicious – we stood in the parking lot eating our breakfast. We are all learning to be flexible.
We drove along the Sea of Galilee with the hillsides where Jesus most definitely walked on one side and the sea on the other.
We drove south to the southernmost point of the Sea of Galilee and stood on the shore of the River Jordan.  The location where we were had built a lovely pavilion and many stair steps leading to the edge of the river so that groups who wanted to be baptized could walk down and have room to stand as each person was immersed in the water.  The river water is a beautiful blue green – it is just leaving the Sea of Galilee when it hits this spot. There were abundant fish in the water – some very large, and the water was very clear. And we watched river otters swim right up to us on the banks, looking at us with utmost curiosity. A group of Christians from Southern India, all dressed in white, were being baptized nearby – singing hymns.
With the rich history of the River Jordan, I was struck by the life that was so evident in the water – given that this was the place where John baptized Jesus, and Jesus was visited by the Holy Spirit – it seems that the life there is a reminder of the living water of the Christ message.
Our next stop was at Capernaum - the site of the excavated ruins of the home believed to have been occupied by St. Peter. The Catholics have built a new sanctuary above the ruins with a glass floor surrounded by a beautiful contemporary iron railing so that one can look down into the ruins themselves. Standing in the sanctuary, one can also see a view of the Sea of Galilee.

We were to have visited the location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, but it was closed. I was disappointed, since my personal belief is that this is the very core of Jesus’ teaching. I had wanted to feel what it might have been like to sit on a hillside and hear him speak.
We did visit the site where he divided the loaves and the fishes, but it had another church built on the site and it was very crowded and touristy.
Lunch was at a lovely restaurant on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We were served St. Peter’s fish – a whole fish (with head and tail) that had been pan fried with lots of small salad dishes, hummus and pita from the salad bar. It was delicious. We learned later that the fish was Tilapia.
It was time for a ride on a replica of an old boat on the Sea of Galilee. –it was so relaxing to be on the water, and Dr. Eisen pointed out where we were in relation to the coastline.
Off we went from there to meet the Founder of House of Hope – an interfaith peace organization led by a man named Elias Jabbour, an Arab Christian. He has been working all his adult life to bring about peace and understanding for the people of Israel. He teaches a traditional Palestinian Peacemaking process called “Sulha.” He said his childhood had been taken away, as he could not play in the street like other kids, and he was conscripted into the Israeli Army as a young man. He said that separation and policing was not the answer to lasting peace. He wants better for his grandchildren. He, too, said the people of Israel; Arab and Jew, Christian and Druze, want peace. Dr. Jabbour was also very disappointed by Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s speech.
Dinner was in the home of friends of Dr. Eisen, a beautiful couple who graciously opened their home and cooked us an elaborate dinner. We sat and visited for an hour or so after our meal. The wife, Judith, was from Morocco, her husband Rav, was Israeli born and raised on a kibbutz. In the kibbutz, the children are raised collectively – not in a family unit. Judith did not think this was a good idea – she said she felt they were raised to be conscripted into the Army, but not given the warmth and love that only a mother was capable of giving.
The kibbutz is not as popular today as it was when Israel was in its infancy. More people now prefer having their own home to working on a communal farm.
Getting back to the room with heavy eyelids after another very long day –
Sunday – the other Sabbath
We have been filling up each day to overflowing. This day was different. We slowed things down and found more time to relax and get off schedule a bit. We rose later in the morning, and left the kibbutz around 9:00 off to spend the morning at Mt. Tabor.  On the way, we found a Bedouin Restaurant for breakfast. Bedouins are Arabs, who were nomadic people throughout the mid east. Many of them still live in Jordan but there are a small number who live in Israel.  The restaurant was perched on the slopes of Mt. Tabor in a village called Deboreah – named after the Prophetess Deborah from the Hebrew Bible.  She was a warrior goddess and a judge who held court at the city gates centuries ago.
On the floor were cushions from one end of the restaurant to the other, covered with dhurrie style rugs and small pillows. Between the rows of cushions were large raised trays upon which the servers would place the food.  And there was food – after feasting on all the typical Mediterranean salads, hummus and so forth, out came the baklava, which was the owner’s gift to us.  Little did he know that the first customers on his Sunday morning would be a bus full of Americans.
Up the mountain we drove to a point where we were taken the rest of the way on very narrow roads with switchbacks by Arab Christian drivers who knew how to mange their every turn in smaller VW vans. At the top was Terra Santa. Chapter 9 of Luke tells of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. John and Peter who made their way to the top of this mountain with Jesus witnessed it. The richest part of this was attending a mass that was being said in Italian.  The priest looked like a cross between John the Baptist and Jesus, and the chanting and energy was absolutely stirring! it's interesting about the mass - wherever one is in the world, whatever language is spoken, it is the same - and in that it brings people together in community. This is one of the things I love so about interfaith understanding. There is richness in every tradition when we look past whatever the politics or world effects may be and we move into that which connects us.
There is so much more I can write about, but this is so long and I am weary.

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