What a treat it is to have our #3 daughter, Elizabeth, visit from the States!! She’s spending a month with us (through Passover) before she heads off to France for a couple months. We have a lot of catching up to do – and a lot of sightseeing, too. So come along with us! First stop: the extreme Northern border with Lebanon at the gorgeous Rosh HaNiqrah. Lots of activity up on the border these days with UN troops and IDF in abundance. John couldn’t help but stop for a quick pic with the UN fellas(scroll across each picture for descriptions)-
The next day, John took Liz to Akko for a fun day of touring the Crusader fortresses and old bazaar while I stayed home and worked, but we were able to spend the lovely spring day following, touring the entire area around the Kinneret. The lake is quite small and goes by several names: the Sea of Galilee, The Sea of Tiberias, and the Kinneret (because it is shaped like a harp or Kinor in Hebrew). Surrounding the lake are many ruins of ancient cities. Our first stop was the ruins of Old Korazin, built on a black basalt mesa formed by volcanic activity when the Jordan rift, a huge tectonic plate pushed the land apart. The rift runs from Mt. Hermon in the North forming the Jordan River Valley all the way down past the Dead Sea in Central Eastern Israel to the Red Sea in Eilat. The ruins of this ancient Jewish village were quite spectacular
Heading South around the lake, we visited the ruins of Kfar Nahum (Capernaum), which has a Roman Catholic section and a Greek Orthodox section. The Orthodox Church, built this century is an amazing sight with its red domes, gold crosses, and spectacularly painted gold and jewel-toned icons and frescoes covering the inside.As soon as I walked into the tiny church, I was intoxicated by the myrrh and nard incense and beeswax candles burning in the chapel. From there, we made quick stops at Tabgha (Loaves & Fishes); Ginosar (Genneseret), which has a museum with an ancient first century fishing boat discovered almost intact a few years ago;and Magdala, home of Mary Magdalen. Magdala is amazing! The town has been recently uncovered and features an old port; fish curing stalls (garum, or fish sauce, was made here and shipped throughout the Roman Empire); homes; several mikvaot (it was a Jewish town, and many ritual bathing pools fed by fresh water springs were uncovered); and the shining crown – a large first century synagogue with mosaic floors, frescoes, and an altar for reading the Torah which is actually an artistic depiction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. There are always amazing and important archaeological discoveries coming from Magdala, and just a couple weeks ago, a ritual incense shovel was found – very rare outside of Jerusalem, so this was, indeed, a very wealthy and important city. Today a very different, but beautiful Church built by the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi/Familia sits at the waterfront. The altar is shaped like a boat that appears to float on the lake. Behind the altar is a large window overlooking the Galilee. On the Southern side of the lake is the old city of Tiberias, famous in Christianity, but also known as the burial spot for Maimonedes, Talmudic scholar, and other famous rabbis. Next to Tiberias is Deganya, one of the first kibbutzim in the Galilee. We drove around to the Eastern shore, eating fresh-caught Kinneret fish at Ein Gev Kibbutz.
Of course we had to take our daughter to one of our favorite places – the magical Caesaria, just south of Haifa. The city started as a 12-year building project by the Edomite King Herod (King of the Jews) in the early first century as a tribute to Caesar. “He (Herod) chose an ancient lost city on the sea shore, because of its beauty and because it was worthy of honor…suitable for carrying out his ambitious plans…built entirely out of white stone displaying the brilliance of his mind.” Josephus Flavius. From the Roman amphitheater in the south to the Crusader city in the north, Caesaria includes the ancient Jewish and first-fourth century Christian and the third – eighth century Byzantine quarters. After the Byzantines, the Mamaluks, a Barbarian force of Mongolian warriors converted to Islam swept in, destroying some, rebuilding over much of the Holy Land. It was liberated and settled by Crusaders in the 1100’s, but after the Crusades, Ottoman Turks controlled the area until late 1800s-early 1900s. Today, we can get a feel for the Greco/Roman plays staged at the still-existing outdoor theater; the horse racing and gladiator fights at the hippodrome; and the lavish parties thrown by Herod at his once-expansive palace on the Mediterranean. It was the jewel and major port city of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, and was the Roman base and capitol city in this newly colonized land of the first century. Because of the many conflicts between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers under Vespasian, Hadrian, and Titus, the “Great Jewish Rebellion” under Bar Kochba (in which Rabbi Akiva was martyred) began and was soon quelled. Other important events here included the imprisonment of St. Paul before he was sent to his martyrdom in Rome; the home of Church Father Eusebius, and Jewish scholar Rabbi Abbahu. After many earthquakes and subsequent conquests, the city that had flourished for many centuries became a small, forsaken village. Now, a restored and continually excavated archaeological treasure, it includes an artists’ area, family parks, educational facilities, and wonderful portside restaurants. It is a favorite place for sunset wedding photography and celebratory events. The views of the turquoise,blue, and green sea from the remaining columns and aqueduct are majestic!
Most of week two was spent touring Yerushalayim and environs. First stop, Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem to view the Chagall windows. Marc Chagall was commissioned in the early 1950s to contribute art to the newly formed state of Israel. Famous for his modern paintings of Jewish life in the Eastern European shtetl, he moved to the medium of stained glass. His creation – 12 amazing windows depicting each of the tribes of Israel for the Hadassah Hospital Chapel. In deep jewel tones, the windows were made in 1952, but were re-created in 1968 after five had been bombed out during the 1967 war. Both deeply symbolic and religious, these pieces of art were well worth the trek.
No visit to Jerusalem/Ein Kerem is complete without a tour of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Every part of this place situated in the Judaean Hills is dramatic, impactful, and sobering. But the Avenue of the Righteous (people like Oscar Schindler, Diedrich Bonhoeffer, and the Ten Boom Family saving hundreds of Jewish lives from the evil Nazi regime) gives hope for mankind.
After the somber tone of Yad VaShem, it was just down the hill to the Church of the Visitation, marking the home of Saint Elizabeth. It was here that Mary, pregnant with Jesus visited her aunt, the elderly Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with John (the Baptist). And we heard something new here: after the birth of Jesus, King Herod, who was afraid of the birth of someone who would usurp his throne, had all the babies under three in the area put to death. (another Holocaust, this time of Jewish babies!!!) Most people just think that the soldiers just went to Bet-Lechem in their murderous rampage, but here, tradition has it that they went throughout the Jerusalem countryside. Because of this, John’s life was also in peril, so an angel led the family of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and baby John out of harms way. A fresco in the church depicts this scene. After Yad Vashem, it was quite meditative and restful to stroll the beautiful gardens of this Church. And, in typical Israeli style, we ran into some old American friends who also “just happened to be there!”
Our first night in Jerusalem, we took Liz to the Old German Colony, Baca, and the First Train Station. These old neighborhoods have beautifully preserved homes and have become quite upscale with the addition of great restaurants, boutiques, wine bars, and artists’ shops. It’s definitely the week before Pesach. Banners stream throughout Jerusalem wishing everyone a Happy, Holy Passover and all the store windows are featuring the latest styles and Passover accouterments. Window-shopping when the shops are closed is definitely the way to go for me!!