Today we started the day with a drive from or hotel, on the hill in Zekronia, north along the Mediterranean to Haifa. Haifa is the third largest city in Israel behind Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. While Jerusalem is known for it’s holiness and Tel Aviv is known at a hip nighttime hotspot, Haifa is best known for it’s hardworking people and the quiet lifestyles they lead. Unlike it’s more populated sisters, Haifa is less religiously significant and therefore is much more open to modernity. We passed the Google building for instance.
On the drive to Haifa we passed several Arabic cities, distinguishable by their locations (on the slope of hills rather than at the top, a defensive position that Jews prefer), their stark airy architecture, and the distinctive black water tanks on their roofs. We also passed many banana plants. They usually don’t grow in the Mediterranean but one strip of land mimics a more tropical climate and lets bananas and avocados grow.
In Haifa we pulled to the top of a hill for a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Haifa and a very brief history lesson about Israel. From there we entered the Baha’i Gardens (sorry the picture is sideways!). Because it is a holy place, women had to cover their shoulders and wear bottoms below the knees. A mystical number for the Baha’i faith is nine so the garden had nine tiers but because we are not of the faith we could only walk on the top two. The view of the dome and the rest of the garden was still very beautiful. The Israeli government has a law in place that restricts the number of people of the Baha’i faith in Israel to 600 at one time. I got the impression that they are trying to nip potential problems in the bud because the Baha’i faith also has it’s roots in Israel. Paranoid, but rightly so?
After walking through the gardens we hopped back onto our bus (it has a cartoon of a viking on the sides) which took us back down the hill to an old German Colony. We got a chance to walk around and I enjoyed the briefs sights of adorable cafes, old stone buildings, and the view of the Baha’i gardens from below.
We were soon back in the bus heading East and up more hills to Tzfat, one of the holy cities of Israel. Kabbalah was created here by a man who lived with his son in a mountain cave for 13 years and then one more. Crazy stories. We had a chance to eat an authentic Israeli lunch on the old streets. I tried schwarma for 25 schekles (about $8) and it was enormous! I ate about half then walked around for a while. A lot of stores were closed, maybe for lunch but several slightly tacky shops were open to browse.
The better shopping was down a long set of smooth stone steps in the Artist’s District near the Sephardic quarter of Tzfat. There we visited a very old temple, destroyed by earthquakes but rebuilt again and again. It was a tiny square room with high arched ceilings and a raised platform in the center of the room surrounded by a wooden railing. The ark was too tall for the room and the top portion bowed forward. They gave the ladies shawls to cover their shoulders because it was another location that called for “modesty.”
The artist’s galleries were fun to walk around. A shallow ditch ran through the middle of the road to drain water downhill and many cats wandered the alleyways. I bought 3 gifts and a shawl for myself and spent only about 60 sheckles total (20 bucks). Good stuff!
After that we walked about five minutes down the road where at first it seemed all the houses were deserted but we ended up at the gallery of Avraham (formerly Robert) Loewenthal, a Kabbalist artist. He gave us a brief speech about how he came from Michigan to Tzefat, by discovering Kabbalah. He explained the meanings of some of his paintings and many of the people in my group were moved to buy them and look into some of his book recommendations (anything by Aria Kaplan). While I enjoyed learning something about Jewish mysticism because on Jewish trips in my teens the counselors had deliberately avoided discussing it, I still felt it was incohesive with my personal beliefs. Oh well.
After that we sleepily boarded the bus for a half hour ride to Hakuk, the kibbutz we will be staying in for the next 3 nights. I am rooming with two differet girls for the next few days, Danielle and Nina. They are 26 ad 24 respectively but I wouldn’t have guessed it by looks or personality. I’ve never been very good at ages though. Tonight we ate some Chinese-ish and Israeli food at the kibbutz then played some games outside. I got into it and it was surprisingly fun. As groups we had to make up cheers about our names (yeah I know it sounds lame) so I offered up my beat boxing skills and everyone in my group did a little rap about their name. Then we played As the Wind Blows which is the Israeli name for the game “I’ve Never” with the additional rule that the person in the center of the circle can say anything about themselves that they would like. Apparently there is wireless at the front desk so I will probably post this tomorrow. I volunteered for wake-up duty so I have to wake up two rooms of girls at 6:30. Haha. I wasnt planning on sleeping in anyway.
Until tomorrow! Rafting and hiking!