Saturday, April 12, 2008

Remembrances of the Holy Land (Nazareth)

PHOTO: Robert Marshall

Another early morning came at the kibbutz. I got up and took a short walk around the immediate area. When you're born in the city there's a particularly peaceful condition you experience when in the country.

Birds, were chirping off in the distance, interjected with the occasional scream from one of the peacocks that live at Kibbutz HaOn. The weather was crisp and clear, and because you're at nearly 700 feet below Sea Level, the air is thick from oxygen saturation and a bit of humid.

Some other members of our group actually went jogging in the morning. I guess the huge amount of walking each day just wasn't enough for them?

People meandered in for breakfast at their own pace until it was time to catch our bus to our first stop of the day, Capernaum.

Capernaum, was a small fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. According to the Gospels, this was where Jesus met nearly half of his Disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John, and later Matthew).

The Catholic church has built a modern day church over the top of an older church, in turn built over what is believed to be the actual house of Simon Peter. Its shaped reminded me of those alien spacecraft from War of the Worlds. Apparently, part of the floor is see through glass that allows you to view the historical site from above. Unfortunately, it was , packed with a catholic service at the time so we could not check it out.

Our group took some time to sit down at the 4th Century AD synagogue to listen to a sermon from TS, where he taught about Peter and what the area must've have been like when Jesus called it Home.

We took a few minutes to walk down to the harbor area, which isn't always open to visitors. A cool shiver came over at the thought that this is where Jesus may have sailed out on to the Galilee. I looked over at CM, who had this glazed look on his face. I asked him how he was doing, which he quietly responded, "fine" and I had to wonder if he was having the same experience I was.

Since Jesus called this area home after leaving Nazareth, it is rich in Biblical lore, and you can go from site to site in a scant few minutes.

A few miles southwest is Tabgha, where Jesus fed 5000 people despite having only two fishes and five loaves of bread. This seemed to be one of the busier pilgrimage sites we had visited in the Galilee.

After leaving the bus, there's a broad gate to walk through. A string quartet had set up to the right of the gate, and sounded wonderful. I wish we had more time to just site there and listen, but we were crunched for time (why is it  we were always crunched for time on this trip??), and made our way into the Church of the Multiplication.

Inside the church there's a pretty cool mosaic of the fishes and loaves next to an alter which sits above an exposed three foot section of limestone. This is said to be the exact spot where the miracle happened.

While it was interesting to have seen it, we were inside the church for something like five minutes before being ushered back towards the bus. To be honest, I would have cut this stop out so we could have spent more time at one of the later stops that day.

SH got a little cross when I wanted to stop for a moment to take a picture of a bird that had set up a nest over one of the doors, even though I wasn't the last person out the church door.

Since arriving in Israel we had primarily spent time in the Galilee drainage. However, we now climbed out of the basin towards Nazareth.

One of the largest concentrations of early mosaics is located in Sepphoris, the largest Galilean community during Jesus's time, and no doubt a place Joseph took the young Jesus many times.

This was an Israeli work day so the place was absolutely deserted. In fact, we may have been the only group there, which was really nice because I can image that place is overrun on a Summer weekend.

As you leave the parking lot you walk down the Cardo Decomanus, a broad paved street. I'm not talking asphalt, but huge blocks of stone. It was pretty hard on the knees, especially if you happened to land on one of the seams.

Up until now most of the mosaics we'd seen had been pretty small. Not the case with those in Sepphoris. Off to the left are several covered areas with slightly elevated platforms which give you a better view of the large artwork.

The first mosaic we came to was the Festival of the Nile. This was absolutely fabulous with all sorts of hunting scenes and wild animals. I lingered behind to try and get some shots of the wonderful artwork, but was again chastised for having people wait for me, which nobody was! Of course, if SH hadn't said anything who knows how long I would have lingered.

After a short walk we came to what appeared to be a fairly new building, the Dionysus house. This building had modern lighting, and an air conditioning system, which few of us wanted to leave.

The Dionysys House includes the World famous Mona Lisa of the Galilee. Archeologists aren't quite sure who its a likeness of, but she has a smile reminiscent of Da Vinci's painting; hence the name.

I don't remember whether we actually got inside the Fortress, but the view from the top would have been stunning as it's a two-story Crusader building which sits on one of the highest buildings around.

Cutting back through the theater we came to the only synagogue that's been uncovered to date. Despite this being a Jewish religious temple, the huge mosaic floor is actually filled with large signs of the zodiac.

We sat on some modern concrete benches as our guide, Doron, explained the symbolism of the images. Just as he was about to finish as little stray dog wondered across the floor. He quickly added, "that's a dog." My typing isn't doing justice to his comedic timing as we all had a good laugh over it.

Back on the bus our next stop would be in Nazareth. To describe the feeling of Nazareth would be to say it felt like a college town. Lots of traffic bustling around, with a population that seemed much younger than other places we'd been to.

We were now on our own for over an hour so we could wander around and find something to eat. This was my first chance to taste Shawarma, which is sort of a cross between a Gyro and a taco. If you've never had Shawarma, do yourself a favor and seek it out!

Each stand had their own variety of meats, sauces and vegetables to combine. At the stand I went to the guy grabbed a large pita, and you told him what meat you wanted, with which sauce, along with lettuce, tomato and other veggies I don't remember.

(While not the same stand, there's a YouTube video which gives you an idea, and which is bound to get your mouth watering!)

At the stand next door, they actually had several skinned carcasses, which I can only imagine were lamb, ready for cooking. Think Peking Duck in China Town, only these were raw, and not really refrigerated. Needless to say, any American Health Department would have had a fit seeing that.

When the time came we were supposed to gather at the main street corner in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, easily the biggest building in town.  This is where the Virgin Mary found out she would be the mother of Jesus.

The modern church was built in 1969, and is absolutely HUGE! On the bottom floor are housed two older churches, one of with the grotto where Mary lived, and the other a Crusader church built a few centuries later.

One of the impressive parts of this building is a collection of artwork from 44 nations. Each one put their own unique-looking spin on the Annunciation. I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in the American version.

I could have spent quite a bit more time photographing all the artwork, but had to move on, though this time I wasn't the last one left.

Before heading back to the bus, we were in for a special treat. Tucked several blocks away, in the Old City, is the Synagogue Church, which was open on a limited basis when we were there. This is probably one of only a few places where people are certain Jesus' feet actually tread.

Before TS gave a short sermon on the young Jesus, people were encouraged to remove their shoes and socks so their feet could feel the stones and be as close to Jesus as they could. Kind of funny, but I think mostly the women took him up on the suggestion.

I had on some heavy hiking boots and wool socks so felt it would take too long to get them back on once it was time to leave.

Just before being ushered back onto the bus, Doron suggested we stock up on Kanafeh and baklava, to take back to the kibbutz, if we wanted to.

There was this fantastic shop just across from the Basilica which was basically semi-self-serve.  You were given a container and could pile on as much pastry as you wanted. You then went to the cashier who would charge you buy the pound.

I got out of there for only US$11. One person spent upwards of US$40!!

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we retraced our steps back through Kafr Kanna, to our last night at the kibbutz. Kafr Kanna is where Jesus helped cater a wedding by turning water into wine. We were nowhere near the site. I only mention the city because of a funny billboard I glimpsed earlier in the day, though I wasn't completely sure who was at the time.

This time I was ready and grabbed a quick snapshot as we rumbled by at 30 mph. When I looked at my image later, I was right! It was Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his weight lifting days, before he became the Governator. I had to wonder if the gym actually asked his permission before using it.

Once we dropped back into the Galilee basin, we headed north, rather than south, for one last spot of the day, the Mount of Beatitudes. This is where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount, one of his most important teachings.

We bypassed seeing the formal Roman Catholic Church, which sits atop the hillside. Instead we made our way down a somewhat muddy path to a hill with a commanding view  of the Galilean shoreline.

Along with the TS's sermon, CM held a worship service on a guitar, which he'd been bringing along from place to place.

Towards the end I was so embarrassed when my cell phone alarm went off during TS's prayer. For whatever reason, my Blackberry had converted my home alarm into one in the late afternoon Israel-time, and I hadn't deactivated it.I slowly turned about, grabbed the phone and permanently deleted it!

After trudging back up the hill, a few of us stopped to peruse a small stand selling olive oil and wood carvings. Despite the suggestion I not buy anything there, I got a small bottle of EVOO to take home.

We finally headed back to the kibbutz after having driven all over the region.

That evening I went into the lobby to see if I could grab any better Internet connection. I was able to log in and checked email and surfing the web a little. However, the connection didn't last.

Tonight, a large group of us were sitting around when someone suggested we play a mystery game. I can't remember the actual name of it, nor the name we came up with since, which had something to do with the region.

One person was a a narrator, one was the sheriff, two were the gang, and the rest were the village people. The village people would shut their eyes while the gang decided who to murder by way of hand signals. Once the village woke up, the narrator would tell the story of who died, and by what method. We'd go until the sheriff finally figured out who the gang members were, or everyone got killed.

SeL was the narrator and came up with unique methods of demise for each person. I died by way of worms that strangled me. This was based on my multiple comments about huge black worms that were all over the Jersash ruins. It was funny.

Part of the group left, and we decided to play one more game. This time CB and I were the gang. DK was the sheriff. Things were going very well. When we were down to only a handful of people I decided to whack CB because she was getting careless in some of her comments to the village.

I felt victory within my grasp. Then it happened. The narrator misunderstood who I wanted gone next. GC had been getting closer and closer to figuring it out. I wanted her gone. However, they misinterpreted my finger pointing and got rid of the person sitting on their other side. Next round she got me!

It was really really late so that was it for the night.


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