L’havdil: B’nai Brak and Tel Aviv

We began our day in the very insulated ultra-Orthodox community of B’nai Brak in order to visit Chaim’s brother. We then walked to the cemetery to visit Chaim’s mother’s (and grandmother’s) gravesites. Chaim and I were both pleasantly surprised that, except for one child who stared at me, no one in that community seemed bothered by the fact that I was wearing pants rather than a skirt. (I had braced myself for rude comments, sneers, and my own righteous indignation in response!)

Chaim with his brother Tzvi. It was an emotional reunion.

A collection of tzedakah boxes on the wall outside the cemetery (euphemistically called a Beit Chayim, a House of Life). Tzedakah boxes were also planted all over town like skinny mailboxes with slots  (like the tall yellow one in the photo).

I was excited to see a street named for Rav Eliyahu Dessler, author of the Mussar text Michtav Eliyahu. Among other teachings, Dessler is the one who brings the idea of bechira (choice) points to Mussar practice.

We travelled from the world of B’nai Brak to the very different world of South Tel Aviv (Florentine) to take a tour of street art/graffiti with Guy Sharett of TLV1’s fun and informative “Streetwise Hebrew” podcast (for those who want to improve their spoken and slang Hebrew skills). He advertises this tour on the podcast, and we were very excited to take part! We learned about street art, architecture, Hebrew slang, linguistics, and contemporary Israeli culture. We also learned about the acceptance (or not) of street art. While some landlords enforce its removal as an illegal act of vandalism, others welcome it. We also saw examples of different artists responding to each other, or collaborating, on the same walls.

Here’s Guy pointing out a tactile “petting zoo” on the corner of a building, with different textures one can touch.

Theodor Herzl as hipster.

Portrayal of Rabin’s assassination, based on a photograph. The middle arrow points at Rabin, and the one at the right to his murderer Igal Amir. The community fought against the removal of this piece of street art.

We learned the names of some of the regular street artists and how to identify them: They tend to sign in English so they can be easily found on Instagram or Facebook and gain a following: Frenemy, Murielle Street Art, Dedes, Sened, #Miss-Question-Mark, and so many others. Some are playful, some political.  269Life posts PETA-type graffiti, like a picture of a cow that said “I died for your sins” and another that read “Shoes are murder.”

Another one I liked was “If I forget you, Jerusalem, it will be because of Tel Aviv” (in Hebrew), a linguistic piece of street art that plays on the Biblical text from Psalm 137. But in this particular case, a disgruntled Jerusalemite perhaps (or someone disturbed by changing the traditional text) took umbrage, because the second, non-Biblical, clause was blotted out.

“Without fear, without regret, know that it’s in your power to change the world.”

This artist who calls himself “Ometz” (Courage) is an ultra-Orthodox father living a double life as a middle-of-the-night street artist. Notice the narrow and tenuous bridge he walks in this piece of art.

Street art which is mocking our street art tour. This foreign woman (“Berlin” is written on her purse) is either taking a selfie of herself as art or photographing the street art on the other side of the window (not pictured because I couldn’t get a big enough view.)

A wall containing pieces by multiple artists, including Bob Dylan’s song lyric transliterated into Hebrew: “Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s doors” with devils, above which is a work by an artist who “contemporizes” classical pieces. In this one, the little girl is frustrated that she hasn’t received any Facebook messages.

It’s been difficult to decide which photos to actually post in this blog as there are so many wonderful examples to choose from. You should know that I have chosen G-rated images only, though I could have added some X-rated possibilities.

Not street art, per se, but all over Tel Aviv, as well as in Haifa and everywhere else we’ve travelled, we have seen loads of signs protesting the proposed deportation of the African asylum seekers from Israel. There will be a big rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night against the deportations, and as I wrote about previously, my friend Rabbi Susan Silverman started an organization to help hide refugees in danger of being deported.

This one says “Help: This deportation kills.” We saw one earlier that said “Deportation is a sin.”

This is a neighborhood of small businesses and workshops. For all I knew this cutie is on the wall of a plumbing business.

Back in Haifa, I saw this on the side of a garbage can. (I could do a post just on painted garbage cans!)

My Chevruta, My Kibbutz, My Poem

Several months ago, Chaim and I signed up to take an online course in Psalms, sponsored by our local Jewish Federation of the Berkshires through an organization called Project Zug. Though we asked to be paired together as study partners, we were told that we were each to be matched with someone from the Afula/Gilboa area in Israel, that this was part of a relationship-building venture, which includes art projects and other cultural exchanges, to strengthen ties between Israelis and American Jews.

I received contact information for Keren, my chevruta (study partner), and my first online course material shortly before I left for Israel, but I did nothing about it. Then lessons 2 and 3 arrived, and I still did nothing. Chaim had already studied with his chevruta (a local, and not someone in Israel, as it turns out) and was impressed by the materials, being taught by Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar. But having already fallen behind, I wondered how I could — and even why I would — spend my time in Israel with this project. Besides, my chevruta seemed no more interested than I was, since I hadn’t heard from her.

But then while I was in week 1 of my Israel trip, Keren emailed me, apologizing for not contacting me sooner, explaining that she had just published a book and things were quite crazy. When could we speak? Well, I’m in Israel on a tour, I replied. I won’t be available until I get to Haifa and my husband and I settle into our apartment there.

And so it was that Keren and I spent an hour and a half on the phone last week studying Psalm 19 and getting to know one another. We had a lot in common, and after I got off the phone with her, I was inspired to write a story-poem and a prayer dedicated to her and our study together. When I sent them to her, she was so moved, she insisted that we meet, saying that she had written a story that had begun the same way as mine! It was bashert (destined) that we had been paired.

Today was the day. She met us at Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek (halfway between Haifa and her home in Afula) where I had spent five months in 1981 (spring semester of my junior year of college), splitting my day between learning Hebrew in the Ulpan program and working on the kibbutz. I was very excited to return to this place that was so formative to my understanding of my Jewish identity and my relationship to Israel. I was particularly anxious to see the view of the Jezreel Valley that had occupied my dreams, been the source of such joy during my forest runs on the kibbutz, and spoiled me so that I actually never ran again.

And Keren would be joining us for this reunion!

On Kibbutz Mishmar haEmek

Sculpture in the kibbutz cemetery

Chaim and Keren reading the gravestones along one of the beautiful pathways in the cemetery

It wasn’t clear we would have a view of the valley from the cemetery, and we weren’t sure where the trail I used to run even was, though I remembered it went past the cemetery. Then Keren showed me that we did have a view, and I cried with joy, nostalgia, pain, overwhelm! We found a bench, and I read Keren and Chaim the poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks (below). I started it at the Kinneret Cemetery with my rabbis’ tour; we had been asked to write a poem inspired by the poet Rachel’s poem about Mount Nevo, while sitting by her grave.

I was truly overwhelmed with emotion to have this view again. So grateful for Keren for helping to make it happen.

What a view this “Tomi” has for eternity.

From the kibbutz, we travelled to Keren’s home in Afula for a lovely lunch, where we met two of her three sons (aged 7 and 11; the oldest is 15 but wasn’t home) and saw her artwork (both paintings and sculpture), some of her mother’s sculpture, and received an inscribed copy of her hot-off-the-presses book, part memoir/part fiction about her brother’s death by a Hezbollah sharpshooter during a military exercise thirteen years ago and her healing.

I am so blessed to have this new friend in my life! Part of the Psalms project will include making art together. We don’t yet know how this will play out, but are thrilled to be on the journey together.

Keren posing in her home with her just-published book El haOlam Shelach/To Your World. Three of her paintings are on the walls behind her.

With Keren on her penthouse balcony in Afula where she served us a beautiful lunch. My newest friend!

My Israeli Brigadoon
@ by Pamela Wax, February 2018

In former days, bayamim ha-heim,
I would run through the forest past the kibbutz cemetery,
then further up
until a summit and a view
grabbed my eyes and yanked my heart

It was not yet my Mount Nevo,
a placeholder for unrequited dreams of the past.

Rather it was a screen upon which I watched
my future dreams unfold before me
in the Jezreel Valley

where I would take my place as an olah,
connected to the land,
a language,
a people,
an opportunity
to belong to something larger than myself.

But if what goes up must come down,
that idealistic aliyah to the summit
culminated in a descent.

It was not inevitable
but a choice made of fear
to run from that high place
to make a life
in relative safety
and unconventional convention

Yes, I belong at times
to something larger than myself.

But, if you ask, I will tell you:
I never again laced up my sneakers and ran anywhere.
Even when I lived half a block from a California beach
or Manhattan’s Central Park
amongst the rolling hills of the Berkshires
or near the park in the Bronx
where cross-country runners from Africa come to train,
I would not join them.
Could not.

I was caught ever after in the thicket of Mount Nevo,
for a place I had been
and a dream yet to be.


* Mount Nevo was where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land but told that he himself could not enter there.

Ancient Sites: Bet Shearim and Tzippori

Both archaeological sites we visited today, Bet Shearim (a UNESCO world heritage site) and Tzippori (Sepphoris), have rich and unique histories. What connects the two is the personage of Rabbi Yehuda haNassi (Judah the Patriarch). He was head of the Sanhedrin (which was headquartered in Bet Shearim after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem and the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt — and before it moved to Tzippori), key leader of the Jewish community during the Roman occupation of Judea, and compiler of the Mishnah (3rd century, CE). Bet Shearim became renowned as a great center of Torah study after Yehuda haNassi (or just “Rabbi” in the Talmud) resided there. Though he spent the last 17 years of his life and died in Tzippori, the Talmud (Ketubot 103b) says: “Rabbi was lying on his sickbed at Tzippori but a burial place was reserved for him at Bet Shearim.”

Burial cave of Rabbi Judah HaNassi in Bet Shearim.

The well-known story of his death is one of my favorite teaching stories for end-of-life work with families who may have differing opinions about keeping their loved one alive “to the end” (Talmud Ketubot 104a). Rabbi Yehuda haNassi was basically being kept alive by life support, which were the prayers of his disciples. His maidservant, realizing how he was suffering, threw an urn on the ground to interrupt the prayers and put Rabbi out of his misery. He died in that split second when his “life support” was momentarily suspended.

Because he was buried in Bet Shearim and because the Roman authorities had prohibited Jewish burial in Jerusalem, the cemetery in Bet Shearim became the “in” place of burial grounds both for those living in the land of Israel as well as for those in surrounding areas like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Lebanon, Phoenicia, and Yemen. We only entered one burial cave, but there were about 135 sarcophagi there! And there are many other burial caves that we not only didn’t visit but that haven’t even been excavated yet.

This burial cave contains about 135 sarcophagi

Well-preserved sarcophagus featuring two lions.

Ancient synagogue site in Bet Shearim. Today’s most faithful congregant is a cat. Can you spot him?

I was so happy to carry on my friend Billy’s hobby of photographing wildflowers. Red anemones.

From Bet Shearim, we travelled about 13 miles to Tzippori National Park, with remains of an ancient city and gorgeous mosaic floors. There were ruins from Roman and Byzantine periods, as well as a fortress from the Crusader period. Yehuda haNassi’s grandson is buried in Tzippori. The Sanhedrin (and Yehuda haNassi) moved there from Bet Shearim at the beginning of the 3rd century CE and the Mishna was compiled in Tzippori.

Entrance to Tzippori (Sephoris), harbinger of magnificent mosaics to come.

“The Mona Lisa of the Galilee”

Coincidentally wearing my Women’s March t-shirt and posing (my best Amazon imitation) with one of the two mosaics we saw depicting Amazon women.

Portion of the mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue in Tzippori. Can you see the menorah?

This photo captures only a part of this vast archeological site.

A beautiful view from Tzippori.

Our day concluded with a drive to the top of Mount Carmel to try the touted hummus at Hummus Berdichev (worth it!) and to catch the nighttime view from on top.

A magnificent night view from the Louis Promenade on top of Mt. Carmel. The Baha’i shrine is bottom far left, and the rotunda-topped building on the bottom right is the Baha’i archives (where over 100 different translations of the Baha’i holy book are kept). The line of lights at the very top of the photo on the other side of the (black) bay from Haifa are in Akko!

100, 000 Cranes

My earliest association to the Hula Valley was hearing about its swamps, the rampant malaria that incubated there, and the heroic efforts to drain the swamps in the 1950’s. What I didn’t know was that the plan to turn that swamp-land into farm-land turned out to be a nightmare for the farmers, as that spot was a migration point for birds. The area has since been further developed to allow for both agriculture as well as bird migration.

The Hula Valley was at the top of my to-do list for this trip to Israel. Bird-watchers from around the world flock (pun intended) there in the fall and winter to experience the miraculous wonder of bird migration in this Syrian-African Rift Valley, one of the largest and most important flyways in the world, the meeting point between three continents. Over 500 million birds make their way from Europe and Asia to Africa via Israel in the autumn and head back in the spring.

We saw cormorants and egrets, shelducks, and spur-winged lapwings and many other unidentified birds, as well as water buffalo and beaver-like creatures called nutria, but most of all (because most of the other birds had already migrated), we saw CRANES — thousands of cranes! Over 100,000 fly over the Hula Valley each year, and about 15,000 of them winter there in January and February. In fact, we heard all 15,000 cranes before we saw them — a big ruckus of a cacophony, growing louder and louder as we got closer and closer. In two weeks, they will all take wing and fly away. I’m sorry we will miss witnessing that leg of their journey.

The trail around the property and the agamon (little lake) was 6-7 miles, including all the look-outs. Rather than rent golfcarts, bikes, or tandems, we used our own two legs, and it was wondrous! (By the way, future tourists: There is a second part to the Hula Valley, a more touristy nature preserve, that we did not visit. We visited the Agamon Hula.)

Cranes on the ground, cranes in the air, cranes are everywhere! They were so big, that I thought they were flocks of lamb at first!

Birds of a feather flock together.

Beautiful views

We could have travelled in one of these contraptions, but preferred walking.

Walking the trail

I thought this spur-winged lapwing was beautiful in flight, and I finally captured one on camera!

Chaim (his legs, in any case) and the “nutria.” This cutie-pie is a rodent!

Four cranes in flight against a beautiful sky

Posing in front of the “agamon”

We stopped for a scenic view on the way home to Haifa.

Let’s Go Tzfat/Safed!

“Messiah’s Alley” in the old city of Tzfat.


The city of turquoise, the Rabbi Moshe Alsheich synagogue

We heard more English spoken in the holy city of Tzfat than we did Hebrew. Tzfat is the hippie hang-out of Israel, home to spiritual seekers, mystics, artists, and  holy warriors awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, whom legend has it, will pass through Tzfat on the way to Jerusalem!

A view from Tzfat. The yellow flags hanging from the building on the left read “Mashiach” (Messiah)

For us, our bodies had to be fed before our souls, so our first stop was the vegetarian Elements Cafe, owned by Zev Padway, an old Berkeley friend of our friend Nancy’s. The dahl and veggie burgers were delicious! Zev and I played Jewish geography (when I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, I was a sometimes-visitor to the hippie Jewish community in Berkeley), and he gave us some great tips for our visit to the Hula Valley tomorrow.

With Zev Padway in Elements Cafe

Tzfat was already a richly creative and mystical Jewish community when Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Ari”) — considered the father of contemporary kabbalah — settled there in the late 16th century. Joseph Caro (author of the Shulchan Arukh), Shlomo Alkabetz (author of  the hymn“Lecha Dodi”), Elazar Azikri (author of the hymn“Yedid Nefesh”), and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (best-known for his kabbalistic Mussar text Tomer Devorah) were among those who lived there. The Jewish tradition of Kabbalat Shabbat with its psalms and the singing of “Lecha Dodi” was born in Tzfat. (A great article about this history by Noam Zion of the Hartman Institute can be found here.)

So in light of this Jewish mystical history, I wasn’t surprised to see this stained glass rendition of the mystical “tree of life” just hanging out on a building, not even a synagogue as far as I could tell.

Mystical tree of life depicting God’s ten emanations/sefirot

Of course, we visited the Ari’s synagogue.

Side view of the ark in the Ari Synagogue

And the stunning Abuhav synagogue.

The Abuhov Synagogue from the women’s balcony. There were 3 arks!

Painted ceiling in Abuhav Synagogue

The synagogue of Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach of Avrush. In Europe he was a student of the Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev.

Sent on the recommendation of our mutual artist friends Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz, we visited the studio of mystical artist David Friedman, with his wife Miriam. It turns out that I own one of his pieces of art and hadn’t realized its provenance until I saw it in his studio!

David Friedman’s studio. I have a small version of his Tree of Life that appears both to the left of the door and in the foreground.

Our day in the lofty heavens ended with a parking ticket here on earth.

And so it is — the spiritual life can be so ephemeral and hard to maintain. Even driving in Israel (today was my first time ever) was a sort of gauntlet of holding the temptation of the spiritual landscape in its proper place while trying to keep my eyes on the road. How to balance the heavenly and the earthly is the eternal challenge.

A Church, A Mosque, 2 Synagogues Walked into Acco

Ten miles, 24,000 steps, and still standing after another full day of touring. We began by walking through Wadi Nisnas to get to the train station and head to Acco. It took us longer to walk to the train than it took to ride to Acco (a mere 20 minutes)! In Wadi Nisnas we saw a lot more street art than we’d caught on our previous walks through there, with surprises at nearly every turn.

Part of the art scene in Wadi Nisnas, a museum without walls.

Just before the Haifa train station, we stopped at the Elijah the Prophet (“Saint Elias”) Melkite Catholic Church to say hello. You may recall his association with Mount Carmel (I Kings 18). There are two different sites in Haifa that claim to be the cave in which Elijah took shelter (I Kings 19) and heard “the still small voice” following the wind, earthquake, and fire.

Elijah the Prophet in his chariot; the sculpture above the painting depicts him with a sword

Nut “cakes” of all varieties. Yum!

If all I’d done in Acco was see the Tunisian Djerba Synagogue, dayeinu/it would have been enough! This 4-story building is filled with spectacular mosaics (hundreds of millions of natural stones from Israel!) which recount the history of Israel and the Jewish people. There are also stained glass windows inside and metal sculptures outside.

One of several sculptures outside the Tunisian Or Torah (Djerba) Synagogue. This one depicts Jonah and the whale, with a verse from “Mah Tovu” on the archway.

Depiction of Acco and of Haifa side-by-side, mosaic

The musical instruments in Psalm 150, mosaic

Mosaic stairwell

View of the many arks (six!?), the skylight, and the inscriptions from the women’s balcony.

Mosaics of women adorn the walls of the women’s balcony. Here are Rachel and Leah with Jacob and some of the children.

The Synagogue was in the “new city” of Akko. From there we walked to the Old City, a UNESCO world heritage site.

On the way up to explore the walls of Akko’s old city

Up top of these walls were cannons and a history of Napolean’s unsuccessful invasion of Akko in 1799. Inside the walls is the Treasures of the Walls Ethnographic Museum.

Chaim is dress shopping in the Treasures in the Walls Ethnographic Museum. A myriad of collections were displayed including matchboxes, children’s games, furniture, scales, pottery, tools, and jewelry. The museum is IN the walls of the old city.

At the top of my Akko to-do list was to visit the Ramchal’s synagogue there. Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato (Ramchal is an acronym) is the author of the beloved Mussar text Mesillat Yesharim/Path of The Just,  a text I both study and teach regularly. Displayed is a part of a Torah scroll he calligraphed with pomegranate ink!

In the Ramchal’s synagogue, a Torah scroll he wrote with ink made from pomegranate peels! See how red the parchment is? After his death, the synagogue was named after him, Ohel Chayim.

From there we made our way to Sayid Hummus for lunch (with a line of locals so long, we weren’t sure we’d ever be seated) and some shopping in the shuk.

AlJazzar Mosque

Entrance to Al Jazzar Mosque, the 3rd largest mosque in Israel

Inside the mosque

Another must-see site in the Old City is the Al Jazzar mosque. But from there, a serious choice had to be made. Since we didn’t have time or energy to do it all, what would be the last visit on our agenda? Choices included the Baha’i Shrine and Gardens north of the city, or within the city, the Knights Templar Tunnel, The Knights Halls and Crusader Fortress, the Turkish Baths, or the Underground Prisoners Museum.

So it was that we moved to 20th-century Israeli history, the Jewish Underground’s (including the Haganah, Etzel, and Lechi) resistance to the British, and the conditions in the Akko prison where the British held (and executed some of) its prisoners. It was not an easy place to visit. Though the museum focused on 20th century history, this was the same prison to which the Baha’i prophet Baha’ullah was exiled in the 1800’s.

Gallows in Underground Prisoners Museum

Depiction of one of the ingenious ways in which notes might be smuggled in or out of the prison: on the inner cardboard of a toilet paper roll.

A view of Haifa across the bay from Acco. This is the view that Baha’i prophet Baha’ullah would have had from his prison cell when he decided to bury the Bab’s remains on Mt. Carmel (see yesterday’s post about this Baha’i history).

We are looking forward to a slower pace tomorrow to prepare for Shabbat and to Shabbat itself.








Valentine’s Day in Baha’i Gardens

We walked this morning from our apartment in Hadar haCarmel (the middle of the city) to meet the tour group at the top of Mount Carmel. This nearly hour-long walk just to get to our starting point (because we like to walk AND because we are gluttons for punishment) was quite steep, and included 7 sets of stairs up, up, up. In Haifa, a city built on the mountain, the fastest way to walk is by these shortcut stairways from one level to the next. They are all over and though they are only for pedestrian traffic, they have been assigned street names. I stopped one woman to see if she could point us to the Henrietta Szold staircase, and she and Chaim had a lovely conversation in Yiddish.

Chaim trekking up a staircase on our journey up the mountain

But our way up inevitably included a walk down, and that was done within the boundaries of the Baha’i Gardens. About 1150 stairs, I’m told.

We had our first view of the Baha’i Gardens from the Louis Promenade.

Gold-domed shrine can be seen on far left, a bit down the mountain.  One of the green-topped structures is the Baha’i International House of Justice and the other is the Baha’i World Center.

My favorite photograph of myself was taken in the Baha’i Gardens in 1981. Today I found out that the gardens I visited then were only on the lower levels, a small fraction of what exists today, which is on 19 different levels/terraces! The shrine itself is in the middle, with 9 levels above, and 9 levels below it. 19 is a holy number in Baha’i, and even this flowerpot pictured below contains 19 surfaces.

Holy number 19: There are 19 rounded protrusions adorning the pot.

In Baha’i, there are 19 months with 19 days each, which leaves 4 extra “days of generosity.” Months and days are associated with virtues. So a day of the week is not called “Wednesday” as it would be in English or “the 4th day,” as it would be in Hebrew, but “the day of Justice.” The month might be the month of “Honor,” or another attribute of God such as Speech, Splendor, Knowledge, or Questions! We are currently in the month of Dominion. Cool stuff for a Mussar practitioner like myself!

And how much must a Baha’i tithe each year for the upkeep of their holy sites? 19%, of course! Baha’is must come as pilgrims once during their lifetime, but only 10,000 are allowed to come each year, so there is  waitlist. Acco is actually the first holiest site, and Haifa is the second.

Despite the centrality of these holy sites to Baha’i, they have a complicated relationship with Israel. Because Baha’i is a peaceful religion and they associate Israel with conflict, visiting in Israel cannot be more than 3 days in duration. (The 600 Baha’i volunteers living in Israel are exempt from this ruling.) What this also means is that anyone in the world can be Baha’i EXCEPT an Israeli. What?!?!

View from above

The red terra cotta ground covering in the gardens upon which we walked matches the red terra cotta Templar roofs of the German Colony below.

The Gardens are perfectly manicured, thanks to the help of 100 gardeners, Baha’i volunteers from around the world. (It takes three gardeners to maneuver one lawnmower on the steep hills, tied with ropes!) There are 460 different flowers and plants in the gardens.

One of many fountains

Terraces being irrigated

Aside from the above, follows is what I learned about the Baha’i history and faith. I have a desire to learn even more, as this clearly only scratches the surface. In full disclosure, I’ve wanted to learn more for quite some time, as my mother, in a desire to leave her strict Orthodox upbringing for something more pluralistic/universalistic (in what must have been her early 20s), considered briefly to convert either to Baha’i or to Unitarian Universalist!

1. The first prophet was Bab. He was executed in Iran in 1850.

2. The second prophet Baha’ullah was exiled to Acco in the late 1800’s, just across the bay from Haifa. He saw Mount Carmel and decided to bury Bab there. (Chaim and I plan to visit Acco and the Baha’i Gardens there, as well.)

3. Baha’i is a peaceful, pacifist  religion. Our guide joked that no one ever heard about them because they never killed anybody. However, because they also believe that “the law of the land is the law” (what Jews call dina d’malchuta dina), they can be conscripted into an army if there is no other alternative (like community service) for them.

4. Important  values for Baha’i are equality, nature, and volunteering.

5. It is a private religion with no intermediary or priest.

6. Their holy book is called “The Holiest Book.” It can be read in any language (there is no privileged, holy language).

7. There are Baha’i temples on every continent: N. America (Chicago), Australia (Sydney), Europe (Frankfort), Asia (the Lotus Temple, Delhi),  South America (Chile), Africa. Take a peek at their beauty, particularly in India and Chile.

8. You can convert into the religion. Intermarriage is allowed, and conversion of the non-Baha’i spouse is not a pre-requisite. Children are allowed freedom of choice and can opt-out of the religion until age 15.

9.  Lest you think they sound too good to be true, they are anti-LGBT. Also, no alcohol, drugs, or premarital sex.

10. Everything in this life prepares for afterlife, the next spiritual sphere.

We are still above the shrine in this photo. This place is massive!

We are getting closer. The Bab’s remains are buried within. Can you see how perfectly manicured it is?

We are now below the shrine. Our guide Daniel explaining this Baha’i symbol connecting God to earth, with the will of God as the vertical line connecting all levels.

Our guide Daniel was pretty awesome. He told us how his father, as a Jew, couldn’t get into university in the former Soviet Union, despite winning all kinds of math awards. He wanted to emigrate to Israel, and it was a condition of his marriage to Daniel’s mother. They had one picture of Israel, a view of the Haifa Bay from the top of Mount Carmel. So that’s where they wanted to go, and, thankfully, succeeded in doing so. Daniel himself has a degree in computer science but loves guiding!

Below the shrine looking back up from whence we came! About 1150 steps top to bottom (or bottom to top, if you are so inclined!)

Cactus garden

It is Valentine’s Day, so as we walked through the German Colony of Templar homes, we heard about the fateful love affair between the already-married German Templar Alice Oliphant and the poor Jewish poet Naftali Herz Imber, author of the poem on which the Israeli national anthem “Ha-Tikvah” is based. She died, and when he attended the 3rd Zionist Congress in Basel, drunk and in despair, he wasn’t allowed in. From outside, he learned that HaTikvah would be the national anthem.

We passed under this archway of two lovers.

Baklava heaven in Wadi Nisnas, a Christian Arab neighborhood of the city.

Street art in Wadi Nisnas

Jewish artist Chaya Touma in Wadi Nisnas. She married an Arab in the 50’s. Together they started the Communist party in Israel.

And so ends another full day. Happy Valentines’ Day!