After waking up to a view of the Sea of Galilee (wow!), we got on the road on 7:30 am to go up to the Golan Heights. On the way we passed by Migdal, a Judeo-Christian village. Before any thing is built in Israel, they check that there is nothing of archeological value on site. From this work, it is believed that Migdal was destroyed in 65 AD and would have been similar to the community Mary Magdalene lived in Jesus’ time. In the archeological dig of the town, they found fish ponds and Hellenistic homes, but no idols suggesting that they were Jewish. They found mosaics suggesting that they were a people of means. They have also found synagogues with a 7 branch menorah signifying a joining of two communities. It was a place that was ripe for the Messianic message and it is likely there were others who preached a message similar to Jesus. Jesus was the one who was remembered.
We then headed up to the Golan Heights. This is also the place where beef is produced in Israel so we saw a lot of cows on the way. Our tour guide shared several bad cow jokes. The best one was - What do you call a cow that has just given birth? De-Calfeinated! After the 1967 war, the Golan Heights became a demilitarized zone. You can see yellow signs marking where old Syrian land mines are. We drove to the Golan Volcanic Park at Avital where we could see the border with Syria. At times, one can observe fighting between various groups in Syria. We did not see any fighting, but as someone said it was pretty early in the morning. The Israelis have built a wall to keep out Syrian immigrants who were flooding into Israel. However, they are providing medical care for the Syrians on the border including those who fight. Often the fighting breaks into Israel and as our guide mentioned her daughter saying, “Mom (Ima), we didn’t have a war this summer.” This made real to me the unsettledness that the people in these countries live with.
From there, we made our way to two significant places in the life of Jesus. The first was where we think the Sermon on the Mount was given beginning with the Beatitudes. Of course, there was a church there and we could see why they had chosen this spot. It was the place where Jesus could have preached to 5000 people because of the topography. Our guide explained that most of the holy sites have three phases. 1. The Byzantine period in the 300’s AD when Helena walked around asking locals where events related to Jesus happened. They told the stories and she erected churches on those sites. 2. The Crusader period in the 1100’s built churches on top of old sites and then we have 3. The modern era beginning in the 1860’s continuing into the 1900’ where new churches were created on the holy sites. This means that most Holy Sites have had several churches erected there over 2000 years.
Our next stop was in Tabgha, the church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, the place where Jesus invited the disciples for a fish fry after a long night of fishing and where he asks Peter three times - do you love me? Again this place looked like it really could be the place where this had happened and I made sure to take off my shoes and stand in the waters of the Sea of Galilee here. The water was surprisingly warm.
Then we headed to Nazareth where the angel appeared to Mary to ask her if she would bear the Savior of the World. First century Nazareth would have been quiet about 4 hours off the trade route. Today, Nazareth and Cana (where Jesus turned water into wine) have grown together so as we drove in we were able to see a narrow street that leads to the church that marks the spot where they think the wedding hall may have been. We got some information on wine at the time. Wine was kept as a paste to preserve it and then add water when you wanted to use it. At the end of the wedding when the guests were drunk, you increased the water. This is why when Jesus created the good wine the master of the wedding was amazed.
One of the difficulties of identifying sites in Nazareth is that Cana and Nazareth is that for many centuries, these areas were destroyed every 3 years. In fact, for many years the area was deserted except for times when the Crusaders in the 11th Century and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th to 19th century, emphasized the importance of this site. Today the Church of the Annunciation is built on the spot which was thought to be the home of Mary and below it are many excavations showing ancient homes of the time of Jesus. The church is huge and has five levels. The main source of light comes from the top dome of the church showing that light of Christ is primary.
After a quick lunch in Nazareth, we headed to the city of Umn el Fahem, where there is a gallery of art working to bring Palestinians and Israelis together. This city exists on the the seam between Palestine and Israel, but because of the boundaries that have been created, have ended up in Israel territory. This has created an identity crisis for the Palestinians who now find themselves living in a town that is part of Israel. The creator wants the gallery to be a place where the Palestinians and the Israeli people can begin dialogue. He hopes this can be a way to peace and has been engaged in this work for 22 years. Can the Palestinian and Israeli peoples find a way forward through art? There are challenges. Both peoples are religious and both religions forbid them from creating idols or masks. Sixty percent of the people in the town are poor and are ashamed to come to a gallery. The gallery at Umn el Fahem seeks to provide a place where Jews and Arabs can both share their narrative - especially a place where the Jews can hear the Arab narrative. They have gone out into the poor communities and created relationship to invite them in. Women have been invited to learn about making ceramics and I was able to bring home a small example of this. They provide free space for young artists to show their work. This gallery is yet another example of ways in which the Palestinians and Jews are finding ways to work together.
After this we headed back to Tel Aviv for our last night in a bed. Tomorrow we will tour Tel Aviv and get on a plane just after midnight to arrive at Newark very early in the morning. One noticeable thing for today was the changes in temperature. In the morning on the Golan Heights, I was wearing all my layers - shirt, heavy sweat shirt and coat. On the Sea of Galilee where Jesus cooked for the disciples, I was in short sleeves and then in Tel Aviv all I needed was my light jacket without the heavy sweatshirt. This is truly the desert.
I’m not sure when I will be able to post tomorrow. I will write, but since I may not have WiFi in the evening, I may not be able to post until I return to the US Wednesday morning your time.
God bless, Anne-Marie