Happy Thanksgiving. It’s interesting to be out of the country on the major holidays. I’ve been gone for a couple of Independence Days, and now this is the second Thanksgiving I’ve been gone (for the first, in 1999, I had a nice French seafood dinner in England with an Israeli-American friend) *.
What this shared with those other holidays is that the act of travelling means that we don’t think about the holiday much. This Thanksgiving is unique, though, in that there’s something concrete and specific to be thankful for – the cease fire has held so far.
We really didn’t see any direct evidence of the cease fire except at dinner, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the day.
One thing that’s interesting about the Holy Land is that many of these churches and shrines are placed at the traditional location of whatever is being commemorated. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, about things like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being at the supposed location of Adam’s tomb, Jesus’s crucifixion, and Jesus’ tomb, but none of those assignments were made until hundreds or thousands of years after the events being commemorated – what are the odds that they really found the right tombs and hills?
This conflict between confidence and actual knowledge is in full play in Nazareth, as there are two churches that supposedly commemorate the location where the angel told Mary about her pregnancy. The Catholics have one where they think Mary’s house was, on the assumption that the Annunciation happened there, but the Russian Orthodox think it happened at the town well, so they have their church with a similar name a few miles away.
We saw the Catholic church yesterday, and so we saw the Russian Orthodox Church this morning as our last stop in Nazareth. It’s a much smaller church than the Catholic one (with much less convenient parking for tour buses). But it’s a nice church. I’ve been in several Russian Orthodox Churches in various trips, but I think this is the first I’ve seen with painted text in English.
After Nazereth, we went to Megiddo, the spot for which St. John predicted the big battle at the end of the world would occur: Armageddon. I’m very skeptical of that prediction, but Megiddo has enough history behind it to be interesting even if that never happens. They’ve found 25 different cities in the excavations there, built from about 9000 years ago to the end of the Israelite era in the Old Testament. There’s not a formal city there as impressive as what we saw in Beit She’an, but the mix of dozens of different eras on top of each other is more impressive in its own way.
Our next goal was the see the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. The gardens are a formal 19-step terrace encompassing the height of Mt. Carmel, with a shrine in the middle that contains the remains of “The Bab”, one of the founders of the religion. The Gardens are one of the two holiest sites in the world for the Baha’is, and it’s also their administrative and documentary center.
I’d heard of the Baha’i Gardens for a long time, but I never quite understood what they were all about or why they were in Haifa. So, I was really glad that we got to join the one English tour of the day and walk down half of the terrace, to learn about the religion and its history (including the Israel connection being that the Bab’s successor was imprisoned for decades just north of Haifa by the Ottomans).
The season isn’t right for the flowers to be particularly beautiful, but it’s still a very impressive formal garden.
We spent a little more time in Haifa, getting some falafel and then seeing a disappointing museum – the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum. We were interested in learning more about the stories of the ships that tried to bring Jews into Palestine before Israel was granted statehood, but the museum’s curation seems not to have been updated in about 40 years – lots of exhibits weren’t working, and the translations were weak and spotty.
What really disappointed us about the subpar museum was that we had chosen to see it instead of going to Caesarea, a set of ruins of a former great Roman and Crusader city on the coast. By staying in Haifa longer, we sacrificed the chance to be able to get to Caesarea before closing time.
We decided to head to Caesarea anyway, thinking that we might be able to see something from the parking lot. And we were right – we were able to see some of the Roman theater, the bathhouse, and the impressive Crusader defensive walls.
Then we noticed something funny – they had closed the ticket booth but hadn’t actually locked the gate to the park.
So we went in.
We didn’t get to see everything we would have liked to have seen, but we got to spend about ten minutes exploring the ruins from which Pontius Pilate once ruled and basking in the sun setting into the Mediterranean Sea.
Finally, it was time to head back to Jerusalem and see our hosts, Jenny’s Uncle Fred and Aunt Gloria. We met up with everyone at Azzahra, a restaurant at which we had eaten previously, because they had a special Thanksgiving meal planned. It wasn’t quite right, though. The Pumpkin Soup was made with lamb broth, which completely changed the taste. One of the Turkey options was Turkey Skewers, essentially shish kebab with Turkey. And the Pumpkin Pie was just not right.
But instead of focusing on how the Palestinian chef didn’t make the American dinner quite the way we would, I think of it as a Palestinian interpretation of an American meal. After all, what could be a better fusion than using lamb broth in a pumpkin soup?
Besides the food, we had lots to be thankful for at dinner.
- The cease fire was holding, for which everyone was grateful (though the only concrete evidence we had of it was that the restaurant’s TVs reverted to the normal programming of Arab pop music videos instead of showing Gaza bombing footage from the news).
- We have had great hosts in Fred and Gloria, who shared their Jerusalem home and insights from years of living in the Holy Land.
- Our families back in the United States are safe and healthy, and my parents are taking care of the boys in our absence, giving the boys much-needed time with their grandparents from Montana.
- In addition to Fred and Gloria, we ate with a family they know from church business, a Palestinian family that are devout Syrian Orthodox Christians. It’s always great to share time with locals beyond the tourism industry, but their generosity extended beyond that. Not only did the son offer to give us a tour of St. Mark’s Church in the Old City on Saturday, but also he led us in the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, a language we almost never hear.
Happy Thanksgiving from Israel. Tomorrow will bring more exploration of Jerusalem or the surrounding areas.
*(Oops – Jenny just noted that this this is actually the third – I forgot about our honeymoon – oops)