Glimpses of Israel

Modern Israel is an important site for three of the world’s major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Holy sites gain special attention at this time of year as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

Religion is woven inextricably into the land, rocks and water of the region. Pilgrimages by Christian believers from around the world center mainly on Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee.

 

But in addition to and often inseparable from these places of worship are deep historical roots and surprising modernities. Here are personal glimpses from a few trips I’ve made as a guest of  the Canadian branch of the Israel Government Tourist Office.

 

Handmade paper bookmarks

bookmarks

Young son of our Israeli Arab driver, a resident of Nazareth. Our entire busload of journalists dropped in for an impromptu coffee with his family!

young boy

The Basilica of the Annunciation, “House of the Virgin Mary” in Nazareth, is a bit of an anomaly, being a prominent Catholic edifice in a mainly Muslim community. It's also new, at least for this part of the world. It was built in 1969 over the Grotto and ruins of four earlier churches dating from the 1st and 2nd century AD.

exterior of basilica

The small refreshing Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, 'most famous as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before Jesus' crucifixion' — Wikipedia

desert garden with trees and flowers, Jerusalem

Despite scholarly dispute, the Via Dolorosa holds general public belief as the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion

Via Dolorosa Christian wall markers

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the site where Jesus was believed by many Christians to have been crucified, buried and resurrected. Six major denominations possessively share the church.  

interior of Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Islam's Dome of the Rock and Judaism's Western Wall graphically show the close proximity of the two religions within Old Jerusalem. 

Islam's Dome of the Rock and Judaism's Western Wall

Hasidic Jews meet for prayer in a vault beside the Western Wall, built by Herod the Great as part of the Jewish Second Temple.

Hasidic Jews

Dr. Dan Bahat, chief archaeologist of excavations beneath the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock. 

Two female soldiers take a quick break from militia duty at the Wailing Wall to strike a pose. Military service is compulsory in Israel for men and for women.

In Jerusalem Yad Vashem Museum is 'the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust,' dedicated to research, education and commemoration of the WW II genocide. When I visited, there was silence among visitors as each graphic display layered the enormity of the horror.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

A fellow journalist helped me create a symbolic gesture of anguish and hope.

upward grasping hands

Yad Vashem is a stark reminder of past sufferings, but all of Israel pulses with life. Like the Ethiopian Jewish wedding I happened across in Old Jaffa, for instance, where there's also a great view of Tel Aviv city center from across the bay. 

My Aha! moment came when this young woman introduced me to Ahava luxury skin care products made with Dead Sea minerals.

Tel Aviv's Carmel Street market is a cacophony of vendors' shouts, pungent cooking and Middle Eastern spices — plus baklava and halvah, two of my fav desserts!

Tel Aviv's secular 'cafe society' sits in contrast to orthodox Judaism. Secular and religious differences have been a point of domestic friction that bubbles to the surface from time to time. I marvel at the Jewish bond that enables these two  diametrically opposite lifestyles to coexist. 

Day or night, Tel Aviv's redeveloped Old Port area is busy with restaurants and city residents out for a stroll. A boardwalk along the water is just part of an extensive system of bike paths that will take you through the city.

The magnificence of Acre (aka Akko) is uncovered in excavations beneath the city where the Crusader Knights Hospitaller of St John order had its headquarters. I kept thinking, if I was wearing all that armour I'd be staying cool underground too.

Terraced gardens and the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb comprise part of the Bahá'í World Centre overlooking the port city of Haifa. It's a beautiful scene which gave inspiration to at least one couple (lower right).

Hamam al-Basha Turkish baths in Acre were built at the end of the 18th century when the region known as Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire.

Sunset over the Dead Sea, looking towards Jordan from a kibbutz.

You might think cycling tours by moonlight in the desert near the

Dead Sea is a dream. It is, but it's real. We finished a ride after midnight with hot dogs and beer around a bonfire.

Former President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres cut the ribbon in May, 2013, opening a Negev desert section of the national system of bike trails.

Sands of time. The wind raises dust beneath a Roman aqueduct on the Mediterranean. 

A trumpeter blasts goodbye as the funicular at the ancient fortress of Masada begins its descent. On a further note, the cableway is the lowest aerial tram in the world, beginning its climb 237 metres below sea level.

Dead Sea resort areas like Ein Bokek are modern oases geared towards sun and spas where everyone can play in the mud and float on water. Which is exactly what Jeff did.

So we're riding in a bus beside the Dead Sea when a rainbow appears. We all shout "Stop the bus!" and the driver does. I ran like crazy across a long stretch of sand for this unobstructed view. Heat haze accentuated with a telephoto lens gave it a dreamy view.

© 2014 Gary Crallé
Updated April 2022 

All rights reserved