Tag Archives: Haifa

Thoughts on Haifa

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Later this morning I leave Haifa, and will take a train (which runs every half-hour) to Tel Aviv, the most modern of Israeli cities, and the youngest. Haifa is not an ancient city, but it is unlike any place I have seen in Israel so far. It is built on the base, on the side, and on the top of Mount Carmel, and extends on both the harbor side and the ocean (or sea) side. It is an integrated city. It is impossible to tell which neighborhoods are Jewish or Arab.  Many many neighborhoods are mixed.   There is a large Russian Jewish population, and you are likely to hear Russian on the streets as much as Hebrew.  And far less English — although as is always true, there is never a problem communicating.

Being built on a mountain, the city is reminiscent of San Francisco, but with a much nicer climate.  You can pretty much see the Mediterranean sea wherever you are.   The harbor side is dominated by the spectacular Baha’i Gardens, and the “Shrine of the Baab.”  The Baha’i is one of the youngest religions in the world, beginning in Iran (Persia) in the 19th century.  Yet, other than Baha’i volunteers who work their properties, there is no actual Baha’i community in Haifa, or indeed, in Israel.

The German Colony was built by the “Templers”  (no, not the Knights Templar, of Dan Brown Davinci Code fame), but the Templers — a group of Christians who came to Palestine in the late 1800s.   The German Colony is small, but all the buildings have distinctive looks.  And the street is filled with restaurants and cafes, from the entrance to the port, to the base of the Baha’i Gardens.  Some restaurants are Jewish, some Arab.  There are several “Hookah” cafes.   The place is teeming with people all day long.   Even on Shabbat.   The buses run on Saturdays from 10am – 6pm, once an hour (a far cry from Jerusalem).    Most of the stores are open.

There are far more neighborhoods and regions of the city than I can describe.  To the south of the German Colony is the Wadi Nisma, a mostly (but not exclusively) Arab old downtown, with produce markets, shops, and a lot of life.  Then further south is a more modern downtown with tall office buildings.    There is a highway that cuts from the Galilee side through the mountain in a tunnel, and comes out on the Haifa Coast.  The “beach side” has its share of large buildings as well.     The “Carmel” is the business district on the top of the mountain, mostly Jewish.     The far northern edge of the mountain is where the Carmelite monastery Stelle Maris (Mary Star of the Sea) is located.  The carmelite monks date back to the 12th century.

Haifa is home to two world class universities, the Technion (Israel’s MIT) and the University of Haifa.  I didn’t see either of them, as they are on the south side of the city, one on the mountain, the other in the plain.  It has public and private schools, like Leo Baeck Educational Center and Sisters of Nazareth School.    I visited Leo Baeck last year, and walked past Sisters of Nazareth (the two schools of last year’s Friends Forever delegation) a few times.

I am sure my descriptions are incomplete, probably inaccurate in some places, but Haifa is a lovely place to visit.  I am glad I was able to spend 3 days here exploring and visiting with my Friends Forever family.   I visited two homes, went to restaurants, even had coffee and dessert at a beach cafe at night.  It is a vibrant place.  I don’t get the sense that as many American tourists spend time here – except for a quick tour bus ride up the mountain to look at the overlook for the Baha’i Gardens, but that is a mistake.

Ok, time to pack my stuff up, take one last walk around, and then head to Tel Aviv.   I would highly recommend people visit Haifa.

From simplicity to luxury

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I opted to stay in Jerusalem at a hostel.  The Abraham Hostel was a place I visited on my first trip, as it was the departing point for two tours I took.  I rented a private room, and stayed for 8 nights.  It was very simple, but full of life.   The room looked like a dorm room (Julie said it looked like a convent room), there was a huge kitchen, bar, and common area.  The common area was filled with people throughout the day and night.  There was much activity in the evening.  Breakfast was free every morning.  Simple fare, but it did the trick.  You were expected to wash your own dishes.  Ok, that worked.  I’ll probably stay there again.  It met all my needs, and the price was pretty much unbelievably reasonable.  I loved it.  Easy access to everything.

My three days in Haifa are completely different.  I am staying at a luxurious boutique hotel in the German Colony,  – a hotel that dates back to the British Mandate.  The Colony Hotel has tile floors, marble bathroom floor, a balcony to the street,  every bit of the hotel is beautiful.   The room comes with free breakfast – a spread as good as any I have had in Israel, in a beautiful dining room.  It is simply luxurious, yet still even without the negotiated rate from the Friends Forever partner school, very reasonably priced.  I am very glad I am staying here.  I am equally glad, I stayed first at the hostel.   I am sure when I am at Hayarkon 48 hostel in Tel Aviv-Yafo, that it will be back to simplicity.  But I’m equally confident that the location a block from the beach will more than make up for it.

Ok, back to enjoying a slow Saturday.

Welcome to Haifa

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Today I began the second part of my trip.  I got up early, checked out of the hostel (which, while incredibly simple, met all of my needs for a week), and took the light-rail to Central Bus Station.  Took me a few minutes to figure out where to buy the bus ticket, but I got the ticket, and settled in to wait for the 9 am bus to Haifa.  The ride ended up taking about 1h40 minutes.  Very easy.  Only two stops.  I will say this – I was proud of myself, graduating from intra-city buses in Jerusalem, to inter-city buses to Haifa.

I arrived in Haifa and was met at the bus Carmel Beach bus station by Rolla Dalal, the mom of one of the friends forever teens from last summer.  Rolla and I had friended each other during the life-raft.  She drove me to the German Colony on the other side of Mt. Carmel, at the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens.  A gorgeous hotel, on an incredible strip of property, at the base of the Baha’i gardens.

I visited Haifa briefly last year, but stayed to the south in Ein Hod, and really only drove through the city quickly.   Today, I was able to get a much better perspective, if only a small part of it.  Rolla helped me get checked-in, and then we went on a walk to the base of the Gardens, and then took a ride up the hill side, to the second level, where the temple is, and then to the far top of the mountain.   She then dropped me off in a commercial area called “Carmel Center,” a downtown area on the top of the mountain, where I met two of the Friends Forever alums (Ido, from this summer, and his brother Daniel, who I met briefly last year).  Their mom Eti joined us, and we had a great lunch at a hummus restaurant, then walked to their apartment where we spent a few hours socializing.  Just a fun time.

Ido then walked me down the hill to the bus stop where I took a Haifa city bus back to the German Colony.  Damn, I’m getting good with these Israeli buses.   Had an hour at the room, and then met Rolla, her husband Solel, and Luna in the lobby and we walked to a restaurant where we had a great dinner, outside.  YES, I SAID OUTSIDE. #sorrynotsorry.    But more important, just a wonder conversation. We were were there for almost 3 hours.

The day did not have intense meetings. Yet, it was as memorable and enjoyable as any day I have spent here.   And in many ways, I learned just as much about perceptions of the issues today (from different perspectives) than I did the first week.  I can’t really put it into words, and perhaps I don’t need to, but I guess the main idea is that the discussions that have dominated my first week went from the abstract or academic or professional to the very personal level.   It was a great day.

And I’ll end with this.  Haifa is a gorgeous city.  It is unlike anyplace I have seen in Israel. Indeed, once can argue that Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv-Yafo are completely different cities, with different feels.  Geography dominates Haifa in a way different than Jerusalem.  It is on Mediterranean.  The ocean (or sea) surrounds it, to the west, and to the north.  The harbor curves north towards Acco and all the way to the Lebanese border.  I’m told on a clear day, you can sometimes see as far as Beirut.  It is a city in some ways like San Francisco, but tends to have streets that switch-back up and across the city.   There are tall buildings at the base, there are tall buildings on top, neighbors throughout. With stunning views, and on the harbor side, dominated by the beautiful grounds and structure of the Baha’i Gardens.  Its pretty impressive.

Sister City Meetings, Nazareth, and the Reunion in Yagur

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Today was a great day.   We got up and went to have meetings with the mayors of Nazareth Iliit and Nazareth to discuss a possible sister city program.  Both meetings went extremely well.  We started in Nazareth Iliit, where we met with the mayor, the city manager, and the education department manager.   The mayor was a Russian Jew who did not speak English, so most of the conversation was with the others.  They are in financial crisis (like Illinois), but want to find a way to build cultural connections between our cities by starting with schools.  The idea is to use technology to have exchanges between kids in schools, and then to work to send kids over to the US, and vice-versa.   In Nazareth we met with the mayor’s chief of staff and the superintendent of the school district (with 27,000 students).  Their mayor does not speak much English, but was very supportive and gave his chief of staff authority to make this a reality.   He in turn told the superintendent of schools to do what she has to do – to do the same types of things that Nazareth Illit wants to do.  She was very friendly and wanted me to send her a document of what I proposed and to have a meeting again before I left.   I need to slow that down, as while we have support from our mayors, we have not gone any further with this.  But I left feeling that I accomplished my goals, and there is a good chance to move forward.IMG_1175


We then stopped at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the historic site where it is believed Mary lived and the angel told Mary she was going to have Jesus.  The church is a huge building, one of the largest in the Middle East, built on top of ruins of caves and part of the original Nazareth village.  I really enjoyed this, and as I told my friend Gregg on Instagram when posting photos, old Catholic roots took over and I did the sign of the cross with holy water.   Seemed appropriate.   We both really enjoyed seeing the church, and then we ran into our friend Bashar Daher, one of the teacher’s from Friends Forever who we ran into on the street.  We spent some time with him, and then headed off with Raed for lunch at a falafel place.  Very good.

IMG_0815That’s when things got crazy.  We stopped at Avis to rent a car, but managed to NOT have made a reservation and there were no cars from either agency in town.   So, we called trust-worthy Raed, and he arranged to have one of his teachers pick us up and drive us to Yagur, in Haifa.  We made it just in time for our meeting with the other half of the Friends Forever delegation from this year.

We visited in the Carmel Zvulun school with the five teens for about an hour.  Once again the reunion was wonderful.  And it was so nice to spend time catching up with the kids.  We then walked together to Kibbutz Yagur, and received a really interesting tour of the history of the Kibbutz.   Yagur began in 1922, and is a collective in the classical sense of a Kibbutz.  All of the members live in community.  They share breakfast and lunch in a dining room, there are two kibbutz factories, and those who work outside of the Kibbutz contribute their income to the whole.  Most of the people were born into it or married into it.   We also learned that until the 1970s children lived not with their parents, but in the family center, and only saw their parents for the “hour of love,” (which was actually about 4 hours, from 4 – 8pm each day). The lived and slept in the dormitories.   Interesting!    The kibbutz has about 1500 residents and is certainly an idealistic living arrangement.  It is so very un-American, yet very intriguing.  And I will definitely bring students to visit it when I do the study abroad trip.

Then Roger, Stephen Martineau (Friends Forever’s executive director, who is in Israel this week to join us), our host Evanna (one of the teachers from Carmel Zvulun and a leader in FF), and her school principal Mira went out to an asian restaurant in Haifa.   I was immediately struck by how Western Haifa is and by how modern the city compared to Nazareth and the Galilee.  We had a great dinner, then drove through Haifa, up the mountainside, and managed to find a museum where the Carmel Rotary was meeting, so Roger could present a rotary banner to their club, on behalf of Sunset Rotary.   They were doing a student debate, so we watched six students give speeches in Hebrew.  I caught some words, but not many.  But it was fun, and when they did the ceremony exchanging banners, they assumed I was also a rotarian, and gave me them too.   I will present them to President Dietz on behalf of their club to the Normal Rotary.IMG_0907

And now, the day ends in Ein Hod, a beautiful artist colony on the Mediterranean Sea.  Roger and I are staying in a visiting artist studio, for the next three nights, as the guest of Evanna.   It is beautiful.  Look for incredible pictures tomorrow.   I can’t really fathom that I am within half a mile of the Med.   Yeah, this has been a tough trip so far.  But somebody has to do it.

Tomorrow morning we will explore the Artist Colony, then meet Evanna and drive to Caesaria, to visit the ancient Herodian port and ruins, and then visit a Druze village, before meeting with the faculty at the University of Haifa Peace Research Center.   Life is good.   Time for sleep.   Photos are uploading to two albums, I’ll share them in the morning.

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