Thoughts on Haifa

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.

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