Our day started off with a visit to Caesarea, the ancient Jewish-Roman port created by King Herod to honor his patron Augustus Caesar. The site was fascinating as were the views. But what struck me is that the local Israelis were busily preparing for their upcoming Yom Ha’atzmau’t (Independence Day) Celebration. So the Roman theater, usually of just stone was also filled with very modern sound equipment in preparation for a concert later that day.
As I am coming to understand, Israel has become increasingly developed over the past fourteen years, and Caesarea was no exception. There was now a modern theater with a cinematic presentation to help us understand the strata and history of this site from Roman times through the crusades. With so many layers of construction and destruction, the movie was immensely helpful. Of course, one can now understand why the Roman rulers chose this as their central place of government over Judea instead of Jerusalem. The views alone, let alone the completely Hellenstic nature of the city must of had tremendous appeal.
|Erica, Michael, Howard and Peggy|
|Stewart and Nadine|
|Alex and Nancy|
Following this we scaled up the coast heading to Haifa and its scenic overlook right at the top of the B’hai Gardens. The view of Haifa bay is a sight to behold. One can see there the entire bay from Rambam Hospital out to the ships at sea. We were joined by other tourist groups including a Catholic one from Argentina. Israel really is becoming a destination for tour groups from through out the entire world.
|The Bahai Gardens|
But again, I was struck by all of the development, and it’s unfortunate side effect: traffic. There are certainly many more cars in Israel today as well. Part of the reason for the traffic was Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, but also, there are just more cars. I imagine this is due to Israel’s ever growing economy and sense of prosperity. But with prosperity, unfortunately also comes congestion. One hopes they do turn to the use of electric cars, as is already in the works. And maybe they can also get a few of these cars off the road, but now that the genie is out of the bottle, I fear congestion is only going to get worse.
This development caused us to be late to our very important date. Thankfully our hosts were very understanding as we had lunch at a Druze family home. The Druze are a religion that formed as somewhat of an offshoot from Islam around the year 1000 C.E. The Druze, like the B’hai in some ways, are a very pluralistic community teaching the message of oneness. These Druze are very proudly Israeli and welcome in many tourists throughout the year with a wonderful home cooked meal. We all enjoyed and sampled just about everything there was to try. The home baked varieties of pita were particularly impressive. We left full of knowledge about the Druze and full of belly.
|Our Druze Host|
We then had a change in itinerary due to our tardiness to the Druze community. On our way to Tiberius we stopped by the catacombs in Beit Shearim. These catacombs were once home to such notables as Judah HaNasi, the redactor and editor of the Mishnah. This was a site I do not recall visiting during my previous time in Israel, and I was immensely impressed by the scope of these ancient burial chambers built in a cave. The sarcophagus weighing over four tons were impressive to say the least. One of my favorite parts is the Menorah carved right into the wall of the catacombs.
|One of the inscriptions which reads "Good luck in your resurrection"|
We then concluded our travels with the oldest Zionist cemetery of Kibbutz Kinneret. There we listened to the words of Rachel the Poet. Serenity was easy to find both in her words and in the setting.
|Our Guide Mike at the tomb of Rachel the Poetess|
After another wonderful buffet dinner at the hotel because many restaurants are closed for Yom HaZikaron, a group of us headed out to enjoy Yom Ha’atzma’ut in Tiberius. Though nowhere near as crazy as my time in Jerusalem on Ben Yehuda, it was nonetheless a fun evening. There were fireworks, cheap chathkes, sheleg (white foam spray), and abundant laughter to be found.
Israelis, and the many tourists, were clearly all in the mood to celebrate Israel’s 64 years. One of the pleasant surprises was when we came back to the hotel to find a singer in the bar singing many classic tunes while some of the locals were up dancing in circles. We Americans may know how to bar-b-que on the 4th of July, but Israelis still truly understand the meaning of what it means to be a free and independent people.