A Travellerspoint blog

The Baha'i in Haifa Israel

Life in Israel

Haifa has a multicultural and multi religious population of 260,000, with a Jewish prevalence (91%). The well-integrated Arab minority is Christian (4.5%), Muslim (3.5%) and Druze (1%). Road signs in Cyrillic, alongside Hebrew, Arabic and English, are signs of the extensive Russian community here (25%). It is known as the city of peaceful coextensive and the third largest city in Israel. I am blessed to live in the Mercaz (central) community in Haifa. The community includes some middle class and upscale housing, several swank hotels, the city zoo, and of course the world famous Baha'i Gardens.
There is a popular expression in Israel: “In JERUSALEM people pray, in HAIFA they work, in TEL AVIV they have fun”. Haifa gives the impression of a world light-years away from the religiosity of Jerusalem and the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv. Here everything is different; the city is positioned on top of a magnificent bay, and although the typical white stone that is characteristic of the whole country prevails, the buildings and skyscrapers have a variety of styles, and the port is busy with bustling commerce. The many industries in the area are mainly concentrated in the so called Krayot, surrounding villages. The city is dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha'i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the faith, Baha'ullah. The presence of the Baha'i for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city.

Haifa is the international headquarters for the Baha'i Faith, which began midst persecution in Persia in the mid-19th century. Baha'i s believe in the unity of all religions and believe that messengers of God like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad have been sent at different times in history with doctrines varying to fit changing social needs, but bringing substantially the same message.

The most recent of these heavenly teachers, according to the Baha'i s, was Baha'ullah (1817-92), whose arrival was heralded by the Bab. Baha'ullah was exiled by the Turkish authorities to Acre (Akko), where he wrote his doctrines and died in peace at the Bahji House.

The Bab's remains were hidden for years after he died a martyr's death in front of a firing squad in 1850. Eventually, the Bab's remains were secretly carried to the Holy Land. During one of his visits to Haifa in 1890, Baha'ullah pointed out to his son the spot on Mount Carmel where the remains of the Bab should be laid to rest in a befitting tomb.

At first, the Bab's tomb was housed in a simple six-room stone building, constructed in 1899-1909. In 1921, the Baha'i leader Abdu'l-Bahá (eldest son of Baha'ullah) was also buried in the shrine.

In 1948-53, Shoghi Effendi oversaw a major enlargement to the shrine designed in the Neo-Classical style by architect William Sutherland Maxwell. The Seat of the Universal House of Justice, where the governing body of the Baha'i Faith meets, was added in 1975-83. Also Neo-Classical in style, it was designed by architect Husayn Amanat.

The famous Baha'i Gardens (a.k.a. Terraced Gardens) were designed by architect Fariborz Sahba and constructed between 1990 and 2001. In 2008, UNESCO named the Baha'i Shrine a World Heritage Site along with the shrine and tomb of Baha'u'llah in Acre.

I enjoy wandering around my community, visiting the zoo, taking the daily tour of the gardens in English, visiting the Cinameteque theater and several museums which are in the mercaz, and of course eating. The Mercaz houses several high quality restaurants as well as your expected McDonald’s and lots of pizza and falafel shops.

My favorite gift shop in the area is Ahuva Art & Craft owned by Ahuva Kahana. The word Ahuva means beloved in English. Ahuva has been creating, designing and marketing jewelry and gifts since 1976, at which time she began distributing art and jewelry items of her original design and the design of other Israeli artists. She originated the idea of opening a gift shop in Haifa having in mind the needs of the Believers of the Baha'i faith, Jews and Christians. The gift shop is located in a very central and accessible area, just a short walk from the Baha'i Shrine, the Baha'i Gardens and the center of the Carmel. It is very important for Ahuva to pay special attention to the requirements and desires of all the religions. You can find in her shop all items regarding the Baha'i faith, including original jewelry and gifts. You can also find items regarding the Jewish traditional holidays and observances as well as kaballah jewelry and symbols. She also sells many jewelry and gift items for the Christian religion. Ahuva, as is true in the case of many residents of Haifa, is active in promoting unity in Haifa and in our region. She has a special relationship with followers of the Baha'i throughout the world.

During my latest shopping spree Rabbi Edgar Nof and I agreed to promote an interfaith activity close to the entrance of the Baha'i Gardens in the very near future. We are planning to invite Jewish, Baha'i, Muslim, and Christian members of our community to sing together, eat lots of food, discuss life in our city, and tell the world what we do in the City of Peaceful Coexistence. Many Muslim, and Christian leaders in Haifa already have loved the idea and we have began to plan the activity. This is indeed The City of Peaceful Coexistence.

Posted by eshugerman 08:08 Archived in Israel Tagged and israel arts haifa crafts baha'i coexistence Comments (0)

Is Doggy Day Care Needed in Haifa?

Life in Israel

I am sitting at my favorite 'watering hole and source of nutrition' - The Kapiot Café, in Haifa Israel. The restaurant has a beautiful view of the bay and overlooks the east edge of The Baha'i Gardens. The food is traditional American and Israeli cooking. This is due to the fact that many tourists stay at the posh hotels in our community and visit the gardens. You can order hamburgers and French fries or hummus and pita. The cafe seats one hundred customers and the prices are fair. The hamburger and fries cost about seven American dollars without the drink.

The cafe owners are Offir and Avi. They are both in their late 20s. Offir is married with two youngsters, Agam (Lake) and Amok. And, there is also a three year old terrier named Snow. He gets the same love and attention that canines receive in my native United States. Sadly, both of his parents work and therefore he is left home alone much of the time. He may have some problems because of that. He has a crush on an orange blanket and seems to reject many beef products. Avi is single but involved with Tami. She is the mother of a seven year old boy and two year old Schnauzer.

Sarah is one of my beloved servers. She and her boyfriend also work and leave their two “puppies” in their 'bayt' or home much of the time. They both exhibit the nervous scratching symptoms associated with canine depression. Is a lack of sufficient companionship a cause? I would bet on it! Sarah agrees, "I wish that I could spend more time with Choo Choo" she often exclaims. "He would be less nervous, poor baby". "Moti seems calmer but we try to give him attention when it is possible". The restaurant has a canine trough outside for those traveling in the community with their pets. Moti is a frequent visitor.

Many Israeli parents need to work two jobs, as people do in America. Does this create some of the problems that exist in my native United States? I worked at an after school program for children at risk aged nine to twelve. Many of the kids came from homes where parents were often absent. The counselors all agreed that lack of parental contact was a primary cause of behavioral issues.

In the meantime, Israelis do see the four legged pets as their best friends. Does the need for pet sitters and other such services exist? Yes. And such supports are widespread. Haifa, like many communities in this country, has animal rescue shelters, many veterinary centers, professional dog walkers, kennels, pet shops, and day care centers. Israel even has a doggy television station for your informed pets. Therefore, for those of you planning to spend time in Israel, do not worry. Your canine friends will have more than ample services, please have them join you!

Posted by eshugerman 02:36 Tagged dogs pets israel haifa Comments (0)

Scenes from a Haifa Mall.

Life in Israel.

The Ego Food and Coffee in the world famous Dan Panorama Hotel Mall is my favorite place in Haifa to eat Cinnamon rolls and sip an occasional vodka and diet coke. The cafe is located in the center of an upscale shopping mall within the hotel facility. There are two levels of jewelry shops, restaurants, clothing stores, and my spiritual home - the local Habad gift shop and study center. The building is modern and well lighted, unfortunately it seems to always have a musky smell perhaps that of mold in this humid metropolis, and the background music always seems just a bit too loud. The hotel is part of the Dan Hotels Corporation founded by the Federman family in 1947. They own the world famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem and luxury hotels throughout Israel. They operate a school for chefs in Haifa and help cater The Israeli Defense Forces. I am planning to study sugar sculpturing 101 at the vaunted institution of higher learning.

The Ego is owned by Serge and Hannah. They are vatikkim (or old timers) in Israel. Serge is a French oleh or immigrant who came to Israel in 1948. Hannah and family came during the same period from Chelm Poland, yes the famous home of Polish humor. Both of them were fortunate to come from families that managed to escape the horrors of the holocaust. They have two sons in their twenties and five grandchildren.

The cafe serves family style meals in respects similar to a mid-priced cafe in the states. Patrons and employees come from every nation and background on earth. The world famous Bahai Gardens is a few hundred yards behind the hotel, which means that we hear several languages spoken every time we enjoy the culinary delights of The Ego. Baha'i visitors come from all over the world. The languages of Israel, Hebrew, Arabic, and English are dominant but Spanish and Russian are widely spoken as well. My favorite servers Samantha and Eileen are from Argentina and converse in Spanish at home and work. My American style Espanol is a great source of joy to them due to my accent plus hesitancy in pronouncing the words. We just laugh and enjoy the sense of camaraderie. Samantha is about twenty five and studying graphic arts. Eileen is just twenty and recently completed two years of national service in place of the required military service for women in Israel. Her family is Haredi or Orthodox and she chose to do volunteer service for our country. She had the option as a religious Jew to avoid any commitments. Eileen, like many Israelis never forgets the lesson of Nazi tyranny and found a way to serve her country. We have no other choice. Many of our enemies still vow our destruction.

Katia is another one of my favorite servers. She is razor thin, aged twenty, and a former citizen of Russia. She informed us yesterday with great joy that she just got married. We inquired about the details. All of us were taken by surprise. She responded by telling us that they eloped to Cyprus. It was not done simply for romantic purposes. She and her spouse are not from religious backgrounds and never received formal Jewish studies. The laws relating to marriage in Israel are strictly Halacha based. As a result, non-traditional Jewish couples are forced to submit to an Orthodox marriage ceremony with an Orthodox rabbi and are compelled to classes on family purity. No Israeli may marry outside his faith community. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish or whose Jewish ancestry is in doubt are unable to marry at all inside Israel.

Mati is another of the employees of The Ego. She is twenty and from Jerusalem. Her family is very Haradi or Orthodox Jewish. They immigrated from Morocco in 1952 along with tens of thousands of Olim from Arabic countries. Many of the citizens of Israel come from similar backgrounds. She has jet black hair and is a student of architecture at The University of Haifa. Sadly, my friend is now living in Haifa because she fled her Orthodox home to study and learn about the world outside of traditional Judaism. Her family in many ways has rejected Mati. "I wanted to learn to be an architect she moaned". Woman should have the right to learn, study, and travel. Her story is not unusual in this complicated nation. She is leaving next month to work in Canada for a year. She wants to earn money of course, but fine tuning her English skills is her main goal. This is very common among young Israelis.
Serge is a hair stylist. He and his wife also own the upscale beauty salon in the mall. The services include pedicures, manicures, and facials. Liah who performs these wonderful services is in her late 30s, married, and the mother of two teen aged sons.
She was born and raised in a Kibbutz or collective settlement in northern Israel. Her family moved to Haifa five years ago to enjoy the benefits of city life. "We were just plain bored and grew tired of agricultural life" explained Liah. The trend from rural to urban life in Israel is fairly widespread as it is in much of the world.

Today is Monday and, as usually is the case, the mall is filled with shoppers, employees, and hotel guests from virtually every background and nation on earth. I am writing this post while listening to numerous languages spoken simultaneously around me. Jews, Christians, Druze, Muslims and of course Baha'i work together, shop together, and of course enjoy the food at the wonderful cafes. The is a reflection of life in this wonderful city. The manager of the elegant Dan Panorama dining room is a Christian with Italian roots. His family came here long before 1948.

Another of the cafe managers, Muad is a follower of the Ahmadiyya stream of Islam. There are about one hundred million Ahmadis in the world. They rarely get much attention due to the fact that are universally peaceful.

Haifa indeed earns its reputation as The City of Peaceful Coexistence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, and others live together with a fair degree of respect and freedom. The mall is a panorama of life in our beloved city. People often ask me why life in Israel and the rest of the region is not similar to the one that we share. The answer is that this is a unique and separate urban entity. The conditions that exist in Haifa differ from those in other communities in our region. Is life in Detroit the same as San Francisco? Hebron and Ramallah are also different places. Israel has a wide variety of political parties, social views, family backgrounds, and ethnic origins. The same is true of our Palestinian neighbors. Life here does offer hope that people can live together in harmony in this troubled region. Will it happen? Haifa is an example of one community in this region where it has been done. Hopefully, others will do the same.

Posted by eshugerman 02:21 Archived in Israel Tagged panorama mall israel dan peace haifa Comments (0)

AACI, The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.

Life in Israel

English speaking Olim have a myriad of organisations and groups to support their new life in Israel. The largest private organisation that supports all of us is the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel). It has offices throughout Israel. Twenty five thousand English speaking Israelis belong to this wonderful organization.

The author of this article is especially appreciative of the AACI’s sterling work. The efforts of Yanina Muskinow their representative for the north proved invaluable during my acclimation. AACI, a voluntary, non-profit organization, was established in 1951 to help North American immigrants acclimate to Israeli society and to build strong ties between North American Jewish communities and Israel. AACI is governed by a lay board and administered by a professional staff. Its many activities are financed through the support of foundations, annual membership dues, an annual fundraising drive and private donations.

AACI provides a wealth of services and programs to cater for its membership:
Professional counseling on Aliyah and Klitah (absorption)
Employment Resource Center
Emergency, mortgage and small business loans
Support groups
Advice Sessions: tax, banking, translation and more
Legal consultations
Blood bank privileges
The AACI Cohen Library for the Visually Impaired
Senior Outreach
AACI Acts can move mountains when its members’ welfare is at stake.
AACI Acts:
Lobbied successfully to modify the effect of new Israeli tax laws on immigrants;
Produced and distributed a free Emergency Handbook and held gas mask demonstrations prior to and during the Gulf War;
Confronted the social, economic and psychological pressures affecting its membership through the Seniors Outreach Project.
AACI Community offers a warm and welcoming environment, with special programs targeting families, young adults, mid-lifers and seniors. Members participate in:
Welcome Home events for new olim (immigrants)
Home Hospitality
4th of July/Canada Day & Thanksgiving Celebrations
AACI Travel Experience & Study Vacations
Social and Cultural Programs,
Lectures and more including (our new Writers' Group?)

The challenges of immigrating to this amazing and complicated nation have been overwhelming to me at times. I have often said to myself should I return to my native United States? There is a new language to learn, a diverse and complicated culture to understand and sadly ongoing security threats from within and our neighbors. Yet, I am still here six years later thanks in great part to the support of my friends at AACI.
They even honored me by choosing me as their volunteer of the year in Northern Israel.

Posted by eshugerman 01:36 Archived in Israel Tagged israel haifa immigration olim aaci Comments (0)

Alexa, The Perils of Young and Old.

Life in Israel

My friend Alexa and I were sitting at my favorite cafe in Haifa, the Kapiot café, discussing my concerns about my age related tipshoot (silly) behavior. I turned sixty five in April. The once twenty minute walk to the cafe now takes thirty. It is more due to the fact that I almost always seem to forget something than physical conditioning. I forgot my ex- wife's birthday for the first time in March. It was on my calendar which I neglected to review. Beautiful young women like Alexa now seem like granddaughters of grade school age. My once healthy appetite for dining has greatly dissipated. Alexa tried to reassure me that things are not as bleak as they seem. "Earl, I do silly things at my age," she mused. She blames her mistakes on being twenty. My buddy is just finishing her military service with the Israeli Army. Alexa recounted this sad tale:

"I arrived at the Haifa Lev Hamifratz bus station at 7:00 AM this morning. The second that I stepped out of the bus I realized that I won’t be getting to Tel Aviv as planned. The special bus lines that they bring in for soldiers, which I was hoping to board, are only relevant on Sundays. After a short calculation I discovered that today was NOT a Sunday, but a Tuesday. Boarding a train wasn't an option either, as the same rule applies. That was stupid act number one!

I hesitated for a while, shifting my weight on the platform from one foot to another like a ballerina on a warm up. I decided to go to Jerusalem in a hope of catching the 8:45 AM bus to my army base. Two minutes after departure, I realized that I could board a train to Tel Aviv. Since, again, it was not a Sunday (and the public transportation restrictions for soldiers only extend as far as Sundays). Ouch, I goofed again!

My arrival at Jerusalem was at 9:30 AM. The central bus station doesn't quite look and smell like a daisy field of lovely blossoms, but it’s still better than Tel Aviv’s balagan (mad house) of crazy people looking like convicted murderers, blood curdling music and nauseating, poisonous food. I was already quite upset about the earlier degradation in my brain activity, and the fact that I missed the bus didn't help lifting up my spirits. To summarize: I was frustrated, and had loads of time to spare till the next bus to the base (12:45 PM), I was starting to feel hungry. It was a very grim looking state of affairs indeed.

But, of course, a brave young soldier wouldn't let minor misfortunes discourage her. I decided to find a place to sit and roll a cigarette. Humming the “Two and a Half Men” opening theme, I rolled a beautiful cigarette that could be the envy of many. I took a moment to glow with pride in my ever-expanding skill.

Still humming, I went out to the platform to smoke this work of art. There were herds of people outside, many of them soldiers. I smoked quietly oblivious to the rumblings of the world around me.

Upon finishing the cigarette, I approached the door and pushed it. However, to my genuine amazement, it didn't budge. Perfect! I thought to myself, and tried to push it again. Being a rational, quick-witted adult, I reckoned this might be a pull door and not a push door. Therefore, I started looking feverishly for a handle that I could pull. It was then that I heard it.

“Are you getting tired yet”, a voice called to me from behind. I turned to the left to discover an amused looking 'Magav' soldier who was following my actions with a look full of wonder. He might have been a child witnessing the fireworks for the very first time.

“Yes…looks like I don’t even have enough strength to push the damned door.” I cracked something that was meant to be a charming smile, but it turned out to look more like a grimace. He smiled and took a sip from his coke.

"Yeah…well, it’s a window, not a door", he pronounced. "Try the one to your right.” Once again I committed a mental folly.

I blinked at him. For all I knew, he could have just said that a pair of unicorns was giving free haircuts outside the station. Looking to my right I saw a doorknob, a door! I swallowed and pulled it, deciding not to speak for a while. Should I crawl away and hide somewhere? Yes, that would be the right thing to do.

So here I am now… humming no more, feeling like the most mentally challenged creature on the planet. When did this start happening? When did I go all foolish like this? How many people have noticed?

I think I should stop going outside, unless absolutely necessary, I should wear a sign around my neck saying: "dangerous when thinking”. It might clear up lots of confusion…"

I listened to her quietly, when a smile crossed my face. Age has always been a troubling issue. You could be in a place in your life when you're longing to grow up, or quite the opposite - you might have just started thinking about striking a deal with the devil to stop the time from seeping right through your fingers. There is no way around it, since we live on borrowed time and our days are numbered. But upon hearing this amusing story, I came to think that perhaps the only thing we could do to make the living meaningful, is to trick time. Do things inappropriate of your age - eat a steak at 10 AM in the morning, pull a push door, be that strange bird that just wouldn't sit on the perch assigned to it. Be twenty at the age of sixty, be that child that nobody believed you could be. It might just make your sun shine brighter.

Thank you, Alexa, for reassuring me that we all have our weak moments and that age may not be the only issue in my case.

Posted by eshugerman 01:29 Archived in Israel Tagged military youth israel humor haifa seniors Comments (0)

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