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.