“You are Baha’is?” A staff member of our hotel asked us in a thick Israeli accent.
“No,” we laughed. “We are Iranian, but we’re Jewish.”
It didn’t take me long to put two and two together. Coming from the staff member’s perspective, when he sees Iranian looking folks in a hotel in Haifa what would he assume?
Most Iranians, either living in or visiting Israel, would probably be in Jerusalem because it resembles the city of Esfahan. It is an ancient city in Iran that once had a large Jewish community. Many of that Esfahani Jewish community now lives in Jerusalem or visits their family there.
Therefore, if he sees Iranian tourists staying in a hotel in Haifa, what else would he think they could possibly be there for other than to visit the Bahai garden, which symbolizes the spectacular diversity of Haifa.
Haifa is Israel proper’s most diverse city. Though it is 82% Jewish, it is also 14% Christian, of both Arabs and even Armenians! The Arab Muslim community makes up 4%, and there are also noticeable Druze and Baha’i communities.
The Baha’i Garden was one of my “must see” sites when I was going to Israel, so my heart leaped with joy when I heard that it was within walking distance of my hotel and free!
As we went along the sidewalk towards the gate, we could already see the garden and the Shrine of the Bab from a distance.
It was a well groomed garden with seemingly endless layers of terraces.
The terraces were striped with the greenest and freshest grass you will ever see.
Roses beaming red so bright from the very bottom of the garden that you could depict them from the very top, outside of the gate.
Two sets of orange colored flowers shaped in a star figure, on opposite sides, on the second to last level.
It was a picture you would look from top to bottom with each detail described above becoming smaller and smaller until the exterior of the Shrine of the Bab stands out shining at you in the end.
When I stood in line by the gate, I noticed something heartwarming. To my left was a man wearing a Kippa (yammakah) speaking Hebrew. To my right was a woman wearing a Hejab, and in front of us was a Black security guard. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing: I, an Iranian, with an Israeli Jew and an Arab Muslim, were checked by an African security guard to go into the Bahai Faith’s second holiest site. That’s as diverse as it gets.
I was told to spit my gum out to respect the religious integrity of the Bahai Faith’s holy site.
I took countless pictures on each terrace. Everything looked like the perfect profile picture on Facebook. And with each level we went down, we got a better view of the Shrine of the Bab from a distance. I had my picture taken with it in the background on every level, always thinking the next one was the perfect match.
I also learned about the Bahai Faith and the shrine as I read the brochure during the tour.
The Baha’i Faith is one of the more recent, if not the newest, religions in the world. It is also known to be a faith of progressivism and coexistence between all communities. For instance, the faith was established in 1844 and was ranked the “second-most widespread religion,” according the 2001 World Christian Encyclopedia. The Baha’ullah also promoted the ideas of gender equality and of an individual seeking his or her own truth. These were considerably progressive values given the period it was founded.
The Shrine of the Bab is the second holiest site in the Baha’i Faith, after the Shrine of the Baha’ullah. It is the resting place of the “Bab,” whom Baha’is see as the Messenger of God. His mission was to prepare people for the coming of Baha’ullah.
The Bab was a young merchant in 19th century Persia and, because his teachings were controversial for his time and place, was martyred in 1850. However, his remains were preserved and protected for nearly 60 years until he was eventually brought to the Holy Land in 1909. The golden dome that was created to honor him was completed in 1953 and had 18 terraces designed as a pathway, in 1987, for future pilgrimages. It was opened publicly in Haifa in 2001 “as an appropriate setting and approach for pilgrims and visitors to this Baha’i Holy Place.”
“Bo’h Eyli’av,” (come to me) the guide yelled in Hebrew heading down to the next level. I was so caught up in reading and taking pictures, as were many of the other people on the tour.
Unfortunately, we could not go to the Shrine of the Bab up close after 12:00. Nevertheless, anyone who plans to visit Haifa should take this tour. It is free and relaxing. I also hope to visit the shrine up close and the Baha’i Faith’s holiest site, the Shrine of Baha’ullah, near Acre later on in my trip.