Our son Moshe is visiting from his home in Arizona. Whenever either of our sons is in Israel, it’s a great chance to hit the road and discover or rediscover some of the amazing places to see in Israel.
We drove north to Haifa, which was the most developed industrial city during the British Palestine Mandate period (c.1917-1948). As far back as the Talmudic period (from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE to the mid-6th century CE), Haifa had a well-established Jewish community. Today, Haifa is Israel’s third largest city of nearly 300,000, with extensive port facilities, two top universities – the Technion and Haifa University – a large hi-tech campus, and beautiful beaches.
We arrived in Haifa in time to join the 12-noon English-language tour of the Bahá’í Gardens, which are known worldwide and are today’s version of Babylon’s famed Hanging Gardens. The fabulous terraces, stretching from Haifa’s top level to its lowest, are a unique setting any time of the year.
“The Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. At its heart stands the golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, which is the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. While different parts of the gardens offer a variety of experiences, they speak in a common language of graveled paths, hedges and flower beds groomed and nurtured by dedicated gardeners. The gardens frame panoramic views of the city, the Galilee Hills and the Mediterranean Sea.” (ganbahai.org)
The small Bahá’í religion is an offshoot of Islam. It’s a religion which teaches the essential worth of all religions and the unity and equality of all people. It was established in Iran by Bahá’u’lláh in 1863, from where it spread across the Middle East. It has faced ongoing persecution since its inception and is outlawed in many countries. The largest population centers are in India, the US, and Kenya. While the graves of Bahá’u’lláh and his precursor, the Báb, are in Israel, no adherents of the faith live here permanently. However, unpaid volunteers reside here for 2-5 year periods working with the Bahá’í administration. The Bahá’í Gardens and another garden site near Akko, where the Báb is buried, are the two sacred sites of the faith.
We finished the Gardens tour and meandered to nearby Ben Gurion St., the heart of Haifa’s German Colony. The German Templer neighborhood was established in 1868. The Templers purchased land outside of Haifa, which then had only 4,000 residents. They also established other colonies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and throughout Palestine.
The Templers took their name from the German Temple Society, which strictly followed the New Testament. They intended to build the first planned agricultural community in the Holy Land. Today, they are mostly known for the large, beautiful stone homes they constructed. The Templers prospered in Palestine but suffered as a result of their German affiliations during the two World Wars, when members of the community sided with the Germans. In 1947, the Templers were deported from Palestine to Australia by the British. Eventually, in 1962, they were compensated for their lost properties by the Israeli government.
Haifa is mountainous, with the lower, port area and beaches on the Mediterranean Sea; the middle, commercial/residential area where the Technion is located; and the uppermost tier, home to expensive neighborhoods, luxury hotels, and the Haifa University campus with its iconic skyscraper towering over Mt. Carmel and the city.
We had lunch in our favorite restaurant, Scheherazade, on Ben Gurion Street. We enjoyed a fabulous meal with local specialties while enjoying the atmosphere (there was even a red Ferrari parked there) on the street, which has many Christian Arab and Jewish cafes and restaurants. Since this was the week before Christmas, many restaurants, the sidewalks, and the streets were decorated with lights, reindeer and more, all creating a festive atmosphere.
After a circuitous route all the way up Mt. Carmel’s winding streets, we quickly (because we knew this relatively obscure museum was in the basement of the towering administration building) found the Hecht Museum, which was established in 1984 by wealthy businessman Reuben Hecht. The museum, which has free admission and parking, includes Hecht’s extensive collection of archaeological artifacts representing finds from Israel in ancient times, from the Canaanite period to the end of the Byzantine period (3,300 BCE-638 CE). According to Hecht, archeology is an important expression of Zionism. The ancient artifacts in the collection are proof of the link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
In addition to the museum’s extensive collections of metalwork, woodwork, stone vessels, glass, and mosaics is the Ma’agan Michael Ship. This reconstructed wreck of a fifth-century BCE merchantman vessel has provided researchers with insights into ancient methods of shipbuilding and the evolution of anchors.
In my opinion, the Hecht Museum has an impressive archaeological collection, second only to the much larger galleries at the Israel Museum. Here, one gets a comprehensive look at Israel’s ancient past in a relatively short time. However, we were pressed for time and a second trip will be necessary to absorb it all. In addition to the archaeology galleries, there is also an adjacent “Art Collection” which includes French paintings of the Barbizon School, Impressionism, Post-impressionism, and the School of Paris, and Jewish art from mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Michal and I look forward to seeing this collection as well. (See wikipedia.com)
Haifa’s Arab population had relatively good relations with Jews in the early 20th century, even during the British Mandate, when the city was nearly evenly split between Jews and Arabs (70,000 Jews/65,000 Arabs). However, after the 1938 Partition Plan was being implemented by the Jews (while spurned by the Arabs), many violent incidents caused tension. The Arabs fought against the establishment of a Jewish state and by April 1948, when the Haganah Jewish fighting force took over Haifa, many Arabs had fled the city. Today Haifa’s population is roughly 80% Jewish, 18% Arab (mostly Christian), plus Druze and others. Haifa, often ignored by tourists who have only 7-8 days to see all of Israel, has many hidden gems and is well worth a visit.