Audio Version – [Soundcloud Link]
So why was I in Israel?
Backtrack a week to around mid November, I received a Facebook message from an account I didn’t recognise, it went something like “Hey Ananda, its Heath and Bec, do you feel to come to Israel with us next week? All expenses will be covered.” Naturally I was both excited and suspicious, was this message from a pictureless account named ‘Corey’ on the level? I tried calling Heath’s number to no avail and eventually just let it be.
Later in the week Elsie sent me a message; Heath wanted to get in contact with me about something exciting, I gave her my landline number to pass on, she replied with “Wow. Wait till you hear what they want to ask you!”. I think I had an idea.
Heath and I met in Byron Bay, I hadn’t seen him in a year, he was dressed all white and was beaming with joy, a glorious smile and knowing gaze through thick and flowing facial hair. We sat on the beach and spoke as if no time had passed, our eyes dancing in bliss, our dialogue fresh and fluid. Past the initial conversation I found the suspicious Facebook message to be true, they were going to Israel and wanted me to join the group. I said yes.
It was a scary decision however, I have recently fallen into a full time caring role and would consider my absence to be sorely missed. I talked about it with my care and her mother, big reactions averse to my desire. Yet, the pull was to go and I obeyed.
So less than a week later tickets were booked and I was ready to go, I stepped through the pleading and emotional turmoil of my human surroundings and found clarity and excitement for the impending journey. And now, here I was in Haifa, Israel, my first adventure outside the country in six years.
Our temporary home at the top of a long hill was an old fashioned Israeli guesthouse, art deco furniture held family trinkets, a carpeted kitchen and dining space endowed with retro furniture made for our communal area. We threw our bags to our rooms, it was almost night and though fatigued we were excited to see what the town had to offer, that and we each shared a ravenous hunger unsatisfied by empty airline meals.
We set off to map the surrounding landscape, one step forth from the gate to the sidewalk, a unanimous decision to turn right and meander down the hill. We walked and walked, no sign of shops. Down the long steep sidewalk from whence our taxi had delivered us a great stone wall protruded, we discovered it to be the Bahá’í gardens and temple. Black and gold wrought iron gates towered above and through the embellished steel, we saw gracefully manicured hedges, grass and ornamental orange trees. It was night and the gardens were closed, we made a collective mental note to revisit during the day.
Onward we strode, our mental legs tired from the thought of returning up the suburban mountain, we turned a blind corner to find further steep descent. Disheartened we stopped at an intersection to discuss our potential folly and flag down a taxi home, David however sought the aid of locals washing their car up a side street and discovered there to be a falafel house not too far from where we were. Down hills and steps, through back alleys, dodging stray cats and marvelling at crudely philosophical graffiti we opened to the prophesised falafel house, our bellies rumbled.
We made friends with the owner and his falafel artists while they adorned us with hearty pockets of pickles, spices and the traditional deep fried chickpea balls. Our hunger now satiated and our foreign social appetite at ease we stepped into two taxis and gently rode back to the guesthouse to rest for the night.
Our bodies lagged with the feeling of still being in Australia, across from the guesthouse we noted the recently opened gates of a large sandstone monastery and after fueling with traditional Turkish stimulants we set to introduce ourselves. Up the winding driveway to the peak we came to the heavy iron doors, twice the size of any of us and adorned in strong metal studs, David – the courageous of the bunch – tried the door to no avail then knocked loudly, we heard the echo through the silence – no response. Eventually we turned back toward the road, as we walked down the drive a side door opened to an irritable looking man, though no English spoken we got the impression that the monastery was closed.
From the hapless cathedral visit our first full day was in rest and recovery after the twenty four hour flight marathon, we laughed and conversed around the dining table, spouting nonsense philosophy and sharing food before sliding between the sheets for a good rest.
We cultivated a morning ritual of coffee at a shop just down the road, it was an outdoor place settled among pine trees with a big electrical box converted to a blackboard, coloured chalk dust littered the ground as we sketched patterns and played with the owner’s dog. Each day Elsie evolved her masterpiece – a cosmic feminine giving birth to the divine. The owner in delight, took photos and offered us more coffee.
The Bahá’í gardens was the plan for the morning, Bec said she saw another entrance at the top of the hill, we walked upward along foothpaths decorated with diverse and colourful bougainvillea. A large group was gathered at the relatively modest entrance to the gardens, a tour was about to begin, alas not for us as the speaker was Russian and the tour pre-booked. Back we went, the long detour downhill to the large gates – our original sighting of the gardens.
The gates were open, in their place was a metal detector and three serious looking security guards, an Edward Norton look-alike swished me with a wand ensuring my pockets weren’t full of danger then let me through. My feet took me from soft sandstone to sharp white gravel, perfect square hedges lined a long walk downhill, beyond the green border shrubs lay manicured grass, colourful flowers and orange trees – their bright fruit contrasting against green leaf giving me a deep feeling of aesthetic pleasure.
Pride and perfection shown on these grounds, I reached the end of the narrow parade and to my left an old Israeli man on a chair pointed me to another, this one heading toward a beautiful golden domed temple, pencil pines stood guarding graceful arches along the side wall of the structure, my path sided with more meticulous hedge taking me to the clean middle eastern building, white circular pillars towered above me as I stood and gaped and took in the feat of architecture – this built for the greatest unknown and the greatest assumed in human experience.
I felt relief as I was instructed to not speak when entering the temple shrine, not so much for myself but for the silence of otherwise noisy tourists. The room in which I entered thick with reverence for the divine mystery, deep red rose bunches in polished brass vases stood each side of the observable altar, eloquent mid-eastern carpet divided by a short marble walkway stopped by thin crisscrossed wire protecting the inner sanctum. On one wall hung a tapestry displaying ‘the tablet of visitation’, delightfully poetic and reverent verse spoken submissively by a Bahá’í servant.
I retreated from the space and resumed my idle pace among the gardens, soon after coming to a ledge overlooking the city and bay of Haifa, vast and smoky industry centred by a nuclear power plant gave a clear contrast of where I stood. Turning back I watched an orange part from its branch to join fellow fruit on the clear cut green grass below – a garden oasis in this desert city.
I moved slowly for the entrance to await my friends still wandering and marvelling and sat on the steps in peace and solitude.