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Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 1.
In July of 2006, I went on a Baha’i pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel. For Baha’is, pilgrimage entails visiting the shrines of the Bab, the Herald of the Baha’i Faith, and Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith.
My husband and I went on pilgrimage together, leaving the U.S. and stopping first in London, England to visit the grave of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Faith. While there, the Baha’i World Centre contacted us, informing us about significant danger occurring in the Haifa region due to the conflict between Lebanon and Israel. The Centre asked if we wished to proceed. Despite the concerns, we were excited and committed to our goal of visiting the Holy Land.
From Heathrow Airport, we left rainy and cloudy London behind. We flew over Cyprus and landed in Tel Aviv. The sun greeted us, and the salty sea air blew winds that refreshed our spirits, preparing us for our spiritual journey ahead.
To reach our hotel, we needed transportation from the airport. Although not fluent in Hebrew, my husband made some educated guesses, pushed a few buttons, and withdrew the local currency (shekels) from the ATM machine.
After withdrawing our shekels, we hailed a sherut. This taxi-cab/van-like vehicle was packed with passengers and luggage as tight as sardines in a can.
As we arrived in Haifa, we were struck by the beauty of Mount Carmel and the glistening, blue Mediterranean sea. The fast-paced sherut hustled us through the city to our hotel. The honking of the plethora of sheruts and white cars around us reminded us of the busy Chicago suburbs we then called home. We learned that many people in Israel drove white vehicles because of the heat and sun.
Upon arrival at our hotel, our accommodations quickly changed. Hotel staff moved us to a different hotel in their chain–one more heavily guarded by security, and farther from the reach of the Katyusha rockets continually fired from Lebanon towards Israel.
For safety purposes, hotel staff placed us in a room facing away from Lebanon, and therefore, not facing the sea or the Baha’i gardens on Mount Carmel. With this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we requested a room facing the sea and the gardens instead.
The kind hotel staff obliged us, despite their concerns for our safety. They placed us in comfortable quarters on the 15th floor with an amazing view of the Bab’s Shrine and the stunningly beautiful Baha’i gardens that surround it. The view took our breath away—but the trek up and down the many flights of stairs to the subterranean bomb shelter exhausted us. At all hours of the day or night, sirens blared, warning of incoming Katyusha rockets, urging us to head to the basement shelter, located in what used to be a disco-themed aerobics classroom. We’d sit on exercise mats, waiting for the all clear from the security personnel. The experience was surreal.
One night, exhausted from our hikes up and down the stairs to the bomb shelter, we slept right through a late-night siren. The next morning, our worried fellow pilgrims were relieved to see us alive and well at breakfast.
All of the Baha’i pilgrims in our hotel ate together in the large dining hall, seated near CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, there filming a piece on the international conflicts. We later learned from a Baha’i engineer, also on pilgrimage, that, due to the Katyusha rockets’ low accuracy and short range, it was highly improbable they’d reach our hotel. My husband and I felt a little better about our room choice.
The Baha’i Faith is a global religion, and as part of the wonder of pilgrimage, we met Baha’is from all over the world. Our guide was the wife of Hartmut Grossmann, a member of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council for the worldwide Baha’i community.
At the beginning of our pilgrimage, our group stood for a picture on the steps in front of Abdu’l-Baha’s house. Above us, a tree full of blossoming, fragrant flowers caught my attention. I secretly wished I could pick one of its gorgeous flowers, but I knew that wouldn’t be appropriate. The moment the photographer snapped the photo, two flowers fell onto my clasped arms: one for me and one for my husband. It seemed that my wish was granted–what a beautiful and unforgettable beginning to pilgrimage!
Join me for the next part of my pilgrimage adventure: Rockets, Rose Petals, and Tears – Vibrations of Prayer