Jaffa might be best known for the story of Jonah but this ancient seaside city possesses a striking backdrop for the modern story of how Jews and Arabs live together.
On this special two and a half hour walking tour participants weave through the ancient and modern city beginning with Jaffa’s connection to the mythical story of Andromeda as well as the story of Jonah.
Guided by both a Jewish and Muslim guide specialists participants enjoy two different perspectives on modern life in this very ancient of cities. Our Moslem guide, Ehab, led us on the first half of the tour, providing his personal insight on Jaffa’s large Moslem population which has had a presence in Jaffa for hundreds of years. We learned a bit about life under Ottoman rule as well as Ottoman architecture which remains quite prevalent today. The most fascinating aspect of the tour was the visit to one Jaffa’s most prominent mosques situated off a small alleyway near the ancient walls to the Old City. We entered through a huge door into an extraordinary landscaped compound surrounding a beautiful courtyard designed with archways and stone excavated from a quarry near Jerusalem.
After removing our shoes we entered the large prayer room constructed with an ornate domed ceiling containing handpainted designs with beautiful detail. Each corner of the room portrays various colorful motifs symbolic of many of Islam’s prophets, several of whom are Old Testament figures of importance to Judaism and Christianity.
Our guide educated us as to some of the traditions and beliefs related to prayer and the Koran. He also provided an insightful overview of Moslem culture in Jaffa and the different mosques in Jaffa (there are a total of eight – fiver of which are moderate, dialogue seeking and focused on co-existence while three are more extreme.) He explained how every Iman is free to preach as he wishes as opposed to in Saudi Arabia where the government tells the clergy what they must preach.
After a 20 minute question and answer session the tour continued with a Jewish guide who led us to the new deck overlooking the sea and Tel Aviv then back through the alleys with a quick stop at the famed family owned Abulafiya bakery (recently opened in England) to taste this famous family’s renowned ‘bagela’.
We later toured the artists colony and its unique hanging orange pit and tree and continued through the old city past the archaeological site over to the lookout point over the old City. Throughtout this part of the tour we learn about the evolution of the new city – both Tel Aviv and Jaffa and we also saw remains from the numerous civilizations that lived in Jaffa before. The program concluded with a visit to the Church of St. Peter, one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Christians.
The tour is substantial in its content and depth and allows participants ample opportunity to learn about the different cultures and provides them a vision of Jaffa through a much wider lens. What’s very unique is the fact that you see and feel the diversity of people and the extraordinary beauty that this diversity brings to such a historical and densely populated area. People walk away awed by the beauty, and appreciation of the people and the city.
The countdown until Christmas Day has already begun. Decorations are up; for both Christmas and the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. In Bethlehem, the Christmas tree in front of Church of Nativity has been lit. If you will be on a Holy Land tour in these next few weeks, here are some events you will want to check out:
Bethlehem: The city where Jesus was born
> Breaking Bread Journeys Christmas Market tour (Dec. 19): Join us
to experience Bethlehem like a local and enjoy the special Christmas festivities. Our expert guide will take you behind the scenes, through the market alleyways and into the city’s many important sites as well as into the home of a local Palestinian Christian family where you will break bread and enjoy a traditional home cooked lunch and warm hospitality. Click HERE for more information!
> Christmas Festival (Nov. 23- Jan 9): Located in different locations throughout Bethlehem, artists will be singing at different places in Bethlehem. Below is the schedule, click on the schedule to enlarge it [I apologize for the blurriness, the original on the website is also blurry].
> Midnight Mass (Dec. 24): Since entering the Church of Nativity is impossible without tickets, thousands of people gather together in Manger Square, which is in front of the Church. There will be performances in addition to the Midnight Mass being shown on big screens.
According to Christian locals, Bethlehem is the best place to visit.
Nazareth: The city where Jesus spent his childhood
> Christmas Festival (Dec. 17- 21): Every year Nazareth has a festival where its main market is filled with decorations, lights, and street performances.
Jerusalem: The city where Jesus was crucified
> YMCA Christmas celebrations: The Jerusalem International YMCA will be having a few events prior to Christmas. Below is the schedule and since some require tickets, you can contact the YMCA at 02-5692684.
There will also be celebrations in the centers of both Jaffa and Haifa. There are large Christian populations in both of these cities.
If you are in a city in Israel that do not have a large Christian population, you will notice that there are many decorations in preperation for the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Street lamps have festive blue and gold lights and many cafes sell elaborate jelly-filled dougnuts.
No matter which holiday you celebrate (or even if you do not celebrate a holiday), the Holy Land is place filled with holiday spirit! To those celebrating, happy holidays!