Friday, January 14, 2011


Fountain at the base of the terraces, Ben Gurion street in the background

For some Baha’is, pilgrimage is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am lucky to have had the chance to go in my younger years, and I hope to have the chance to visit again someday. During Baha’i pilgrimage, one visits various sites within Haifa and Akka (called Akko by the locals), Israel where Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha lived and visited. However, the principle purpose of a pilgrimage is to visit and pray in the shrines where the central figures are interred. This includes the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, surrounded by 19 terraces and lush gardens, and the Shrine of Baha’u’llah in Bahji, just outside of Akka.

Thus, my pilgrimage to Haifa was not merely a trip, and certainly could not be classified as a tour. In my letter of invitation, sent to all pilgrims after they confirm the dates they would like to come on pilgrimage, the Department of Pilgrimage wrote: “We hope that your pilgrimage—a journey whose spiritual significance is so different from that of any other journey—will provide you with enduring confirmation and inspiration.” For me, this captures the spirit of pilgrimage.

rainbow from one of the terraces near the Shrine of the Bab
So…out of nine days of soulful adventure, what do I choose to write about? No overview could possibly capture the vast amount of stories told, the history learned and re-learned, or the friendships forged. Instead, I will write a series of posts over the next week addressing the stories and visits which I found most poignant.

But first, the story of my arrival at the Molada Guesthouse, 82 Hanassi Street. Across the street from the Dan Carmel, a hotel in a tall building with a fountain out front, is a downward-sloping driveway reaching back into an overgrown area with a small grove of pine trees. At the bottom of the driveway is a three-story, cream-colored building belonging to the Rutenberg Institute, which offers classes and courses but rents dorm rooms to visitors. On January 2nd,  at 6:30 PM, a sheirut (shared taxi) dropped me off in front of the Dan Carmel.  I rolled my carry-on luggage across the street and down the driveway, searching for a front office. The door to the guesthouse was locked and all the lights inside were off. I knocked on the door, gently at first. A one-eyed cat with a bloody nose snuck out from behind the bushes and began incessantly meowing and pawing at my shoes. I knocked a little harder.

Outside the door was a lockbox with a phone number, which I wrote down. After walking back up the driveway, I found an Israeli couple walking to their flat next to the guesthouse. They let me borrow their cell phone and even offered to let me stay in their flat should I be unable to enter the guesthouse that night. I was able to reach someone who volunteered at the guesthouse via cell phone and was given a code to open the lockbox, where I found my keys. 
After entering the guesthouse, I turned around and there sat another feline, the size of a bobcat, with leopard-like spots. It followed me up the stairs, promptly inviting itself into my room and stretching out on the bed. Thus began my adventure in the city of cats.

Later that night I met fellow pilgrim Liz Washington, whom I learned a lot from on this pilgrimage. She told me at the end of the pilgrimage, as we frantically tried to figure out what train would take us to the airport, to think of life as a workshop. There are things you have to learn at some point in your life, and even the things that make you uncomfortable or scare you will teach you important skills (like how to ride a train or get around when those around you don’t speak English and don’t understand you). Which reminds me of something I learned over the summer from someone at Bosch Baha’i School in California, where I served for a summer. To be terrified doesn’t mean you don’t have courage. In fact, it is at such points in our lives when we exercise the most courage. I was slightly terrified standing alone in the dark in a foreign country, unable to enter the guesthouse. But in retrospect, I would want it no other way. Mishaps or difficult situations are what we learn the most from.  

view of Haifa from upper terraces, Shrine of the Bab to the right (covered for reconstruction), the Mediterranean Sea

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