Thursday, 29 October 2009

Wee photo gallery

The Scottish flag flying over Galilee. A view over the Scottie garden. The small turret is part of the Ottoman city walls - I would love to turn it into a small chapel, but we'll see!

The view from my balcony, looking over the southern part of the Sea of Galilee to the Golan.
Tiberias is not the most attractive of towns,but has an earthiness which is appealing.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


The Shabbat (Sabbath) is the Jewish holy day, and starts from dusk on the Friday till dusk on the Saturday. Shops shut, and traffic grinds to a halt. Often it is the day that families join together for a special meal, so I felt really privileged to be invited to join in a Shabbat meal last Friday. I was invited by Joanna, who is originally from Bristol and my sole full member (!) at St. Andrew’s Galilee. She is married to Lenny, who is originally from Newton Mearns in Scotland, and they live on a kibbutz on the Golan, some 40 minutes away from Tiberias, up a road full of hair-pin bends. They had also invited Mary and Paul, an American couple from the Mid-West living in Tiberias and active in the small Catholic Church.

The meal was like any other meal, I suppose, except at the beginning Lenny put on his kippah (skull-cap) and said a prayer over the bread and then another over wine, which we then ate and drank. Only then, did the meal begin with some liver pate, then chicken soup, etc. I found it deeply moving to be part of such a tradition and, of course, reflected on communion.

Last week, I caught the bus to Jerusalem, where I joined my colleague, George Shand (Minister at St Andrew’s Jerusalem), to attend a meeting of the Lutheran clergy, one of our strong partners, for a Bible Study. Towards the end, the Lutheran Bishop in his pastoral role advised us all to be conscious of how we moved and what we said in Jerusalem. I had been aware that Jerusalem was far more tense than Galilee. The Goldstone report had been published on War crimes in the recent Gaza conflict, and there had considerable disappointment among Palestinians over what they saw as the seemingly soft approach of Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian President) concerning it. As many Palestinians gathered for Friday prayers at the mosque, there seemed some likelihood of the tensions spilling over into violence, but fortunately the imam had cooled the temperature.

We travelled an hour west of Jerusalem to Lod, once the predominately Arab city of Lydda. Now it is a mixed city, with Israeli Jews in the majority. Many Arabs had to flee their homes in the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe). Here we visited an Anglican school called St George’s (St George was supposed to have come from Lydda or was martyred in Lydda.). The headteacher is Christian, but 99% of the pupils are Moslem, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The human side of people of different faiths living together! I was impressed by their obvious desire to learn, as well as the warmth of their welcome.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Religious holidays, driving in Tiberias and learning the language

This week the Jewish community is celebrating the Feast of Sukkot (or Tabernacles), which lasts for roughly a week. It is a traditional holiday time, so Tiberias is full of holiday makers, mostly religious Jews, who like to come to Tiberias as one of the 4 ‘Holy’ cities in Judaism. Sukkot is a time for families to build booths in their gardens, where they will eat and even sleep. It commemorates the time the Israelites wandered in the Wilderness, and so needed to travel light and with structures that were easily dismantled and put up again in another location. For a Christian, I feel it speaks to us about how we clutter our lives with unnecessary possessions, habits, etc and need to learn to ‘travel light’.

I have now begun to drive. After having a pick-up in Africa, I find the Peugeot here both lower and lighter. I am getting used to both the automatic transmission and also driving on the right. Israelis also have a bad name for aggressive driving, but after 7 years of Lusaka driving, I am used to anything.

I have also found a good supermarket, though Israelis seem to do their week’s shopping in one go, so have their trolleys piled up, which is frustrating if you only have a few things. Most of the packaging is in Hebrew, so it is often a lottery whether you choose the right thing. Certainly, I bought what looked like a butter spread, only to find it was something else completely. Anyway, that should be remedied in the near future, as I start my language lessons at the Ulpan. With so many immigrants, everyone learns the language together, so everything is in Hebrew. You either sink or swim! As Tiberias is a predominately Jewish town (and with my background in Biblical Hebrew), I felt it might be easier to learn Hebrew first, and try to pick up Arabic as I go on (although the alphabets are different, the two languages are related). It is vitally important, not least to converse with the staff.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Shalom from Tiberias

I am now one-week old in Tiberias, but needless to say, it seems far, far longer! It is SO good to be here, and I have been welcomed so warmly, especially by the staff at the hotel (I am desperately trying to learn names, and am not doing too badly). Already I feel very much at home. Talking of home, the manse is a double storey flat, a 15 minute walk up the hill from the church and hotel (or a 10 minute down!). It is a lovely spacious flat with views over the Lake (Sea of Galilee), so it is good to sit out on the little balcony. THOUGH, we are below sea level, so the temperatures can be quite high. Fortunately there are air-conditioners in the flat – how did I last 15 years in Zambia without them.

The first few days I ate at the hotel – marvellous food, but just too tempting. However, I realised I that I needed to eat at home, so I am trying to remember how to cook. In Zambia, Stephen cooked dinner for me every day, so I have become lazy.

Sunday was my first service. It is held at 6 o’clock in the evening, as Sunday is a working day here. Officially there is only one member, Joanna (I will double the membership!), but often we are joined by visitors to Tiberias. On Sunday, we had eight! Two Dutch visitors (both of whom had marvellous voices and who also knew the hymns), while the rest were all local. The church is situated close to the front, so people are always walking past. Some look in, take a snap and go; others look and stay, which is super. Certainly I was delighted with the way the service went – very informal, with a special atmosphere.

Tiberias has been packed with holiday-makers this week – not necessarily pilgrim groups, but local Israelis. Mostly religious with lots of the Orthodox Jews in their black clothes and prayer shawls. And lots of children! The reason is that it is the Feast of Sukkot, which lasts for just over a week. This is the time when many Jewish families build booths in their gardens – made out of reed-mats, branches, anything which is available. It commemorates how the Israelites wandered in the Wilderness and had to dismantle their homes and put them up again. So they had of necessity to travel light. Lots of good symbolism there for Christians, but also it hit home on a personal level, as I have been giving away various bits and pieces in order to travel light to get out here. Also, regarding Sukkot, the booths have ceilings made of twigs, which means they allow the light in through the cracks (and also the rain!). So, according to my source, God’s love shines unexpectedly on us.

Too much to take in and too much to say!