My last day by the Sea of Galilee.
I began at Tabgha, the location where Jesus is reputed to have served 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. There was now a big church on the spot. Underneath the altar, encased in glass, was the rock that the loaves and fish rested upon.
It is remarkable the close proximity of all the locations where Jesus held his ministry. You could walk to all of them within a day’s time. Tabgha is a short walk from Capernum and not far from Ginosar and Migdal. A little further up the hill is the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus gave his infamous sermon on the mount. So up the hill I went only to discover that the gates to the Mount of Beatitudes were shut for lunch.
I decided to move on and visit Safed, a town several Jewish roommates had told me about, as well as my host at the Airbnb. They all said that I must go there, so off I went.
The city of Safed is at the highest elevation in Israel. The Dead Sea may be the lowest point on earth, and the Galilee is even below sea level. Safed sits atop a mountain, high above all the hills with the sea of Galilee still visible below at a great distance.
The ancient city of Safed (depicted in this painting) is home to an art colony founded in 1948. When Jews came to Israel after WW11, the artists went to Safed (or Zafed). Walking through the old stone town, my heart was warmed to see all the shops filled with exquisite art. Paintings hung along ancient stone walls. Hand-crafted jewelry was displayed at the storefronts. Fine pottery lined the shelves. There was a completely different ambiance to the tourist shops that line the streets of Jerusalem. It was intoxicating, feeding my soul and imagination.
The mixing of religion and art spoke to the very heart of me. The blending of the old with the new was enlivening. Wonderful artists had brought modern technique and sensibility to depict tradition and old cities and sites I have seen. I was inspired and uplifted.
I visited a couple ancient synagogues that were nestled in between the shops of local artists. I met a woman from California who moved to Israel twenty years ago when she was granted Aliyah (citizenship granted to Jews regardless of where they are from). I had also roomed with several women who were in the process of being granted Aliyah, as Israel is still the desired homeland for Jews worldwide.
The California woman who made her home in Safed talked with me about the town, her life in Safed and her art. She seemed very much at home. Upon entering the city, there was a large sculpture of a harp and I asked her if this was the symbol for the town. She said that it was David’s harp. His harp had seven strings representing the seven emotional attributes of God which all Jews aspire to. There are also three additional strings representing the three mental attributes. These were the kind of things we discussed and she freely talked about.
Leaving Safed, I wound my way back down the mountain and back to the Mount of Beatitudes run by a convent. Upon entering, I was met with garden walkways that evoked beauty and ease. As with other gardens in Israel, I was particularly drawn to the roses – beautiful, robust, full flower roses. The nuns were out near the church to welcome visitors and answer questions. They wore head to toe black – like the Palestinians and Jews I encountered in Jerusalem.
As far as I know people did not wear black in ancient Israel, and Jesus and his disciples did not wear black. I wondered where this custom originated and how the nuns, and the devout of the multiple religions that claim Israel as a Holy Land, could wear black in such heat. Whether they were hot or not, the nuns were soft spoken, had pleasant smiles, and seemed to be enjoying the visitors.
The church, like several I had seen in Galilee, was octagonal – eight sided. I asked why it was eight-sided and the nun said it was to represent the 8 beatitudes. While it is often referred to as the 8 beatitudes, I remembered the scripture as listing 9. And I counted 9 on the card on the card they handed me. So, what about that last little guy? I guess a nine-sided structure doesn’t make sense.
The church and grounds sat high up on a hill, a good distance from the shoreline, with a splendid view of the whole Galilee. Sitting in their garden beholding this sacred and wondrous lake, I thought this was an apt place to end my time along the shores of the Galilee.
For the last three days, I was breathed in and embraced by the mystery, beauty and presence of this lake that surrounded me every moment I was here. For ancient Galileans, she was their ‘gold’ – the source of their wealth and life. For Jesus, it was the crucible that held his ministry. For me, it was a portal into an ancient world that brought to life Jesus’ ministry and ultimately the voice of Mary Magdalene.
Upon bidding farewell, I got in my rental car and opened my road map. (No, I did not have a GPS and my phone Apps were not working in Israel, so I was traveling the 20th century way, finding lines on a page that intersect other lines that will take me to my next location). It was time to head inland. Next stop: Cana.