The Holy Land Tour 2022 (Day 5): En Route Jerusalem (Haifa)

On the fifth day of our Holy Land Tour, we left the Northern District for Jerusalem en route the Modern City of Haifa, the Ancient City of Caesarea, and the Village of Eir Karem, our gateway to Jerusalem.

For this trip, we went to see the Stella Maris Church on top of Mount Carmel. We then explored a section of the Bahá’í Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Outstanding Universal Value as “the most holy places of the Bahá’í faith provide an exceptional testimony to the strong traditions of Bahá’í pilgrimage which have grown up over the last century and draw large numbers of followers from around the world” as indicated in the UNESCO Website. After a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant nearby the gardens, we were brought to the ancient city of Ceaserae. Here, we only experienced the ancient aqueduct. I wanted to see the amphitheater but due to the limitations of the package and the restriction of the time, I did not have a chance to see the ancient city magnificent 80,000 seater open-air auditorium. From Caesarea, our bus travelled about two hours passing the white city of Tel Aviv, another city in my bucket list. Unfortunately, I was sleeping when our bus passed by the city. I had no chance to glimpse even a little of this amazing modern city. The last leg of the trip was the ancient village of Eir Karem, the hometown of Elizabeth and Zechariah. in the Catholic faith, this is believed to be the site of the Visitation (Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth).

Day 5 post is divided into two sub-posts. The first is dedicated to the Bahá’í gardens and the second post is an annotation and commentary (of sorts) of my experience in Eir Karem.

The Bahá’í faith is significant to me. It is a new religion to me and never knew its existence until 2011. April is my birth month. In 2011, I was in Singapore for my doctoral studies and at that time, I was busy preparing for my Qualifying Examination. However, interfering with my review and reading was a Yahoo Messenger call from my family back home. I still remember, it was the first week of April when my late father informed me that Lolo Pruding (his father, my grandfather) was dying.

I only met my Lolo thrice: I was 7, 12, and the last time I was 15. He was an expat who lived his life in Saipan (Northern Marianas), Vienna (Austria), Tehran (Iran), and finally settled in Harare (Zimbabwe). On the day of my birthday, 17 April 2011, supposedly a break from my academic rumblings, a sad news popped on my Facebook Messenger: Wala na si Lolo, namatay sa Harare. (Lolo is dead. He passed on in Harare).

I did not know at that time that he and my Lola had been living their lives separately. Lola was a naturalized American citizen who resided most of her time in San Diego and Guam. The unusual relationship only dawned on me when my mom told me on the night of Lolo’s death, that Lola, who was already back in the Philippines that time, was requesting not to make a big deal out of Lolo’s death. I did not quite get it but I knew Lola was hurting. Until I found out in an email by my uncle about the situation of Lolo in Zimbabwe.

The email was addressed to Dad, me and my two other kuya, older cousins from dad’s eldest sister. The email was sent to us because my uncle thought it was only me and my two other kuya who had memories of Lolo. While in the email, my uncle was precise in instructing us not to mention anything to Lola, another information struck me: that there’s complication about his remains because of his faith: Bahá’í. My uncle was ready to go to Harare. Dad would be going with him. Dad was thinking that I should also join them. But I could not because of my status in Singapore. In the end, the plan of bringing his remains to the Philippines did not materialize. It was really a complicated matter, made it even more complicated because of his faith. That was the first time I heard about this religion. For someone who’s specialization was supposedly comparative religious cultural performances, I felt embarrassed that I had nothing to say about it.

Entrance to the highest section of the terraces (Photo: SAPT)

a view from above. The golden dome is the shrine dedicated to Báb (Photo: SAPT)

A landscape from the section we entered (Photo: SAPT)

a view from above (Photo: SAPT)

a view from above (Photo: SAPT)

Some sculptures in the Terraces (Photo: SAPT)

The Mediterranean Sea in the horizon (Photo: SAPT)

Me as a model (Photo: SAPT)

Since then, I became very interested in understanding the religion. Based on what I gathered from various sources, Bahá’í has two core principles / teachings: essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. According to these core principles, religion is revealed in an orderly and progressive way by a single God through “manifestations of God,” who are the founders of the most recent major world religions; Buddha (Buddhism), Jesus (Christianity) and Muhammad (Islam). This tells us that humanity is waiting for the “one true God.” A friend from the United States who practices the faith explained that Bahá’í does not say that the one true God will come from their religion. Even their founding figures, Báb and Baháʼu’lláh are mere manifestations of the Divine. In effect, Baháʼís regard the world’s major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, though diverging in social practices and interpretations. The Baháʼí Faith stresses the unity of all people, explicitly rejecting racism, sexism, and methodological nationalism. At the heart of the Baháʼí Faith , the goal of religion prepares everyone towards a sense of common humanity that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes. It sounds exciting for me, especially since there is a reverberation of the cosmopolitan, which at that time was my field in performance studies and religious studies.

Until today, I find Bahá’í to be a philosophical tradition more than a religious tradition. Its principles are not dogmatic compared to other world religions. In fact, I find the core principles to be more inclusive, making it more identifiable to cosmopolitan philosophy than an apparatus of “gospel truth” about something beyond this world. I find the principle of “manifestations of the Divine” through the historical figures mentioned above as a theory in proving the existence of God. Its teachings against racism and nationalism are manifestations of care, responsibilities, and love – the triangulated axioms of cosmopolitan ethics.

I was so thrilled that part of the itinerary of this tour was a visit to the a section of the Baháʼí Gardens in Haifa. Known as the Baháʼí Terraces, or the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, are garden terraces, that commemorate Báb, one of the main figures of the religion. In fact, the centerpiece of the entire Haifa Garden was a shrine dedicated to him. According to an Israel Tourism Service website (Bein Harim Tours): the stunning gardens are landscaped to geometric perfection offering a visual illustration of the tenets of the Baha’i faith – oneness, unity and diversity of mankind. Everything is exactly aligned to create a harmonious effect. There is symmetry in the design and a carefully planned layout of colors among the plants and flowers. The harmony and symmetry of the gardens is designed to bring peace and inspire your soul. The 19 terraces are designed as waves or circles all drawing your attention to the Shrine on the central terrace.

For me, the landscape artists / architects of the gardens were inspired by a cosmopolitan aesthetics – an aesthetics inspired by a critical inquiry on common humanity, by the celebration of diversity, by the commitment towards unity, and by the recognition of differences without any attempt to reconcile them. The terraces are facing the Mediterranean Sea. For me, it indicates a welcoming gesture to everyone, especially those coming from the the open waters. It also an indicative that the open waters: the sea and the ocean, have never been the reason for mankind’s separation from one another. Historically speaking, these waters are even the reason for us to be integrated.

As I walked to the gardens, I remember those times my Lolo was in the Philippines. I can say, they were special. Lolo and I shared some fondness in music. He used to be a musiskero. I used to play the piano. He loved to sing. I loved performing. He used to play songs from movie musicals in his guitar, accordion, harmonica, and in the piano. At an early age, my interest in musicals were dominating my foundational years. At a young age, I never was fascinated with contemporary pop. I grew up loving the songs of Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, Freddie Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein. My Lolo would always play the songs “Edelweiss,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Maria,” every time he went home. We loved music. We loved performing.

Our music swells in my heart. Long live, Lolo!

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