As I’ve written before, Fulbright treats the fellows impressively well. Last week, they organized a 2 day tour of the Galil for us with stops at places that are not on the typical tour group itinerary. The theme was the many cultures of Israel–more than you might expect.

We boarded the bus near the University in Haifa, meeting the rest of the group who had boarded in Tel Aviv. Our friendly & knowledgeable guide greeted us with croissants.

Our first stop was the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. This church is special for combining the ancient and the modern. It has 2 sanctuaries, one on top of the other. The Grotto is the bottom level and is believed to be Mary’s childhood home, or a cave where she lived. The top level is modern and filled with art from around the world.

Modern stained glass windows in the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Various countries' interpretation of the madonna & child icon

Each country contributed their own interpretation. The jacket of the Japanese madonna in the piece on the left is pearl mosaic.

After the church, we had a private meeting with the assistant mayor of Nazareth. It was a very warm reception with coffee and more croissants. He gave us his honest opinion of the state of Israeli-Arabs in Israel, particularly Christian Arabs and the most important issues facing them today. He touched on the exacerbation of many of the problems by extremists/fundamentalists from all political groups and focused on how the majority of people have no animosity to members of other groups. Interestingly, he also emphasized the importance of education and employment for Arab women. We ran out of time before I had a chance to ask a question, but I wanted to know if there was a role for Israeli-Arabs in the new Egyptian government as consultants or advisors (the trip was just a day or two after the protesters occupied Tahrir square in Cairo) — whether Egyptians would accept help from Arab politicians from the nearest democracy or whether the Israel barrier was too great.

After Nazareth, we went to Kibbutz Merhavia near Afula for a delicious lunch at the restaurant “Nishnosh”. There was a plaque on the dining hall saying that Golda Meir had worked in the kitchen. On our way into the kibbutz, our bus was held by security who were investigating a “suspicious” thermos that someone had left on the roundabout. They contained the thermos and then blew up the contents. Very reassuring to know that the security personnel take ostensibly innocuous things so seriously.

watching the security personnel from the side of the road

After lunch we traveled to Kibbutz Dovrat to see and participate in a show by percussionist Michael Bar-Am. He has traveled all over the world collecting & playing percussion instruments.

At the end, we all got instruments and played our own concert.

That evening we had dinner and stayed in a museum/hotel in Tiberias called Dona Gracia. The hotel is dedicated to preserving the memory of Dona Gracia, a murano (secret Jew during the inquisition) born in Lisbon in 1510, and we attended an evening program where we learned about her life.

Dona Gracia married another murano who was a banker in Antwerp. When her husband died young, Dona Gracia herself became a successful & wealthy business woman. That in itself was impressive for the time, but in addition, she stopped hiding her Jewish identity. We learned that because she was constantly persecuted, either for religious reasons or because rulers of various countries wanted her money, she was constantly on the move. Eventually she found refuge in Turkey where she started a center for the Jewish community, became the richest Jewish woman in the world (at the time), and a favorite of the Sultan. So favored, that he gave her the city of Tiberias. And that is how we ended up staying at the Dona Gracia hotel in Tiberias. Dona Gracia envisioned creating a home in Tiberias for the diaspora. As the woman who gave us the lecture about Dona Gracia pointed out, this was 300 years before Herzl envisioned a Jewish state. As if the lecture wasn’t interesting enough as is, we got to dress up in period costume from the various places that Dona Gracia traveled. Here is a group shot:

2010-11 Israel Fulbrighters & families in costume, Tiberias