Having been in Israel now for just over a week it may be good to reflect on the first week or so of my study leave. For those family and friends not following the posts to my Facebook account, this is may be the first real update you receive.
I arrived via Amman on Thursday afternoon (28 February), so really began my study leave on the morning of Friday, 1 March. That was also the day I collected my little red Daihatsu from Nur Car Rentals in Nazareth, and already we have covered many km together.
Friday and Saturday were very much devoted to settling into the lovely house I have been able to rent for my stay here, including getting to know “Fifi” the dog who comes with the house. There were a couple of trips to Nazareth to catch up with friends there, and time to explore the hills around the lake in their amazing Spring greenery. I am constantly amazed by the rich green on the hills, and delighted to see the very high water levels in the lake—the best for 20 years or more.
On Sunday I headed south to Jerusalem for a few days. On the way I stopped to enjoy lunch with Hanan Shafir, the photographer at the Bethsaida dig, his wife Hanni, and their granddaughter, Alma. One of the most rewarding aspects of the Bethsaida dig is the rich network of people drawn together from all over the world, and Hanan is one of the most fascinating of them all.
I spent three nights in Jerusalem, staying at St George’s College—a place with many significant memories for me, and where I still have friends from the early 1990s. I was able to spend much of Monday and Tuesday working in the coin department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, making a good start to the Bethsaida coins project that is my principal reason for being here. In fact I made such good progress that I seem to have enough work to keep me occupied for the next week or more without any need for a return visit just yet!
Before returning to Tiberias on Wednesday evening, I was able to spend a couple of hours at the Sabeel offices in Jerusalem. There I met with Naim Ateek, founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre. I was also able to spend some time with staff and volunteers preparing for the Global Young Adults Festival in June and the ninth Sabeel International Conference in November. These look like great events, I encourage anyone able to attend to do so.
Thursday was mostly spent in Nazareth, visiting with local Sabeel people there and stocking up on stationery and other supplies. However, I did find myself photographing the spectacular wild flowers on “Mt Precipice” (just on the edge of Nazareth these days) while waiting to catch up with some of these people. For those interested, the best of the flowers are in the March Gallery, along with other selected shots from this last week.
By Friday I had completed the first week’s cycle, and was beginning to feel increasingly at home in the special place I have been privileged to visit on so many occasions, and where I shall be for almost five months this year. The local weekend tends to be Friday and Saturday, due to the Jewish Shabbat, so by lunch time on Friday many of the shops in Tiberias are closed and the city is moving into its weekly reflective mode; a dynamic not seen in more secular western societies these days. Fittingly, I ended the day with Judith and Shai Schwartz at Kibbutz Ginosar. We shared a delightful evening over a shared meal, after first lighting the Shabbat Candles and singing the traditional prayers to welcome the Shabbat. As we shared the cup of wine and the portion of bread, I sensed the ancient roots of my own tradition as a Christian.