Last week Rafi and I joined a parade in the Christian quarter. One of Jeff’s lab mates (50% of whom are Arab Christians, perhaps because his professor is famous within the Arab Christian world) clued us in to the route and the starting time. The occasion had something to do with the virgin Mary–I thought it was the Assumption, but that’s in August, so I will have to ask. (EDITED: See Rawi’s comment below. During the Turkish conquest of the area, the statue was taken down from the Carmel and hidden in the city below. During the parade, the statue is ceremoniously paraded back up to its rightful place in the monastery.)
Haifa’s populations is about 10% Arab, many of whom are Christian. It was a little disconcerting to be at a religious event with Arabs but not a hijab in sight. It was a sea of strappy tanks and leggings. Christianity has no dress code, no matter what ethnicity you are.
They paraded a statue of Mary and baby Jesus to the bottom of Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”- aka Mary), where the rest of the parade was formed up and ready to “escort” her to the monastery at the top of the hill. The Carmelite Monastery, situated on a dramatic cliff overlooking the sea on two sides, was founded in the 12th century by a group of monks, the Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. They chose the site because of its associations with Elijah the Prophet.
So far I’ve learned that the Carmel mountain is holy to Christians and Bahais. Not to Jews. The prophets Elijah and Elisha were active here, and supposedly Elijah ascended to heaven from Mt. Carmel, but even the Tanakh is careful not to put too much emphasis on this particular tradition because people would begin worshipping Elijah. As I learned from reading Lo Kach Katuv Batanakh (Eng. title: That’s Not What the Good Book Says) by Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, the story of Elijah ascending to heaven is not detailed fully in Kings II. Rather, it’s mentioned briefly as part of the introduction to the Elisha cycle.
But I digress.
There were a few surprises. The first one was the bagpipes. Bagpipes! I wondered what they would play. I eagerly awaited the first notes and heard…Auld Lang Syne. (Well, what else would you play on bagpipes?)
The second surprise was waiting at the front of the parade. We passed several groups of scouts from the Arab school system, and then up ahead we saw some women wearing colorful butterfly wings. “Look,” I said to Rafi, “how beautiful!” This group really put a lot of effort into their costumes… Then I saw men playing snare drums decorated with the Palestinian flag: red, white, green, and black, with the word “Palestine” in block capitals. A man in a kefiyyah and robes led the group. It was threatening to me and a bit of a shock because Haifa is pretty secular, and we feel that there are fewer political tensions here than in Jerusalem. That may be true, but it’s obviously not 100% free from tension because it’s still Israel.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently–more later, if I can find the courage for a political post.