Known as “the Arab capital of Israel,” Nazareth is the largest city located within the country’s Northern District. However, Nazareth is also one of the most historic places for those who focus in biblical history. It is that biblical history that I, along with a couple of friends from the University of Haifa International School, went to explore during the Christmas holiday season.
Upon our arrival in Nazareth, which is only about a 45 minute bus ride from the university, we were welcomed by the locals of the area with wonderful flavored coffee, assorted danishes, and many other sweet and tasty treats. The town was at peace, being that it was a Sunday, and many of the local shops and eateries are closed during the day.
As my friends and I went on our long journey through the different villages, we came upon several different cathedrals, churches and synagogues. Along the way, we received a musical serenade from one of the locals playing Christmas songs on his violin.
One of the most beautiful places we visited was a Catholic church located right in the center of Nazareth. The place was so amazing. The history I saw there went beyond anything I have ever seen in the States. My fellow explorers and I immediately decided to stay for the Sunday morning mass in reverence of the holiday.
The Catholic church is known as the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is a location where many believe the angel Gabriel revealed himself to Mary, the future mother of Jesus. St. Joseph’s church is also in the same vicinity, and there we were able to see another place where it is told that Joseph, the future father of Jesus, did his carpentry work.
Within walking distance of the same area, we were able to visit an underground synagogue where it is claimed that Jesus used to study and pray — depicted in the provided pictures.
There was so much biblical history in this one small area, it is almost overwhelming — especially for those of us raised with knowledge of the Bible and its stories. To see it in person was like the ancient stories from the pages of scripture taking life and form right before my eyes. My friends and I teased one another, saying that since we had been in such a holy place and seen so many holy things, we will now be holy for the rest of our lifetimes.
After taking many pictures of this area, we decided to travel out even further in Nazareth to see what other history we could discover and explore for the holiday. There was traffic everywhere; people were hustling and bustling about trying to ready themselves for their personal celebrations.
Many people came from all over the world just to say that, during their Christmas holiday touring, they had stepped foot in a place where Jesus and the people from the Bible once lived. I had the opportunity to meet people from Russia, the Philippines, Italy, the United Kingdom and many other locations. They all just wanted to have this moment marked off their bucket lists while visiting Israel.
As my friends and I broke off to travel a quiet part of a village, looking for other churches to attend and tour, we could hear people talking in their homes, children playing and women hurrying home with their evening groceries. Then suddenly a loud, beautiful call, in a sing song voice, came out over loud-speakers set strategically throughout the town. It was the Muslim call to prayer. It was done in the melodious language of the local area.
The part that amazed me was that in that instant, as soon as the prayer began, children stopped talking and playing, the women who were hurrying by quickly went into their homes and the conversations previously heard coming from inside homes stopped. It was like the whole world stopped for just a quick moment of silence. Then, suddenly, you could hear the voices of people begin to cry out in prayer in unison.
This very moment was so amazing. Even now, as I try to describe the moment to you, I cannot even put into words the great sense of awe that came over me. It still brings chills to my skin and tears to my eyes.
I fully understand that not everyone comes from a religious background. Even those of us that went to visit Nazareth for the holidays come from many different backgrounds. Some of us are Protestant, some Catholic, some orthodox and some believe in nothing. And there are still those who are trying to figure things out in their own lives, let alone knowing what they believe in.
It is not that different from the people of this town.
Nazareth is made up of a majority of Muslims, many Christians, and some who adhere to no religion at all; they just live there because of family. However, at that moment in time, it seemed as if everyone had set aside their differences and stopped to either listen to the call of prayer as a form of paying respect, or they took part in doing their own routine prayer rituals.
I know I loved every moment and chose to let it all soak in as I stood and listened in amazement.
That evening, my friends and I ate dinner at a local spot before we chose to return back to campus. It had started pouring rain. The food was awesome, as usual.
I do suggest that when visiting Israel, take time out to explore Nazareth. There are so many historical places to see and things to do. Every time I think I’ve had a life changing event happen since being here in Israel, I discover another one right around the corner.
I hope you enjoy the prayer video we captured. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Elizabeth Jones is a transfer student majoring in criminal justice and international security and conflict resolution (ISCOR). She is studying at University of Haifa in Israel for an entire academic year
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