On a frigid and clear Friday morning I scale the roads leading to the summit of Mt. Tavor.
Tired of hitting the university books, disgusted with the depressing news of violence between Arabs and Jews, I decide to take refuge at the highest point in Lower Galilee. At eight in the morning I’m the sole driver negotiating the hairpin turns of the mountain. The car radio is off, only the sound of the shrieking wind that bends the cypress trees up ahead. At the next turn, the entrance to the church compound appears, all majestic. The Franciscan flag with its signature four small crosses and one large cross is splashed against the blue sky. The flag sits atop a tunnel that dates back centuries. I park at the plateau alongside several large vans. Eager parishioners must have come ahead of me. At the main gate, a large group of Filipino worshippers are about to leave. They giggle like school children, rubbing their glove-less hands to ward off the cold. Mt. Tavor is a long way from Manila, I think as I continue down the pebble pathway leading to the church.
Three men wrapped with scarves round their necks rake the pebbles on the ground, back and forth, back and forth, until all is flat and even. Gardeners tend to the flower pots, pull errant leaves and discard them.
The peacefulness hurts.
What is it about these men-of-the-cloth that makes them appear so tranquil and at ease. Just 600 meters below, we’re out to kill one another. The contrast is so severe, the solitude so intense, the beauty so striking that it pains me more than the icy wind. I march on and read the plaque honoring Antonio Barluzzi, the “architect of the Holy Land.” An Italian Franciscan monk, he left his mark on several churches in Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and here, on Mt. Tabor with his Church of Transfiguration, completed almost one-hundred years ago atop the ruins of Byzantine and later a Crusader church.
It is at this point that I’m reminded that history in this neck of the woods has always been bloody, crusaders on horseback pillaging,killing, torching, and now, surrounded by green lawns and colorful petunias, it seems unimaginable.
The space inside the church is awesome. The acoustics are first-class; the prayer coming from the chapel down below. A Franciscan friar with his robe and its trademark rope tied with three knots (poverty, chastity, obedience) leads the prayer service. Turns out, this summit atop Mt. Tavor is revered by Christians the world over, along with Bethlehem and Nazareth. It is here that Jesus is believed to have “transfigured.” It is here that he shone, became radiant and spoke to Elijah and Moses before descending the mountain. Sounds familiar?
I visit the small chapels dedicated to Judaism’s forefathers. Then off to the rooftop balcony to take in the magnificent view. A group of pilgrims from Colombia are listening attentively to their tour guide.
From this vantage point I see my village, Kfar Tavor, sprawled. Below, nothing but houses upon houses and lush fields sparkle in the morning sun.
Must I come down and face reality?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com