With the Israeli civilian military crossing into Lebanon in 1982, the beginning of my classes at the U of Haifa were delayed two weeks. I could enjoy some unexpected free time in this new country. In the next 36 hours, I had one scare and two seminal experiences inaugurating my study leave. 

My first night was spent in the residence and I had a dream that has become a marker for the duration of my life, certainly guiding me through the following months of the liminal experiences of my study leave. 

Then in a scare, I thought I had lost everything. In the morning I went into downtown Haifa and saw the Mediterranean for the first time. It was very hot and I went into the bus station cafeteria and bought a grape drink. i didn’t have much disposable money but it was very hot and the cool drink irresistable. The refreshment of the juice did provide me much pleasure as I emptied the bottle savouring every drop, but then I thought it a horrible mistake. How could I spend so much for a drink, be so irresponsible and on my very first day of needing to survive many days here? I sat at the cafe table and worked out the cost of the drink converting shekels to American dollars. I figured the drink was a around 16 dollars. I had a moment of panic and fear. If a single drink was that much, I wasn’t going to have enough money to live on. I didn’t know what I was going to do for 12 months. It seemed in the moment as I sat there, a great wave had taken me, the whole of my life turned upside down, inside out. All my life I lived by my own resources, since 14 at least, no help really. I had blown it, not planned well enough, not been careful enough executing this defining journey to Israel. Who was I to think I could ask for so much? Fool that I was. I had taken a great risk to go on this adventure and I wasn’t going to make it through one month. After a brief while, the world spinning around me, I realized I had multiplied the conversion instead of divide. I was going to be OK. I looked around. All seemed quite normal; everyone was sitting at the tables engaged with each other; no one had noticed the world seemingly come to an end.

For the next four months I carefully shopped at the local groceteria and cooked meals in my residence kitchen. I managed very well, thank you. The cost of food was inexpensive providing I ate local fruits and vegetables and eggs, no meat and certainly no boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes or any other North American import.

My next escapade was a bus trip taken from that bus station to Nazareth where in one biblical account Jesus was born and grew up; in another account he was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. In either case, I was walking where the young boy Jesus walked, streets that to me looked ancient enough to be from his time. Jesus’ father was a carpenter, and it is assumed that Jesus, too, as any child, would learn his father’s craft.

I visited the Basilica of the Annunciation prominent in present day Nazareth, a church acknowledging the divine announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour. The Basilica of the Annunciation is a magnificent architectural wonder, appropriately for so momentous a foretelling, a magnificent, imposing building. The church building was glorious to behold, but I’m not sure I saw the young boy Jesus or even the Jesus of the gospels in that way, at least not here, not in the dirty town of Nazareth, the despised town of Nazareth as it was known in Jesus’ day. Perhaps it was the point of the biblical literary narrative that Jesus was born in a hole in the ground. The angels announced his birth to shepherds, and shepherds were the most despised of Jews because they had to work on Shabbot. Nazareth was not the glory as captured in the towering walls of the Basilica, celebrating Christ, the regnant, Emperor of all Emperors. My visit to Nazareth was for the humbler Jesus, a man without affectation of power, adornment of glory.

From the entrance of the grand church, I began to wander, and I followed a street, the street pictured above, climbing up the side of the hill Nazareth sits on, and there from a height above, above the height of the Basilica even, I passed by an open door and looked in seeing what you see in the accompanying photo. I gasped, what gift is this, what affirmation, in a moment to find a carpenter’s shop in the town of Nazareth, and more, a young boy working away with his father, the carpenter.

Well now… I felt I had found Nazareth, realized the hope of my study leave for the scripture to open up to me, tell me its way, and what an explosive, emotional day, just 24 hours into my Palestine Israel study leave.

You can view more photos in the gallery on this site: