Life can be full of beautiful surprises. Against all expectations, weather forecasts and the like, Friday, February 1st was not snowy, wet or 'slushy underfoot' as predicted, but sunny and warm. My daughter arrived mid morning from Tel Aviv and we set out in her car (still going strong since she came on aliyah 6 years ago) towards Acco - her birthday treat!
There are two main routes to Acco from Haifa. A friend who works in the historic town advised the Galilee hills route, via Yagur Junction. This route is particularly beautiful with the flowers in spring, he said. But after all the rains of last week, it was green enough, if somewhat stark.
On arrival, we encountered the miniature railway station (part of the north-south link to Beersheba, via Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport)
and Strauss-Unilever, where my friend works:
and drove around to find both the port area and somewhere to park.
In contrast to Tel Aviv, where parking is a nightmare, Acco had plenty of free space to offer, and we finally found somewhere just opposite the ruins of the city wall.
From here, we could look through the gaps (presumably used in warfare) and gazed down at the wonderful sea. As my Russian friend had said, 'a real sea, not like in Haifa'.
We asked a local fisherman where to go and he pointed us towards the lighthouse and the shuk area. The lighthouse made us think of this:
Before that, we passed a church
and a house with a camel parked in it, looking for all the world as if it were used as the family car, till we reached a wonderful restaurant looking out over the whole marina, as well as towards the trees and mountains of Gailee. Truly paradise on earth, we thought:
Then, we wandered further into the shuk, with roads named only in Arabic. It's like a miniature of the Old City in Jerusalem, but without any of the tension:
We debated whether to visit the reconstructed underground Templars tunnel
but decided instead to make for the area of the HaRamhal Synagogue and the El Jazzar Mosque. The pictures are the bottom of the page here do not do it justice:
A friendly guy (wielding a hammer, which we were sure he must have been using in his work and for no other reason!) pointed us in the direction of the mosque, and said that even though it was Friday and our heads were not covered, visiting would be fine. He made me think of this song of my childhood:
Up and down alleys and steps, totally enthralled by the overwhelmingly friendly and good-natured atmosphere, we eventually encountered the green-domed mosque.
It cost 5 shekels to enter the mosque courtyard, where we were told that the mosque dated from 1180. Maybe that's when the foundations were laid. But what we had before us was a Japanese-style garden, simple and utterly effective in stilling the sounds of the mind. The mosque itself was round with beautiful mosaics, many of them shaped like mandalas. There was no security, but none seemed to be needed!
We sat out in the sun, imbibing the unique qualitiy of the place, with its green circular domes, beautiful flowers and total and utter lack of aggression. Feminine, that's what it was! And I remembered the ideas of the great Muslim thinker, ibn Arabi, who compared the creation of the world to a woman having contractions in childbirth:
And I thought to myself, you can keep your Taj Mahals and your cathedrals, Great Synagogues and ornate Hindu Temples, and even the Bahai Temple and Garden in both Haifa and Acco. Small is beautiful and this is the heart of Islam!
We would have liked to have stayed till the sun went down, but Shabbat was drawing near. So we found a nice resident on a bike, called Muhammed, who told us he's a boxing coach and that the mosque has been restored largely through a large donation from the Israeli government. He showed us a short-cut way back to the city walls, where we glanced at the huge Acco Prison complex which had imprisoned and executed Jews during the British Mandate, including refugees fleeing from Nazi Europe:
We got into the car, turned on the radio, and obtained the 'Beatles Hour', a weekly special. The theme was 'Saying you're Sorry'. Israel to the Beatles for having disinvited the Beatles in 1965, and The Beatles to each other. And then Ringo singing a song about how he left Liverpool, because 'destiny was calling':
Now Liverpool is European City of Culture
and on Saturday night I looked up the Old City of Acco on the net and found that it is one of three World Heritage Sites situated in Israel:
In shul on Saturday, my friend said that during the week of Succot an Alternative Theatre Festival is produced in the town - well worth attending.
And could I take her to see the wonderful mosque, please, as she'd never been in one.
We'll probably go by train in the spring.
And the friend who works at Strauss-Unilever said, 'Acco is another good example of Jewish-Arab co-existence in Israel'. And I said
it's not just another good example, but the example per excellence.For that mosque must surely be one of the unsung wonders of the entire world. Because where you have camels parked in the driveway in modern Israel in 2008, there you will eventually have the wolf lying down with the lamb: