Israel: Ancient Galilee church unearthed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Ancient Galilee church unearthed, said to be home to apostles Peter and Andrew

Israeli archaeologist says dig at El-Araj, near Sea of Galilee, confirms it as the site of fishing village Bethsaida

In this file photo taken on August 6, 2017, a general view of an archaeological excavation site, believed to be the location of a biblical village that was home to Saint Peter, near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

In this file photo taken on August 6, 2017, a general view of an archaeological excavation site, believed to be the location of a biblical village that was home to Saint Peter, near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

AFP — Excavations in Israel’s Galilee have uncovered remains of an ancient church said to mark the home of the apostles Peter and Andrew, the dig’s archaeological director said Friday.

Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret Academic College, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, said this season’s dig at nearby El-Araj confirmed it as the site of Bethsaida, a fishing village where Peter and his brother Andrew were born according to the Gospel of John.

The Byzantine church was found near remnants of a Roman-era settlement, matching the location of Bethsaida as described by the first century AD Roman historian Flavius Josephus, Aviam said.

The newly discovered church, he added, fitted the account of Willibald, the Bavarian bishop of Eichstaett who visited the area around 725 AD and reported that a church at Bethsaida had been built on the site of Peter and Andrew’s home.

According to Willibald, Aviam says, Bethsaida lay between the biblical sites of Capernaum and Kursi.

“We excavated only one third of the church, a bit less, but we have a church and that’s for sure,” Aviam told AFP.

Co-directors of the Galilee early church excavations at their recent dig site, historian Jacob Ashkenazi and archaeologist Mordechai Aviam from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology at the Kinneret Academic College (courtesy Mordechai Aviam)

“The plan is of a church, the dates are Byzantine, the mosaic floors are typical… chancel screens, everything that is typical of a church.”

“Between Capernaum and Kursi there is only one place where a church is described by the visitor in the eighth century and we discovered it, so this is the one,” he said.

Christians recognize Saint Peter, originally a fisherman, as one of the first followers of Jesus and the leader of the early Church following the ascension.

The Catholic Church also venerates him as its first pope.

El-Araj, known as Beit Habeck in Hebrew, is not the only candidate for the site of Bethsaida.

About two kilometers (more than a mile) away at e-Tell, digging has been going on since 1987 and according to the National Geographic website has unearthed major ninth-century BC fortifications and “Roman-period houses with fishing equipment, including iron anchors and fishing hooks, and the remains of what may be a Roman temple.”

Aviam is convinced that he and his international team, with professor R. Steven Notley of New York City’s Nyack College as academic director, are digging in the right spot.

“We have a Roman village, in the village we have pottery, coins, also stone vessels which are typical of first century Jewish life, so now we strengthen our suggestion and identification that El-Araj is a much better candidate for Bethsaida than e-Tell,” he said.

“It has been excavated for the past 32 years. We started digging two years ago because we thought it’s the better one and now we have the proofs.”

Notley, interviewed in Israeli daily Haaretz, is a little more cautious, saying the clincher will be if complete excavation of the El-Araj church reveals an inscription.

“It would be normal to find an inscription in a church of the Byzantine period, describing in whose memory it was built, for instance,” he told the paper.

Galilee Tourists Need To Go West To The Sea

(This article is courtesy of the Times of Israel News Paper)

48 hours in the Western Galilee

From Acre to Nahariya, the region abutting the Mediterranean offers the perfect getaway with its boutique hotels and gourmet eateries

August 27, 2016
A view of the Nahariya beach, on the shores of the Western Galilean city (Nati Shochat/Flash 90)

There’s the Galilee, and then there’s the Western Galilee. For decades, Israelis and tourists have flocked to the towns, villages and cities surrounding the Sea of Galilee, to the tzimmer guest cabins and hotels of that northern region.

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But then the Western Galilee beckoned. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, it’s anchored by the port city of Acre and the seaside town of Nahariya, with a host of small towns and moshav villages scattered around them. Like the eastern portion of the Galilee region, there are some alternative communities, like Klil, a village of ecologically-minded residents, or Mitzpe Abirim, another community of families living remote, rural lifestyles.

There are wineries and cheesemakers to visit and horseback rides to take, small cabins and luxurious boutique hotel rooms for accommodation, and divine seafood meals to eat with ice cream cone palate cleansers.

What’s more, there’s an air of fresh perspectives and coexistence initiatives in the Western Galilee, and that is always worth discovering.

Day One, head to Acre

Start in Acre, the ancient port city that’s made a name for itself for its gentrification efforts over the last few years. Acre hosts annual opera and fringe theater festivals, but it’s probably better to head there during its low seasons. That’s when there’s more parking available at its seaside lots and tables aren’t hard to find at the city’s best restaurants.

Overlooking the Old City of Acre, the first stop to make when doing a western Galilee tour (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Overlooking the Old City of Acre, the first stop to make when doing a western Galilee tour (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

For archaeology and history buffs, it’s worth spending time in the underground Crusader fortress and British Mandate-period prison, but be sure to come up for air and walk around the Old City, where the revamped Turkish market has crab falafel and Israeli beer on tap at Kukushka (not kosher). Hummus connoisseurs will also want to swipe a plate of Hummus Said’s famed chickpea spread, for which Acre is renowned, with a few falafel balls on the side, or check out Turkish on Yehoshafat Street. For dessert, there’s Endomela (not kosher), the artisanal ice cream parlor owned by Uri Jeremias, the proprietor of seafood eatery Uri Buri.

When it’s time to check in, there are more than a few options in and around the city. The most luxurious is boutique hotel Efendi, a stupendously restored former Ottoman palace renovated by restauranteur Jeremias, with a Byzantine-era wine cellar, Crusader period stone floors in the lobby, exquisitely restored Ottoman-era painted ceilings in the upper floor rooms and salons overlooking the sea, and a warren of winding streets and alleys of the ancient neighborhood. Rooms begin at $400 and if you do stay at the Efendi (not kosher), be sure to consider a treatment in the original, Ottoman-era hammam, where you’ll be treated to a massage on a hot, marble slab.

An outdoor salon at Efendi, the luxurious Acre boutique hotel owned by restauranteur Uri Jeremias Courtesy Efendi)

An outdoor salon at Efendi, the luxurious Acre boutique hotel owned by restauranteur Uri Jeremias (Courtesy Efendi)

There are other accommodation options in Acre, including a list of family-owned B&Bs, such as the Lighthouse Suite in the Old City, which has one suite with two bedrooms, a kitchenette and one bathroom.Cost per night per couple is NIS 850, including breakfast. Call 052-590-8410 for more information.

There’s also Akkotel, a small family Old City hotel with rooms suitable for four people, at $290 per suite, or $200 per couple. Call 04-987-7100.

For dinner, there’s always Uri Buri (not kosher), which was established by Jeremias in his hometown of Nahariya and moved to Acre’s harbor 22 years ago, helping to change the face of tourism in this ancient part of the city. Known for its unique preparation of seafood, with a focus on traditional, butter-rich dishes, it’s a dining experience that includes fresh sashimi side by side with rich seafood stews.

There’s also El Babur (not kosher), owned by local chefs and brothers Husam and Nashat Abbas and located right on the water, with ancient city views. The dishes are Galilean-Arabic in flavor and style, melding locally grown greens and vegetables, with specialties like okra with sea bream or calamari-mashawshe, a local version ofmsabbaha hummus, and served with calamari heads on top, rather than chickpeas, in a nod to the seaside town.

Day 2, Nahariya-bound

When staying at the Efendi, breakfast is a must, and it’s worth choosing the Middle Eastern option, which includes fresh Swiss chard bourekas, delicate strands of halva, creamy tahini for spreading on the fresh bread and an individual omelet. That’ll hold you for the less-than-hour-long ride to Nahariya, the next destination.

Best known for its location on the sea, there are two new accommodations options in Nahariya: Sea Life is a relatively new (kosher) hotel situated on the water with a full spa for adults only and an outdoor pool during the warm months. The hotel suites and private, individual cabins are well-suited to small family groups, with inner bedrooms and open-up couches that’ll work for kids in the living room. For access to the beach, however, you’ll have to walk down the street, as the beachfront just outside the hotel is part of a nature reserve and can’t be used for swimming or playing in the sand.

A view of the quaint, European-flavored lobby of the Erna Shtarkman Hotel in Nahariya, where the strudel is included Courtesy Erna Shtarkman)

A view of the quaint, European-flavored lobby of the Erna Shtarkman Hotel in Nahariya, where the strudel is included (Courtesy Erna Shtarkman)

A few blocks away from Sea Life is the family-owned Erna Shtarkman Hotel (kosher), with the feel of a quaint historical inn now owned by Orna Shtarkman, granddaughter of the original owner. The 32-year-old Shtarkman is also the deputy mayor of Nahariya, and is determined to bring younger families and a more contemporary feel to the seaside city. Be sure to try the hotel’s homemade apple strudel with a heavy side of whipped cream, perhaps after a swim in the nearby public pool or a spin around town on one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes.

If you take kids on this trip, it could be fun to pay a visit at the Strauss Dairy in nearby Achihud, where there are one-and-a-half hour tours in Hebrew and English, upon request. It’s more of a watching experience than an interactive tour, with high-tech games, a film and a tour of the factory floor. There are also complimentary chocolate and other goodies during the tour. (Tours are available on Sunday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Wednesday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 1-800-777-777 for reservations to the tour, which costs NIS 18 per person, and is appropriate for ages six and up.)

For lunch, head out to Nahariya’s Brioche (kosher), owned by the Belgium-trained pastry chef Hagit Stern, who turns out savory and sweet brioches, as well as salads and delicious vegetable pies. Your best bet, however, is to pick up a picnic basket loaded with Stern’s homemade goodies, as well as a bottle of local Kishor wine (kosher), made nearby at Kishorit, a community of special needs adults.

A savory spread from Brioche in Nahariya, at Park Goren in the western Galilee (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

A savory spread from Brioche in Nahariya, at Park Goren in the Western Galilee (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Michal Shiloach, the director and guide of Western Galilee Now — one of three Western Galilee tourist initiatives, although hers has an informative tourism center in Acre’s Old City — likes to direct visitors to Park Goren, a quiet, forested area with picnic tables, and with a flowered Brioche-supplied tablecloth on the table, you’re set.

Afternoon rides in Abirim

Head back to the car and up Route 899 for a winding country road that will feel a bit like Switzerland or the Poconos than northern Israel. Route 899 is dotted with bucolic villages and communities, some Arab and some Jewish, and it’s a setting that has fostered coexistence for years, said residents Eyal and Edna Hefer, who moved to Mitzpe Abirim 20 years ago.

The Hefers were pioneers of a different stripe, looking for a rural place to live where they could raise horses and goats. Eyal Hefer commuted for 10 years to Tel Aviv, working in a national youth movement while Edna tended their herd of 100 goats. She learned how to make cheese but mostly supplied the milk to nearby dairy Strauss.

Edna and Eyal Hefer, the pioneering types from Mitzpe Abirim, in the Western Galilee (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Edna and Eyal Hefer from Mitzpe Abirim, in the Western Galilee (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

More than a decade ago, Eyal Hefer quit his job in Tel Aviv and they both now work full-time on their spread, which now includes two tzimmer cabins for rent (breakfast included), tending their forested campsite that can fit up to 200, with separate areas for showers, cooking, eating and sitting around a campfire. They also offer regular and therapeutic horseback riding, and an outside corner of the house is devoted to the goat cheese selection where customers can choose a hunk of Edna’s salty, black-seededtzafatit or mild Camembert (not certified kosher) and leave the money in the box on the table.

Back to Nahariya

Head back to Nahariya for the night, with dinner and dessert on the way. The town of Maalot-Tarshiha has always been an easy place to see coexistence at work, as Jews and Arabs live in side-by-side villages, mostly peacefully and without rancor. That state of affairs is perhaps best viewed at the flagship shop of Buza, the ice cream parlor opened by entrepreneurs Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat.

Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat, coexistence owners of Bouza, Galilean-flavored gelato Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Adam Ziv (left) and Alaa Sweetat, owners of Buza, Galilean-flavored gelato (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Ziv, a kibbutznik from the region, had apprenticed in several gelato shops while traveling around Europe and came home seeking a partner. He found it in Sweetat, who learned the food and restaurant business while working his way up at bistro Aluma, the gourmet Galilean restaurant (not kosher) in Tarshiha that he now owns.

The homemade, Galilean-flavored gelatos of Buza, owned by entrepreneurs Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat Courtesy Buza)

The homemade, Galilean-flavored gelatos of Buza, owned by entrepreneurs Adam Ziv and Alaa Sweetat (Courtesy Buza)

The two created Buza (not kosher), which means ice cream in Arabic. The gelato flavors are decidedly Galilean in taste, with an emphasis on nuts and fresh fruits. More than that, it’s an experience in coexistence, where staff and customers are mixed, particularly in the Tarshiha branch, although there are four total, including one in Tel Aviv and another in Ziv’s hometown of Kibbutz Sasa, where customers can sign up for ice cream workshops.

It’s a sweet ending to a northern adventure.

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