“Wow, what is that?” This question sprang from my mouth the moment I first saw the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, Israel.
My classmates and I had just gotten off of the bus in the German Colony area and were on our way to a restaurant that sits on the street just below the breathtaking monument. Since it was nighttime, all I could make out was an organized pattern of lights seeming to ascend into the sky.
I had never heard of the Bahá’í Faith prior to my visit to Haifa. After a bit of research, I found out that Bahá’í is a relatively new monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia and that the Bahá’í Gardens (or Terraces of the Bahá’í Faith, or Hanging Gardens of Haifa) are gardens that surround the Shrine of Bab. Bab was the founder of Babism and forerunner to the Bahá’í Faith.
Intrigued by this new information, I decided to get a daytime look and spend my lunch hour at the brilliant edifice. The gardens are a landscaper’s dream (or nightmare, in terms of upkeep). Layers upon layers of perfectly manicured lawns, sparkling fountains, and pruned foliage scale the side of Mount Carmel. Guided tours take awestruck visitors from all faiths up and down the stairs and throughout the flower-lined terraces.
A colleague and I listened in on one tour guide as she described how the Israeli government dealt with the Bahá’í community during the establishment of the Jewish state. Holy places, like the Bahá’í Gardens, would be preserved, but the Bahá’í had to stop their missionary activities and limit for the number of followers allowed to remain in the new nation.
Leaving the gardens, I couldn’t help thinking that in Israel, religious politics plays a part in everything, even the flowers.
(photos by Ron Almog)
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.