Discovering the Bahá’í Gardens
by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
“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.
Fasting on Facebook with My Beloved Baha’i Community
by Candace Hill, guest contributor
Screen capture of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page.
Day two of fasting this year, and the egg salad on the sesame bagel was especially delicious this morning. This is the dichotomy of the Nineteen Day Fast — that while we don’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, the early morning meals feel more special and dinners more festive.
The Baha’i Faith has its own calendar of 19 months made up of 19 days. As in Islam, one of these months is set aside for fasting, just during the daylight hours. And much like the Islamic month of Ramadan, when it comes time for the sun to set, the evening meal feels like a party, a celebration, a time for truly giving thanks for our nourishment, be it a feast or bread and water.
This is all fine and well if you live in a community, neighborhood, or family where everyone is fasting. Although certainly not the children, the elderly, the sick, the traveler, or the pregnant or nursing mother, fasting is for the healthy, mature adults in the community, if you have a community.
In America, the Baha’i Faith is small in numbers. It is more likely that a college student will be the only one in her dorm who is fasting. The editor at his desk will kindly refuse offers of lunch outings. A coffee break with friends seems strange if you are the only one who is not drinking coffee.
But then there’s Facebook. If you are a Baha’i on Facebook, then you have the bounty of an in-gathering of friends from around the world. Baha’is tend to love conferences, summer schools, study circles, and potlucks. It’s not difficult to amass a list of Facebook friends of all ages and ethnicities, living in an exciting number of time zones.
On Facebook you can worship together, with friends posting excerpts from beloved prayers and meditations. On Facebook you can learn together, with friends posting photographs from Baha’i history. On Facebook you can laugh together, with inside jokes and stories that don’t have to be explained. On Facebook you can sing along, to songs from breaking artists like Andy Grammar to beloved standards by Seals and Crofts. On Facebook you can cook together, sharing recipes and shopping tips. On Facebook you can fast together, encouraging each other to make it through the 3 p.m. nap at the desk, and by cheerfully counting down the days.
Facebook allows the beloved community to chat with each other while working, on a mobile phone riding the bus to work, when the baby is napping, and even late at night when we should have all been in bed hours ago.
Fasting is a religious experience where we practice patience and restraint. It is also a community experience where we support and encourage each other. As enlightenment dawns through prayer and meditation, we reflect that light upon each other. It is lovely to be able to do that face to face. But, I also enjoy that same process on Facebook. The reaching out and sharing feels the same across the miles, now that we have the immediacy of the Internet.
Now, what to make for dinner tonight? My Facebook friends will have some ideas.
Candace Moore Hill lives in Evanston, Illinois and has recently published a photographic history of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. She is currently a volunteer community ambassador with One Chicago One Nation, affiliated with Interfaith Youth Core and blogs at Baha’i History in Postcards.
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