Last week, we got a glimpse of the Sea of Galilee after laughing about politics and politicians. It was a great release from the tension of the campaign here. But it was a rather hazy day, and I didn’t photograph much. Then, after getting some comments about the place, I thought it’d be nice to share some more pictures and subjective impressions of this beloved and essential site.
In Hebrew, we call this sea, Kineret, which refers to the violin or the biblical harp. There are those who believe it got its name because of a similarity in shape to the body of a violin or a harp. But in fact, there is no recognizable similarity. On the other hand, the talmud tells us that the name was given because its fruits are as sweet as the sound of a violin. Around the beginning of the common era, it was called Tiberias Lake, after the city Tiberias, which sits on the western edge of the sea, and is one of our four holy cities. The city of Tiberias was a center of the Jewish population from the middle ages until the 19th century. Though the name of the town is usually attributed to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, another opinion is found in our literature, where it is referred to as the navel of the country. In Hebrew, ‘tabur’ means navel. It was also the site where the sanhedrin (our ancient parliament) was convened in its last stages.
The sea and the town of Tiberias are a little more than 200 meters below sea level. So the weather is usually warm there, and the air is rich in oxygen. There are also a number of natural mineral-water pools in the area that were considered health resorts even in ancient times, and still attract tourists to this day. In another country, it probably wouldn’t be called a sea at all. I have seen bodies of water that were larger, which were called lakes in other lands. But we have a little country, and a tendency to call hills mountains, and to think of lakes as seas. In the past hundred years, as our people worked to rebuild our ancient homeland, this sweet water lake provided water for a large part of Israel. Today we have very efficient desalination plants which are contributing an ever growing supply of water.
How well I remember my first visit to the Kineret many years ago, as a young man. I stayed in a hotel in Tiberias, on the west bank of the sea. I loved the people there. They were warm and open hearted, and seemed to have a simple approach to life. I was enchanted by the beauty of the locale, the many colored boats and the fish… the smells of those fish, and the sight of them linger in my mind to this day. Exotic music was heard from the open shops, some of them displaying their wares on the sidewalks in front. There were fishermen repairing their nets as they carried on conversations that could be overheard by the passers by. The city is home to the devoutly religious too, and attracts pilgrims of both the Jewish and Christian faiths, who come from afar to visit sacred places. And tourists as well, come to appreciate the sights and sounds, oblivious to the long history of the place.
I remember once, hearing a strange singsong chanting, that was coming from behind the hotel where I was staying. Following the sound, I discovered a group of people who seemed from another world. They walked along slowly, as a group, singing as they went. For they had come on a group pilgrimage to visit the grave of Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher of the middle ages, who is considered one of the greatest torah scholars of all time. His grave was not far from the hotel. And this group of people had a presence, enveloped in innocence and holiness. Curious as to what they were doing, I approached them. Their dress and their manner… even their accent in speaking Hebrew were completely different from my own. But they embraced me without a second of hesitation, and begged me to walk along with them as they told me of the wonders of the great teacher’s mind.
The pictures posted here are part of a series of photos that I took on the east bank of the Kineret. Together with some favorite students, and a few artist friends, we were on a nature trip to the Galilee. I got up early one morning, and watched the sun rise. And then, walking along the shore, I studied the meeting of water and earth.