JAFFA — The flight from Los Angeles was 14 and a half hours but worth every second.
We arrived yesterday afternoon in Tel Aviv in the midst of a rare but strangely mystical-seeming dust storm. Tel Aviv is a modern city with a thrumming night life but none of us were up for much of that. Our tour guide, Ziv, took us for a tour of nearby Jaffa, known in the Bible as Joppa.
We stood in front of the Roman Catholic Church there in the town square and read the sign: Masses are available in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Polish at this parish run by the Franciscan Friars. Ziv told us there are many foreign workers here from all over the world including places like Africa and the Philippines. And while Jerusalem is the country’s capital, the diplomatic capital is Tel Aviv. The embassies are here — including the Vatican’s — and thus many in the diplomatic corps attend Mass here at St. Peter’s.
Reading from Acts 9, Ziv related the account of St. Peter raising Tabitha from the dead. and his subsequent vision of animals in which he was commanded by heaven to “kill and eat.” In other words, no more Kosher rules about food. This was a revolutionary moment, because Peter observed the Jewish laws about unclean and clean foods. From here on out, the Christian message began moving away from Jewish tradition and toward opening the community to all those who wish to follow Christ.
There’s a Greek Orthodox and Armenian presence here too in Jaffa. The Bible doesn’t relate anything of Jesus having been here, but St. Peter and the early Christian community were here, so it’s definitely worth a visit when you travel to Israel. And hey, the food here is awesome, as it is in all of Israel. There are hundreds of restaurants in Tel Aviv/Jaffa and we visited Bellini’s.
The three other journalists who are here with me were well behaved and had sea bass for the evening meal, but I couldn’t restrain myself from the penne pasta with grilled chicken and tomato sauce, topped with fresh basil and oregano.
We’re on our way shortly to visit Caesarea National Park where Paul was imprisoned and Cornelius was baptized. There’s a Roman theater, hippodrome, bathhouse and Herodian port to see as well and then we’ll set out for Nazareth.
As far as what you’ve seen on the news lately with the violence here, all I can say is, we haven’t seen any of that. This morning’s Jerusalem Post notes that the police are going to be removing some of the roadblocks they’d placed in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem as things are calming down significantly. Don’t let fear stop you from visiting this place! Remember the old adage that “If it bleeds, it leads.” The news is never going to feature just how beautiful — and safe — this beautiful country is.